Man of the Year 2014

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This website has one purpose: to document the entire episode of the raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) by Selangor’s Islamic enforcement department (JAIS) and their seizure of 321 copies of the Malay language and Iban bibles on 2 January 2014. This website’s job was almost completed when the story of the return of the bibles by the Sultan of Selangor on 15 November 2014 was published (story here).

There is one last thing to do: to name the Man of the Year for 2014.

The award of malaysianbible.net’s Man of the Year 2014 goes to the Malaysian Christian who has made the most significant contribution to the cause of the Malaysian Bible in 2014 and who more than anyone else reflects and exemplifies the principles and values taught in the Bible.

This website’s Man of the Year for 2014 is Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok.

Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok

Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok

The Anglican Church’s official website describes him as “Archbishop of South East Asia & Bishop of Kuching.

Bolly, as most Christians call him, was not involved at the start of this incident. Neither was he a member nor an officer of BSM. In August 2014, the Sultan of Selangor in his effort to resolve this incident, decided to return the bibles out of state. It was then that BSM’s new president, Anglican Bishop Datuk Ng Moon Hing, requested Bolly to receive the bibles in Kuching on behalf of BSM.

All went well from the negotiations right up to the royal ceremony at the palace on 15 November 2014 when the bibles were symbolically handed over by the head of MAIS (Selangor’s Islamic Council) to Bolly.

A few weeks later, news broke that the released bibles were stamped by MAIS. Christians protested. Muslims rallied in defence of MAIS. The Sultan had the final word when he made it clear in an interview that he knew and approved of the stamping of the bibles. The issue died down immediately. To further protest the stamping would be to challenge the Sultan himself. However, mouths may be silent but hearts were restless.

It was at this time that Bolly rose to provide spiritual leadership to Malaysia’s Christians. The Star on 13 December 2014 carried this report:

 “Sarawak Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok said there was no intention on the part of the authorities releasing the said Bibles to desecrate them or be otherwise disrespectful to the Christian community.

 “In this holy season of Christmas, which Christians, celebrate God’s ultimate generosity to mankind, let us rejoice that this matter has been settled and go forward together to build a future for our nation, which embodies unity, peace and hope,” Bolly said in a statement here yesterday.

 The association, he said, viewed the Sultan of Selangor’s intervention in gaining the release of the Bibles as a demonstration of the muhibbah spirit and an earnest call to Malaysia’s diverse religious communities to live in harmony together.

 “Change is necessary as nations grow and develop.

 “The process must involve continuing dialogue and have it conducted in a manner which affirms mutual learning and respect – the principle of muhibbah,” he said.

This was a brave statement. It did not go down well with Christians brandishing knives in their demand for justice and satisfaction (link).

However, Bolly showed that the spirit of forgiveness and peace was truly in his heart when he preached his Christmas sermon one week later saying:

“We should not be mistaken that the shepherds [in the Christmas story] were oblivious to the politics of the day. They were troubled by political oppression and injustice from the Roman colonisers. I can imagine that in the face of such injustice, their discontent would have been mounting and anger boiling in their hearts at their own helplessness.

“But God intervened with the startling proclamation that a Saviour was born for them. The shepherds did not dismiss this encounter. Instead it moved them to act, to go and see the thing that had happened, and it transformed them into the first evangelists of the church.

 “We too have our own burdens and concerns. It could be harsh political realities, or a constant struggle to make ends meet, or relationship issues. For some the situation could be so hopeless that there is nothing left to live for.

 “Yet Christmas talks about a Saviour born, God with us. Because God is present in the world, there is no person so lonely, no place so forsaken, that God cannot offer forgiveness and reconciliation, justice and mercy, healing and hope.”

 “God’s presence in the world means that nothing could separate us from his love.”

 “Let us rise from our present concerns, fears and burdens and, like the shepherds, be moved to go and see the wonderful thing that has happened.”

Every now and then, God brings challenges to His Church in Malaysia. At the centre of each crisis is a man of God’s choosing, one divinely selected to represent the Christians of Malaysia to not only manage the crisis but also to show the true face of Jesus Christ to Christians as well as the rest of Malaysia.

Bolly could have protested the stamping of the bibles and he would easily have the support of Christians. But that would mean another collision course with the Muslims of Malaysia. Bolly instead chose forgiveness and reconciliation. To some, this was an act of weakness and cowardice. But people who think that have no understanding of Jesus Christ and his teachings. Forgiving requires strength and character. It is not the human thing to do. Forgiveness comes from God and the man who forgives is doing the work of God.

The year long bible issue needed a closure that would not open old wounds again. Bolly’s gestures ended the saga with grace and dignity that was unmistakably Christian and Christlike. Even the head of MAIS was later to admit being touched by Bolly’s magnanimous gesture. Would this be the seed of healing long needed between Muslims and Christians?

Bolly did not preach peace 6 months earlier when he reflected on the assaults by some Muslims on the Christian community. In his Easter sermon on 29 March 2014, this was what he said:

 “Today, we are gathered here in Bandar Sri Aman, a town whose very name means peace. This is indeed an historic assembly. History will surely judge us by what we say and do from today henceforth. We are on a prophetic threshold as children of God.

The Bible reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:8 that there is a time for war and a time for peace. It seems a paradox that we are called to be peacemakers by our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus (Matthew 5:9). Yet at the same time we are also to brace ourselves for war. Herein lies the mystery of living out our faith in obedience to our calling as Christians and to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

In the words of a highly respected clergyman, “Because by the grace of God we are defined as family with a call to action in reconciliation, then we have to find not only the call but also the means of being reconcilers, when our instincts and passions often lead us in the opposite direction.”

If the Church is not a place both of conflict and of reconciliation, … it is a failing or failed church. It has ceased to be the miracle of diversity in unity, of the grace of God breaking down walls.

Turning the other cheek is not the right answer in this situation.

With its multi-ethno-religious makeup, Malaysia can present itself as a model to be a miracle of diversity in unity. Unfortunately, the scourge of that ethno-religious strife is fast approaching its flashpoint with extremist elements of political Islam relentlessly stoking the fire of hatred and bigotry.

How then do we live? Some among those who mean well have suggested that when slapped on one cheek we are to offer the other.

 This is half-baked theology if turning the other cheek tantamounts to sending a wrong message to the provocateurs and extremists in political Islam that we are willing to abandon our calling to being peacemakers and reconcilers.

These extremists among political Islam are, in fact, a tyranny by the minority while the rest of us including peace-loving Muslims and non-Muslims, have been sucked into the spiral of silence only to become the suffering majority. Ultimately, it is for all Malaysians of goodwill to ensure that Malaysia is not hijacked by the deluded minority.

To turn the other cheek in these circumstances is indeed to bear false witness to the Gospel of reconciliation itself. This we will not do.”

The Bolly of 29 March was different from the Bolly of 12 December. The important point is this: the evidence of true humility and obedience to God is the willingness to change. It is said that the higher a man is, the harder it is for him to change. A man of courage and conviction has nothing to be ashamed of when the change is a result of following Jesus’ example and His teachings.

Archbishop Bolly Lapok, you are a man called by God to lead His people in Malaysia in the paths of peace. You have acted and spoken admirably in difficult times. You have shown Malaysians who Jesus really is. You have also shown Malaysians that Christians are builders not destroyers and that we have within us the spirit and love that will help this nation overcome its even greater challenges in the coming year.

You are my Man of the Year 2014.

ONE YEAR LATER: How the Bibles were returned

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Exactly one year ago today, Selangor’s Islamic enforcement department (Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor or JAIS) raided the office of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) and seized over 321 copies of the Alkitab, the Malay-language Bible, and the Bup Kudus, the Iban-language Bible.

A few days later, the head of Majlis Agama Islam Selangor (MAIS) said that BSM had contravened Section 9 of the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 because copies of the Bible distributed by the BSM contained the word “Allah”. The word “Allah” is among 34 words and phrases that non-Muslims cannot use in any circumstance, according to Section 9.

In June, the Attorney-General announced that BSM’s Alkitab had not violated the Selangor law and that no further action will be taken against BSM. As for the detained bibles, he advised that JAIS should act according to law. JAIS and MAIS refused to return the bibles.

A Secret Deal

In July, an old friend invited me for lunch. He said that he had been asked by parties representing the Sultan to inform us that the Sultan wanted to return of the Bibles. However, he did not wish to return the bibles in Selangor (where BSM’s office was) but asked if the bibles could be returned to BSM out of state, say, to East Malaysia. I informed my friend that I was no longer President of BSM but I would be happy convey this request to the BSM exco.

On 17 July, I wrote this e-mail to the BSM exco:

“I have received a communication from someone … informing me that the Sultan wants to return the bibles but he prefer to have the bibles sent to us in Sabah or Sarawak. He asked if we can agree to this and if so whether we can appoint a party there to receive on our behalf. He also asked that this be kept confidential.”

BSM’s exco decided to accept the Sultan’s proposal. They saw this as an appropriate closure to this unhappy episode. BSM’s new president, Bishop Ng Moon Hing then met with the people representing the palace. Thereafter, BSM appointed East Malaysian Anglican Bishop, Bolly Lapok, to work out the logistics with the Sultan’s emissaries.

By 6 August, this was accomplished in time before the meeting of the Conference of Rulers. The only thing left was for BSM to formally issue a letter appointing Sarawak’s Association of Churches (ACS) to accept the bibles on behalf of BSM.  This was done on 9 August. The agreement between the Sultan and BSM was thus concluded.

At this stage, it should be noted that other than the palace and BSM, no other party knew about or was involved in the negotiations to return the bibles. In particular, neither the State Government nor even the Federal Government were aware or involved.

Delayed by a Crisis

The quick return of the bibles was put on hold due to a crisis in the state. On 26 August, Menteri Besar (or the Chief Minister) Khalid Ibrahim resigned. His party, PKR, had been trying to unseat him for some time and eventually sacked him from the party. Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto head of PKR, wanted Wan Azizah, his wife and president of PKR, to be the new Menteri Besar. The Sultan did not agree but wanted a slate of names to be submitted for him to consider. Soon after that the Sultan went abroad. The squabble over the Menteri Besar’s post continued until the Sultan’s return. On 23 September, the Sultan appointed Azmin Ali as Selangor’s new Menteri Besar.

A Royal Ceremony

The date for the handing over ceremony was chosen, 14 November. At the palace’s insistence only representatives from ACS would be invited. No West Malaysian, in particular, BSM, would be allowed to attend. However, last minute appeals resulted in Hermen Sheshtri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, being the only West Malaysian allowed to attend.

Evidently, the new Menteri Besar had to be a participant in the ceremony. The week before the ceremony, Azmin Ali issued a number of press statements that he will be seeing the Sultan and will advise him to return the bibles and that the bibles will be returned by the following week. I was worried about the possible fallout of Azmin’s statements, particularly, that it will invite a backlash from Muslim extremist groups and scuttle the handing over ceremony. The effort over the past few months to keep this matter secret (including not posting on this blog) was at risk.

Happily, news broke in the late morning of 14 November that the ceremony had taken place. Bolly Lapok led the delegation from ACS. At the ceremony which took place in the palace, the head of MAIS handed over 2 copies of the bibles to Bolly Lapok under the gaze of the Sultan. Pictures were taken and released to the public and gentle warnings were issued that the Alkitab is not to be printed or distributed in Selangor.

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The head of MAIS (second from right) handing over 2 copies of the Alkitab to Bishop Bolly Lapok (third from left) in the presence of the Sultan of Selangor (third from right).

A Surprise: Bibles stamped again

The rest of the bibles were then sent to East Malaysia care of ACS. On 2 December, BSM received news that when ACS checked the bibles on its arrival, they discovered that all the bibles had been stamped with a notice in Malay and English stating as follows:

“Strictly for non-Muslims usage only and shall not be published or used in any part of the state of Selangor pursuant to section 9 (1) Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988”.

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Compliments of JAIS and MAIS

BSM’s exco was naturally infuriated. On 7 December, they issued a statement of protest and regarded the stamping of the bibles as a desecration of the Christian scriptures.

Three years earlier, the Federal Government released a shipment of 5,000 copies of Alkitabs imported by BSM which had been detained for 2 years. On the eve of the Sarawak state elections, the government decided not to risk a backlash from the Christian voters of Sarawak. They announced the release of the bibles. The department responsible for seizing the bibles in the first place, obviously unhappy at bring forced to release the bibles, stamped the bibles as a parting shot. History repeated itself.

On 11 December, an interview of the Sultan was published (link) indicating that he knew of and approved of the stamping of the bibles. The issue abruptly came to an end as no one wanted to involve the Sultan in this controversy. With this, the saga of the seized Alkitabs came to an uneasy closure.

How Federal Court Knocked Out Herald

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I have now seen a Press Summary of the majority decision of the Federal Court in the case of Titular Roman Catholic Bishop of Kuala Lumpur v. Menteri Dalam Negeri & Others (aka the Allah Case). With this, we can perform a better analysis of the judgment and understand its far-reaching effects.

It is not normal practice for the Federal Court to issue Press Summaries of the judges’ decision. Probably, the public importance of the case necessitated this interesting practice. The Press Summary for the majority decision ended with this rider: “This summary is merely to assist in understanding the Court’s judgment. The full judgment of the Court is the only authoritative document.” Presumably, the full judgment when released will not differ from the Press Summary but will expand on it.

I am only analysing the majority decision as it is the one that applies. The majority decision was announced or written by Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria (‘’CJ”). His judgment was concurred with by President of the Court of Appeal Raus Sharif, Chief Judge of Malaya Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin and Federal Judge Suriyadi Halim Othman.

I have explained previously that an appeal to the Federal Court is not automatic. There are 2 stages: first, the losing party must get leave (or permission to appeal). Certain criteria must exist. Among them, the appeal involves new questions of law of public importance or involves interpretation of the Constitution. Secondly, once leave is granted, the Federal Court then hears the substantive appeal and decides whether the Court of Appeal had made a correct decision.

The lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church (“RC”) submitted 28 questions that should be answered by the Federal Court. The CJ grouped them into 3 groups: administrative law questions, constitutional law questions and general questions. The ruling of the Court of Appeal that the use of the word Allah was not an integral part of the Christian faith fell under the 3rd group.

Let’s see how the CJ dealt with the constitutional law questions first. The RC lawyers had argued that the state laws that banned the use of the word Allah had contravened Article 11 of the Constitution and consequently were null and void. Thus, the reliance by the Home Minister on these provisions to deny the Herald the use of this word was likewise unconstitutional. The High Court accepted this argument and ruled the relevant provision in the state law as unconstitutional. The Court of Appeal disagreed and ruled that the ban in the state laws were constitutional.

The CJ chose to sidestep this issue and declared this as a non-issue. As a non-issue, it could not be decided by the Federal Court and thus the entire group of constitutional law questions were thrown out. How did the CJ do this?

The CJ ruled that the prescribed procedure had not been followed. He said that Articles  4(3) and 4(4) of the Constitution provides that in order to challenge the validity of a state law, the RC must ask for a declaration and before doing so, must get leave from a Judge of the Federal Court. The state whose law is being challenged must be made a party to the lawsuit and be given the opprtunity to defend its law. He further said that under Article 128 only the Federal Court can hear such a case.

The RC had not done that. Instead, the RC applied for judicial review in the High Court.  The state was not made a party, only the Home Minister. The CJ said that this “collateral attack” on the state law could not permitted. Thus, the CJ said that the RC’s challenge of the state laws ought not even to have been heard by the High Court Judge for 2 reasons: “procedural  non-compliance and for want of jurisdiction.”

In other words, the CJ’s reasoning is that the constitutionality of the state laws that banned the use of the word Allah was never in issue in the High Court and Court of Appeal. Both courts had entertained an issue which should not have been brought before them or be considered by them. As, the constitutional law issues were non-issues (in the sense that by reason of procedural  non-compliance and for want of jurisdiction these issues were not properly brought before the courts and thus did not exist), they could not be issues or questions for the Federal Court to decide. Thus, the Federal Court cannot grant leave to hear these issues.

I will come back to the effect of such a decision. The CJ was then only left with the administrative law questions. Everything about this centred around the test used by the Court of Appeal. The RC lawyers argued that decided cases made it clear that a judge must apply an “objective” test to determine whether the Minister had made a correct decision. They argued that the Court of Appeal judges used the subjective test. Let’s not confuse ourselves with what objective or subjective means. The CJ said that, in spite of what the Judges actually said, he was of the view that the appeal judges had used the correct test, that is, the objective test. He also went on to say that even if he did not agree with the findings of the Court of Appeal, it was not open to him to grant leave. In other words, it was not a question whether Court of Appeal had made a right or wrong decision but whether the issue they had to decide involve questions of law that had never been decided before.

With the demolition of the constitutional questions, the only question left was whether the Minister was justified in making the decision that he did. If the ban in the state law went unassaulted, it was open to the Minister to rely on it as the basis of his decision.

Coming to the general questions, these were the ones that irked the Christian community as they felt that the Court of Appeal judges had no business making a ruling of a theological nature on the Christian faith. The CJ said that these remarks by Apandi Ali JCA were obiter dictum.

Now what is obiter dictum? It is another Latin expression cherished by lawyers. In a court case, there are certain issues which have to be decided by the court in order to decide a case. The decision of a court relating to issues of a case are the ratio decidendi ( literally, the reason for a decision) of the case. Findings or remarks on other issues which are not germane or crucial to the deciding of a case are obiter dictum (literally, peripheral views). For example, Mr A sues an employment agency for sending them an incompetent typist. The judge’s finding that the typist could not type is the ratio decidendi. His remarks that she was pretty and made the rest of the staff feel happy is obiter dictum.

The CJ said that Apandi Ali’s remarks were obiter dictum because “the Minister’s decision was never premised on theological considerations.” Thus, it was a matter which Apandi Ali need not comment on but if he did, it did not matter.

Although, it was left unsaid, the CJ could have gone further to say that Apandi Ali’s remarks related to issues that were not properly brought before the court (that is, the constitutional law questions). The only issue left was the correctness of the Minister’s decision.  Any of the appeal judges’ comments outside of that would not germane to the case and would be only obiter dictum.

Now, let’s consider the effect of the majority decision of the Federal Court. By side-stepping the issue, the Federal Court basically said that they were not making any ruling or expressing any view on the question whether the ban on the use of the word Allah in the state laws are constitutional or not. By saying that procedure had not been followed and therefore the state laws were not under challenge at all, the CJ is in effect nullifying both the High Court and Court of Appeal’s rulings that relate to the issue of the constitutionality of the ban of the use of the word Allah in the state laws. Therefore, the issue is still up in the air awaiting a definitive decision.

It is open to the RC to file a case in the Federal Court, first to apply for leave, and, if obtained, to go on to ask for a declaration that the state laws are unconstitutional when it banned the use of certain words. In such a case, the RC has to cite as defendants all the states whose laws are being challenged. Thus, the Federal Court decision has not shut the door on the rights of Christians. Instead, it has re-opened the doors.

How does the Federal Court decision affect 2 pending cases, the SIB case dismissed by the High Court and on appeal to the Court of Appeal; and, the Jill Ireland case, presently awaiting decision by the High Court?

The answer is that these 2 cases will suffer the same fate as they are exactly the same in terms of procedure as the Allah Case. These are cases of judicial review and brought against the Home Minister only. It means that these cases have also followed the wrong procedure by failing to comply with Articles 4(3), 4(4) and 128 of the Constitution. If the High Court Judge follows the Federal Court majority decision, she cannot consider the question of the validity of the ban on the use of the word Allah in the state laws. She can only consider the question whether the Minister made his decision properly and in accordance with law.

 

Federal Court Ruling in the Allah Case: What it Means?

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Today, the Federal Court dismissed the Roman Catholic Church’s appeal in the Allah case. This was an outcome not unexpected judging by the trend of recent court decisions in such cases.

I was asked today what the Federal Court decision means. For example, does it change anything?

First, we must understand what the case was all about. The Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia (RC) puts out a bulletin called the Herald. All this time, it was published in English. They wanted a Malay language version and applied to the Ministry of Home Affairs (KDN) for a licence. KDN eventually said that a licence would be given but the word “Allah” must not to be used in the Malay language Herald. The RC disagreed and filed a case in the High Court to challenge the KDN decision. To justify their decision, KDN said that certain state enactments had banned non-Muslims from using the word Allah. The RC argued that the Malay-speaking Christians in Malaysia had used this word to refer to God hundreds of years before the prohibition existed and that the ban was unconstitutional in that it violated the rights of Christians to freedom of religion under Article 11 of the Constitution.

The High Court ruled in favour of the RC. In October last year, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision. The RC then applied for leave to appeal to the Federal Court, the highest court in the land. What is this application for leave? According to the law, there is no automatic appeal from a decision of the Court of Appeal. There are 2 stages to contend with. First, the losing party must get leave or, in layman’s terms, permission to appeal. To get leave to appeal, certain criteria must exist. One of them is that the appeal involves interpretation of the Constitution. Secondly, once leave is granted, the Federal Court then hears the substantive appeal and decides whether the Court of Appeal had made a correct decision. There is no further appeal from the Federal Court.

It is fair to say that the Federal Court decision could be confined to its facts as argued by some quarters, namely, it just means that the KDN was justified in refusing a licence if the RC wanted to use the word Allah in the Malay language Herald. However, it is likely that courts will adopt a wider application of the Court of Appeal decision as seen in the recent decision in the SIB case in May when the Kuala Lumpur High Court refused to entertain SIB’s application for judicial review of KDN’s seizure of SIB’s Malay language Sunday School materials. The Judge had said that she was bound by the Court of Appeal decision and thus had to dismiss SIB’s application.

Coming back to the question: what changes have resulted from the Federal Court decison?

I would say none. The status quo started from October 2013 when the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision. In effect, it affirmed the validity of the ban against non-Muslims using the word Allah. Since October last year, the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) was raided and 321 Malay and Iban bibles were seized by the Selangor Islamic department (JAIS). So, the legal status from October last year to today when the Federal Court announced its decision has actually not altered.

Recently, the Attorney-General (AG) announced that the JAIS raid on BSM was wrong and that BSM had committed no offences that deserved prosecution. In spite of being challenged by the Selangor Islamic  Council (MAIS), the AG had affirmed his decision that no action will be taken against BSM. Even the Prime Minister called on all parties to respect the AG’s decision.

It should be noted that the AG’s decision was made during the regime of the Court of Appeal decision. As the Federal Court today chose not to touch the Court of Appeal decision, it means that things continue as they were since October last year. In other words, nothing had changed including the correctness of the AG’s decision.

To sum up, the reality in Malaysia today is as follows:

  • The finding by the Court of Appeal that state enactments banned non-Muslims from using the word Allah was not overturned and therefore still stands.
  • KDN would be justified in imposing the condition that the word Allah not be used when it issues publishing licences.
  • Non-Muslims may not use the word Allah in states that have laws banning its use. In states without such laws, non-Muslims are not banned from using the word, eg. Sabah, Sarawak, Federal Territory and Penang.
  • It is not an offence against such state enactments to import, print and use the Alkitab, the Malay language bible, even though the word Allah is used.

This is a quick response to the events of today. I will write more about the implications for Christians later.

 

Understanding the AG’s Decision

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Was the Attorney-General’s decision not to charge the Bible Society of Malaysia for using the  word “Allah” in the Malay Bible founded on law and a proper interpretation of the law?

The AG concluded that the Malay Bible does not fall under Section 9(1) of the Non-Muslim Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of Selangor.

The key to understanding how the AG came to this conclusion lies in his use of certain terminology. His statement originally made in Bahasa Malaysia states as follows:

 “Keterangan menunjukkan buku-buku yang dirampas adalah Bible dalam versi Bahasa Malaysia dan Alkitab Berita Baik adalah himpunan buku Taurat, Zabur dan Injil yang merupakan buku asas penganut agama Kristian.”

Roughly translated into English:

 “The statements [recorded from witnesses] show that the confiscated books are the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia and the Alkitab Berita Baik is a compilation of the Torah, Psalms and Gospels which are the basic books of the Christian religion.”

The AG used the expression “buku asas … agama” (English: “basic religious book”). He could have used a variety of expressions to describe the Malay Bible, for example, buku suci (“holy book”). However, the term “buku asas agama” used by the AG was taken from the terminology found inside the 1988 Selangor Enactment itself. Let me explain.

Section 9(1) of Selangor Enactment No. 1 of 1988 states that “a person commits an offence if he in any published writing uses certain Quranic words (eg. “Allah”) to express or describe anything pertaining to a non-Islamic religion.

It should be noted that Section 9 prohibits a non-Muslim in a published writing or in a public speech from using the word Allah in a non-Islamic context. In the heat of the recent debate, it was commonly assumed that the use of the word Allah in the Al-Kitab is a contravention of Section 9. However, what has been overlooked is the intention of Selangor Enactment No. 1 of 1988 to recognise and give due respect to the holy books of non-Islamic faiths.

Section 2 of Selangor Enactment No. 1 of 1988 defines the word “publication” as follows:

“publication” includes any book, magazine, pamphlet, leaflet, sound-recording material, cinematograph films and any other material for reading, viewing or hearing howsoever produced

However, Section 2(2) and (3) further clarifies:

(2)       For the purpose of this Enactment, a publication shall be held to be one concerning a non-Islamic religion if it is considered by the followers or members of that religion to be a holy or fundamental book or one of the essential texts of that religion (hereinafter referred to as “basic religious book”) …

 (3)       Notwithstanding that a publication is a publication concerning a non-Islamic religion by reason that it falls under subsection (2), it shall not form the subject of an offence under this Enactment if the publication as a whole is in the interest of Muslim or the religion of Islam.

Thus, the Enactment in Section 2 recognised the existence of holy or fundamental books or essential texts of non-Islamic religions and classified them under the expression “basic religious book.”

The word “publication” as appears in the Enactment includes “basic religious books” and secondary religious writings of a non-Islamic nature. Thus, it is an offence under Section 7 to send any non-Islamic holy books to a Muslim. Similarly, it is an offence under Section 8 to distribute non-Islamic holy books in a public place to a Muslim.

When Section 9 created the offence of using banned words, it used the expression “published writing” like an article, a book or an internet blog. In other words, an individual (note: the words “a person”) cannot in contemporaneous writings like articles published in books, newspapers, magazines, internet, etc, use the word Allah with a non-Islamic reference.

However, Section 9 has no application to pre-existing non-Islamic holy books. If Section 9 intended to refer to holy books of non-Islamic religions, it would not have used the words “published writing” only but instead would have used or included the expressions created in Section 2, namely, “basic religious books.”

In creating the expression “basic religious books” in Section 2, the Enactment was recognising the existence of non-Islamic holy books like the Al-Kitab which predated the Enactment and indeed the foundation of Malaysia as a modern independent nation. Nothing in the Enactment seeks to prohibit non-Islamic holy books even if they contained the banned words. It only prohibited the sending or distributing of non-Islamic holy books to Muslims.

In fact, Section 2(3) even recognised the possibility of certain non-Islamic holy books as being “friendly” to Islam and provided a blanket exemption, namely, that “it shall not form the subject of an offence under this Enactment if the publication as a whole is in the interest of Muslim or the religion of Islam.” It is my understanding that Islam has traditionally recognised the holy books of the Christians, in particular, that there is a continuity in revelation from the Christian religion to the Islamic religion. However, this is an area for the experts to comment on.

Clearly, the Enactment does not intend to make holy books of non-Islamic religions as contraband articles. It does not prohibit the use of words like Allah in the holy books of non-Islamic religions like the Christian Al-Kitab or the Sikh Granth Sahib.

This view finds support from the recent Court of Appeal decision in Menteri Dalam Negeri & 8 lain lawan Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur [2013] 6 MLJ 468 commonly known as the Allah case. YA Dato’ Abdul Aziz Bin Abdul Rahim JCA said at page 505:

“Nevertheless, I think neither the historical evidence nor the fact that the word ‘Allah’ appears in Al-Kitab (which is the Malay version of the Bible) is a sufficient justification for the [Home Minister] not to consider imposing the prohibitive condition of the usage of the word ‘Allah’ in the Herald. The Al-Kitab and the Herald are two publications of entirely different character. The Al-Kitab is the Malay version of the Bible — so, it is obvious that it meant only for Christians. Moreover the Ministry of Home Affairs had already specified the condition that the Al-Kitab is to be used in churches and among Christians only; and that the words ‘BUKAN UNTUK ORANG ISLAM’ are to be printed clearly and conspicuously on the front page of the Al-Kitab. This condition is obvious from the Ministry’s letter dated 24 April 2007 to the respondent — in paras 10–12. Whereas the Herald is a newsletter or in the same category as a newspaper (albeit with restricted circulation) which is used or likely to be used as the mouthpiece for the Catholic church to disseminate informations on the activities of the Catholic church or Catholic congregations. It is acknowledged by learned counsel for the respondent that as of today the Herald is accessible online. This online accessibility means that the Herald can be read by anybody — be it Muslim or non-Muslim. For this reason, I am of the view that the permission given by the Ministry for the printing and publication of Al-Kitab in which the word ‘Allah’ appears cannot be treated in the same manner as the printing and publication of the Herald with the usage of the word ‘Allah’.”

The other two judges say nothing about the Al-Kitab but both say they agree in toto with Justice Abdul Aziz.

In conclusion, a careful reading of Selangor Enactment No. 1 of 1988 shows that neither the use of the word Allah in the Al-Kitab nor the use or possession of the Al-Kitab by Christians constitute offences under Selangor Enactment No. 1 of 1988.

This, I suggest, was the AG’s understanding and interpretation. That was why he used the expression “buku asas agama” which was the rough variation of the 1988 Enactment’s expression “basic religious book.” Recognising that the Al-Kitab is a basic religious book of the Christians, it was therefore logical for him to conclude that the Al-Kitab does not fall under Section 9 of the 1988 Enactment and that the use of the word Allah in the Al-Kitab does not constitute an offence at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for Malaysia to Close Ranks: End to Bible Issue

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Just now a reporter called me and informed me that the Attorney-General has announced that no action will be taken in the case of the Malay Bibles seized from The Bible Society of Malaysia (see Malaysian Insider; Malay Mail Online). Thus, the case is closed. He asked me for my comment.

I told him that I am no longer President of BSM and that he should talk to BSM’s new president. He insisted that since the incident happened while I was President, he wanted to know how I feel about the latest development. I then obliged him with my personal comment which I reproduce below.

I have always believed that the Attorney-General will come to this conclusion. From the moment, JAIS raided BSM, arrested me and my colleague and seized 321 BM Bibles, we knew that JAIS had made a terrible mistake. Nevertheless, it has been a trying experience to endure 6 months of uncertainty of whether we are lawbreakers or law-abiding citizens until the nation’s highest legal officer confirmed that the Malay Bible did not breach any of the laws of Malaysia or its states (in my next post, I will provide the legal reasoning for this).

I thank God for the grace and fortitude that He has given to my colleagues in BSM and me to trust that God will bring about a just end to this controversy.

I now call upon all Christians in Malaysia to follow the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ to forgive, put this incident behind us and go on with our duty as responsible citizens of Malaysia to build our nation on the foundation of peace and harmony.

I call on Christians to forgive JAIS. They were doing their job but they had wrongly interpreted the law. No one is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. Let us forgive them just as Christ forgave us.

With the AG’s announcement, I now have an iron-clad case to sue JAIS for wrongly arresting me. Shall I do it? Of course not. I forgave JAIS a long time ago and have no intention to sue them or to punish them in any way. The AG’s announcement is better than any court judgment. There is nothing to be gained from a law suit except to satisfy a lust for vengeance. This is unchristian.

I hope the Church in Malaysia will put this incident behind us and concentrate on how God wants the Church to contribute to the life and the future of this nation.

Likewise, I call on JAIS to have the same spirit of goodwill to return the bibles quickly and implement the necessary measures in their administration to ensure that this incident will not be repeated.

Questioning by JAIS

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In my experiences in court, the examination of witnesses is a fascinating exercise. The goal is to arrive at the truth. However, truth can be subjective. The two parties in a case will have differing versions of what the truth is. Thus, the lawyer seeks to establish his client’s version of truth in his examination of witnesses. Each lawyer will have their own style in examining witnesses. The most popular is the aggressive and belligerent questioning of witnesses involving badgering and humiliation of the witness. I prefer a more subtle approach. But that is another story and I am not ready to reveal my trade secrets yet.

On the day of our arrest, the JAIS officers verbally requested us to come to see them at their office. They did not say for what. But it was obvious that they wanted to record statements from us. When we were released on bail, the police issued a bail bond which required us to attend at an unidentified court on 10 January. I had discussed this in an earlier post.

Section 13 of the Selangor Enactment says that an authorised officer making an investigation may by order in writing require the attendance of any person to have their statement recorded. Now, if I wished to be technical, I could point out that JAIS did not issue me an order in writing to attend at their office. So, technically I could refuse to attend. But what would be the point of that? If I did that, JAIS would merely issue me a letter and that would take care of the technical objection. So, sooner or later I would have to face them.

At the police station I told the JAIS officers that I will come to see them. In fact, we discussed the dates and 10 January was chosen by me. As far as I was concerned, I was not afraid of JAIS or what they could or would do to us. I and my society also had nothing to hide. On top of that, as a Bible Society we wished to be seen to be obeying the Bible by cooperating with the authorities. If the state authorities take the position that the bringing in of our Malay bible with the word Allah in it is an offence under the laws of Selangor, then we will face the consequences. God has appointed us to take the hit on behalf of the churches and this was a task that we gladly accepted.

Thus, on 10 January at 10.00 am, I went to JAIS’ office with Sinclair Wong, a BSM executive staff who was also arrested and requested to attend. Accompanying us was our bailor, Simon Wong, the General Secretary of BSM, and an officer from the office of Joseph Kurup, the Minister in the National Unity Department under the Prime Minister’s Department.

JAIS is a pampered child of the Selangor State Government. The grandeur and prestige of their offices is testimony of this. As we drove towards their premises, we could not see their building as there was an tall embankment that looked like a hill slope covered with trees and thick foliage along the frontage of their premises. They were situated on the north side of the roundabout in front of the State Mosque in Shah Alam. We drove through the security at the front gate. In the middle of a sprawling sculptured compound were three tall towers topped with gleaming domes. A pasar malam was taking shape in the car park. It was a Friday and many stalls were being set up to catch the business of JAIS staff during the long Friday lunch hour. It was then I realised how big the operation and manpower of JAIS are in order to fill 3 big buildings and to have their own Friday lunch time pasar.

Sinclair Wong (left) with me at JAIS offices.

Sinclair Wong (left) with me at JAIS offices.

After meeting the band of reporters awaiting our arrival, we spent another half hour scaling one tower after another to find out where we were supposed to go to. Finally, we were told to wait at one office in the middle tower. It appears to us that JAIS had not expected us to come. As a result, no one knew what we were there for and eventually when we were shown to the right office, we had to wait for an hour for the questioning team to be assembled and for the room to be set up with video recording equipment.

Finally, I was called into a medium size conference room with a circular table. There were three Malay gentlemen seated on one side of the table. They smiled at me and grunted out their names inaudibly as if they didn’t want me to catch it. One of them, a distinguished looking gentleman, appeared to be in charge. I asked him for his name and he said, “Malik.” No encik, no family name. One gentleman was recording what I said by hand. Another gentleman went in and out as directed by Malik to get this or that.

Malik said that they will record my statement and that it will also be videotaped. He then read out the caution found in the Criminal Procedure Code that police officers had to recite to witnesses before recording their statements, that is “ you are required to tell the truth … etc.”

Malik started by asking some details about me, my age, profession, am I married, what does my wife do, how many children I have, how old are they, are they working? Then he asked about my parents. All the time, Malik was very polite. Was this to disarm me with courtesy or was Malik just a nice guy?

Then Malik asked about the background of BSM. I told him that we are registered under the Registrar of Societies in 1985 and before that we were part of a joint Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei Bible Society. He asked about my position and I told him that I am the chairman. He asked if I am involved in the operations of BSM and I said no. We have staff to do that. I come in for board meetings once in three months and the staff report to us what they are doing. Malik then said he understood as he also sat on some boards. How nice.

Malik then asked why we have the Malay Bible. I explained that it is our function to supply bibles in all languages to churches in Malaysia. So, we have bibles in English, Mandarin, Tamil, East Malaysian dialects and Malay. I told him that we have over 2 million Christians in Malaysia and 60% or 1.2 million speak Bahasa Malaysia, the national language. They use the Malay Bible supplied by us.

Malik had one of our Malay bibles on the table in front of him. He then asked me if it was all right for him to touch and pick up the bible. I said yes, no problem, go ahead. He picked it up and turned to the first page and asked who is the publisher of this bible.

“ BSM, “ I answered.

“When was it published?”

“1995. It says so on the front page.”

“Were you the chairman then? “ asked Malik.

“No,” I answered, “I was not even a member of BSM then.”

“Where was the bible printed,” Malik asked.

“Indonesia,” I answered, “it says so on the front page.”

“How much does it cost to print one copy?”

“I don’t know,” I answered.

“How much do you sell it for?”

“I don’t know,” I answered again.

“RM25,” Malik said.

“Oh, you know about this,” I remarked.

Pulling out a piece of paper from his file and waving it, Malik said, “This is the receipt.”

“One of my officers went to your bookshop and bought this bible. Did you know about this?” Malik asked.

“No. I don’t,” I answered.

Pulling out a thin booklet, Malik said, “This is the Selangor law. Do you know that your bible contravenes this law?”

“Yes, I know, “ I said.

“When did you know that?” Malik asked.

“When I became chairman,” I answered.

With this Malik ended his questioning. If we disregard the initial niceties about me and my family, the questions about the bible took no more than 10 minutes.

Now, the last question whether I knew our bible contravened the Selangor law is a complex question of law. We can have a nice and long argument about what the interpretation of this law is. In the days after the raid, many NGOs and lawyers gave their understanding of this law. Perhaps, the best treatment came from the Bar Council. Now the JAIS fellows take the position that the Selangor law prohibits non-Muslims from using the word Allah and that we had broken the law. Did I believe I can persuade them to think otherwise? These guys were there for one purpose only, that is, to compile a case for the prosecution of BSM. As far as I am concerned, I am not afraid to tell them “Yes, we use the word and Yes, its against the Selangor law. If you want to prosecute us, then do it.”

After Malik had finished all his questions, he asked if there is anything I want to say.

“Yes,” I said, “all our bibles are brought into this country under the Ten Points Solution issued by the Federal Government.”

Showing him the inside cover of a Malay Bible stamped by KDN in 2011, I said, “Previously, the Federal Government legalised this bible by stamping its approval here. After that, they issued the Ten Points which made it unnecessary for the bible to be stamped. “

“Do you want to have a look at the government stamp,” I said as I held out the bible towards Malik.

“No,” Malik answered.

I thought this was an investigation. Seeing Malik’s disinterest in a piece of relevant evidence offered by me, I decided it was time to end the conversation.

The other gentleman brought what he had recorded to me and asked me to read it and if it was correct to sign it. I read it and then signed it. Malik and the others smiled and thanked me and I also smiled and said thank you. I then left the room. I waited outside as Sinclair went in to have his statement recorded.

When Sinclair finished, we went down to the lobby and the reporters wanted to know what happened. I had 2 choices: one, to protest and condemn in the strongest terms the actions of JAIS; or, two, to say something to defuse the tensions between the Christians and the Muslims that resulted from the raid. I chose the latter. These words came to my mind and later appeared in the press:

“The shared religious vocabulary that we have is something to be celebrated and should serve as a foundation for building unity, peace and harmony and is not something that should divide us.”

Following Christ under circumstances like these is extremely difficult. The selfish human will and wounded ego urges one to hit back and seek satisfaction for wrongs suffered until every last drop of the enemy’s blood has been shed. I hope that I was able to show the face of Jesus Christ to our Muslim friends in that brief encounter in JAIS’ office.