Story of the Ten Points Solution (Conclusion)

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I had opened a Pandora’s Box when I issued a protest statement on behalf of BSM on March 16, 2011 accusing KDN of desecrating our holy books by stamping them and marking them with serial numbers. In spite of Idris Jala’s press statement on March 22 about the concessions to be made by the Federal Government, the tide of Christian anger refused to abate.

The issue was played up by opposition parties in anticipation of the Sarawak State Elections due to be held in early April. On the evening of Wednesday, March 23, over 3,000 Christian pastors attended a rally in Kuching. They expressed extreme disgust with the Government’s treatment of the Al-Kitab. Their mood and their influence over Christian voters in Sarawak spelled potential disaster for the ruling party in the approaching state elections. On the other side, UMNO politicians defended the Government and belligerent media statements issued from Nazri Aziz, a cabinet member, Pembela a fundamentalist Muslim lawyer group and the Mufti of Perak.

On Friday, March 25, Idris Jala called BSM and informed us that the Government had basically agreed to the 2005 position.

Now, what is the 2005 position? In 2003, KDN detained 1,000 Al-Kitabs. In order to break the impasse, CFM suggested that in future all Al-Kitabs will carry the symbol of the cross and the words “Penerbitan Kristian” (A Christian Publication) on its cover. This was accepted by then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in a letter to the head of CFM.

At this stage, the Government had conceded to all the demands made by BSM. As for the unfortunate incident of the stamping of our bibles, the Government had offered to compensate us for it. Added to that was one more concession which we did not expect, namely, in order to prevent a recurrence of this incident, the Government would take disciplinary action against any civil servant if they detain Al-Kitabs which complied with the 2005 agreement. It appears that the Government had agreed to everything we asked for and more.

The next day, on Saturday March 26, the BSM exco attended the funeral of past-president, Mr Diong Chin San. We discussed the latest Government offer and felt that with this offer, we had achieved all that we had asked for. Tensions were still running high and a CFM meeting due to be held on March 29 would probably produce a strongly worded media statement against the Government that may worsen the Christian – Government/Muslim relations. We did not feel comfortable about our bibles remaining in KDN custody and feared the possibility of further desecration or even possibly destruction of our bibles if the situation got out of hand. Thus, we decided that a closure of the issue for BSM was necessary with the immediate collection of our bibles before anything else could happen.

On Monday March 28, BSM informed CFM of our decision to collect our bibles. However, on the request of the head of CFM, we decided to postpone it till after CFM had met on March 29. This meeting had been called to consider the Government’s offer to resolve the Malay Bible issue as communicated by Idris Jala.

CFM met on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 29. BSM and Gideons, the bible importers who had their bibles detained by KDN were invited to address the meeting. There was a range of views over how the Christians should respond to the Government’s offer. On behalf of BSM, I informed CFM about our intention to collect our bibles. The overwhelming majority preferred BSM not to do so. I was not agreeable to this. Leaving the bibles with KDN would only keep the detention of our bibles alive as a political issue especially with the Sarawak State elections due in 2 weeks time. I insisted that BSM must not get involved with politics. If it is time to collect the bibles, then we will collect our bibles. After all, the Government had completely capitulated. At the end of the meeting, CFM decided to leave it to the importers whether to collect their bibles or not.

The next day, BSM informed the public about their collection of the 5,000 Al-Kitabs from KDN by the following press statement:

“In view of KDN’s tendency to take arbitrary action without consultation of affected parties or respect for the religious sensitivities of the Christian community, BSM decided to collect the 5,000 copies of the Al Kitab to prevent the possibility of further acts of desecration or disrespect being committed against the holy books of the Christians by KDN and its officers.

The 5,000 copies of the Al Kitab that have been defaced by KDN cannot be sold to Christian buyers. Instead, they will be respectfully preserved as museum pieces and as a heritage for the Christian Church in Malaysia. This unfortunately will result in a loss of RM70,000 for BSM.

Concerning the offer to compensate BSM for the costs of this shipment, BSM wish to make its stand clear that BSM will only accept a cheque from KDN and will not accept any money from so-called Christian donors.”

The issue started to subside in the press when BSM collected the detained Al-Kitabs.

Early in the morning of Sunday, April 3, before I left my house to go to church, I read in the newspaper a media statement made by Idris Jala on behalf of the Government. He announced the solution to the decade-long issue of the detention of the Malay Bible and reduced the various measures agreed to by the Government to ten points. Hence, this was called “the Ten Points Solution.” The salient points are:

  • The Malay Bible may be imported or printed locally.
  • For East Malaysia, taking into account the large Christian community, no conditions will be attached to the importing and printing of the Bible in all languages including Bahasa Malaysia.
  • For West Malaysia, taking into account the interest of the larger Muslim population, bibles imported or printed in Malay or Bahasa Indonesia must have the words “Christian Publication” and the cross imprinted on its front cover.
  • There are no prohibtions or restrictions on Christians bringing their bibles with them when they travel between West Malaysia and East Malaysia.
  • A directive has been issued by the Chief Secretary of the Government to ensure compliance with the Cabinet decision. Failure to do so will subject government officers to disciplinary action.
  • The owners of the impounded bibles can collect them free of charge and the Government will ensure that they be reimbursed.

At the end of his media statement, Idris made a startling and unprecedented remark. He called on the Christian community to forgive the Government over this incident. In all my years, I had never seen the Government, firstly, admitting they had done anything wrong, and, secondly, asking to be forgiven.

As I drove to a church in Kuala Lumpur which had invited me to give a sermon on the topic “Grace,” I wondered what should be the Christian response. In my sermon to the church, I asked them what they thought and suggested that they may speak with me about this after the service. A group of us gathered round to discuss this. The crucial question that came to our minds was: What would Jesus do?

The answer was obvious. Jesus had taught non-retaliation and showing love and forgiveness to one’s persecutors in his Sermon on the Mount. Impractical? Naive? Well, Jesus practiced what he preached. When Jesus was crucified, he prayed for all those who conspired his unjust arrest and execution saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

I contacted the rest of the BSM exco members and very soon, I received a mandate to make the following press statement on behalf of BSM:

“BSM deeply appreciates the Government’s 10-point solution which is not only an affirmation of the 2005 agreement but also include additional safeguards to ensure that incidents that have recently been the bone of contention should not happen again.

BSM is also deeply touched by the Government’s humility in admitting to shortcomings in the handling of the Al Kitab issue and their request for forgiveness. BSM, without hesitation, forgives. BSM also releases the Government of any obligation, legal or moral, to compensate BSM for the 5,000 copies of the Al Kitab that cannot be sold.”

A few days later, The Ten Points Solution was formally communicated to the Christian community in a letter from the Prime Minister addressed to the head of CFM.

PM’s Letter on 10-point Solution – 11 April 2011

With the Ten Points Solution, it was open for BSM to import Malay Bibles without the unpleasant experiences of the past. With great excitement, I said to Rev Simon Wong, the general secretary of BSM, “Let’s bring in a big shipment of Malay bibles now.”

“We have no more money to buy bibles,” Simon answered, “You gave up RM70,000 when you forgave the Government.”

The Story of the Ten Points Solution (Part II)

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News of KDN stamping the 5,000 Al-Kitabs with serial numbers exploded in the online press on the evening of March 16, 2011. By the following day, the print and internet media was filled with protests from Christians, other religious communities, human rights groups and opposition parties. At the same time, the Sarawak State elections were getting nearer.

It was later revealed in the press that a special Cabinet committee “comprising the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Unity, Minister in PM’s Department (Law and Parliamentary Affairs), Minister of Religious Affairs and Minister in PM Dept/CEO of PEMANDU (Idris Jala) and the Attorney-General met on Thursday, March 17, to discuss the issues at hand and find a fair and amicable solution” (Bernama, March 22, 2011).

By the evening of March 17, I received news that I had been invited for another meeting between Idris Jala and CFM.

This meeting held on the morning of March 18 took place at the Hilton Hotel, Petaling Jaya. A meeting room on the first floor had been prepared. BSM was represented by myself and General Secretary, Rev Simon Wong. Also present were the general secretaries of the various Christian organisations: Tan Kong Beng (CFM), Hermen Shestri (CCM) and Sam Ang (NECF). Idris Jala was accompanied by Attorney-General of Malaysia, Abdul Ghani Patail.

Idris announced to the meeting about the formation of the special cabinet commmittee. He also apologised for the stamping of the bibles and said that it was not on the order from the cabinet but was an initiative by the department head. Idris then announced that the Cabinet had decided that in future there will be no interference with the import of the Al-Kitabs as long as copies intended for West Malaysia carried the cross and the words “Penerbitan Kristian” (Christian Publication) on its cover. However, copies bound for East Malaysia need not have the cross and the words on its cover. The AG then explained that this solution was in line with the existing laws of the country.

At this point, I remarked, “The last time the Government promised to return our bibles, it ended up being chopped and spoiled by KDN officers.”

“What is there to prevent KDN officers in the future from interfering with the importation of our bibles? We need to have something in black and white, something concrete to ensure that this promise will not be broken.”

Idris then turned to the AG and asked what could be given in writing.

The AG thought for a while and very quickly suggested that the Chief Secretary of the Federal Government could issue an administrative directive requiring all civil servants to comply with this decision of the Cabinet and that if any civil servant went against it, he would be disciplined and punished.

Idris also announced to us that the Government will compensate BSM for the bibles that had been stamped and which cannot now be sold. He asked me how much this shipment cost. Simon answered, “RM70,000.”

To the best of my recollection, there was no protest or disagreement expressed by anyone present at the meeting. To be fair, this was not a negotiation meeting. Idris had come to announce to us the concessions made by the Government. The meeting yielded an additional element in that it was proposed that the concessions would be backed up by an enforcement procedure within the Government machinery. Would it work? We had no way of knowing. Short of repealing or amending the law, this was the best possible solution on the table.

A few days later, March 22, Idris made a press statement on behalf of the Government that he had met with Christian leaders on March 18 and announced the solution put forward by the Government as follows:

“1. The BM Bibles currently impounded in Kuching and Port Klang will be released with the words “For Christianity” stamped clearly in font type Arial/size 16 in bold. No other words or serial numbers will be stamped on the Bibles.

2. To ensure that there is no misrepresentation in its implementation by civil servants, the Government will issue a directive from the Director-General of the Ministry of Home Affairs. As with all similar directives, failure to comply with this directive will subject the relevant officers to disciplinary action under the General Orders.

3. To highlight the Government’s commitment to resolving this issue amicably, the Government has received an offer from Christian donors who are prepared to pay for the cost of all the Bibles, which have already been stamped and serialised. These BM Bibles can either be released in their present state (with stamps and serial numbers) or arrangements can be made to put stickers with the words “For Christianity” to cover the existing stamps and serial numbers. The choice is for the importers of these Bibles. In the event they do not wish to take possession of these impounded Bibles in the present state, the Christian donors will pay for the full cost of new bibles to be brought in with the words “For Christianity” printed at source or stamped with these words “For Christianity” by the Ministry of Home Affairs at Port Klang and Kuching.

At the end of this meeting, the representatives from Christian groups requested for time to meet and discuss and have advised the Government that they would revert on their decision as soon as practicable.”

(Next: The Story of the Ten Points – The Conclusion)

 

 

What is the Ten-Points and How Did It Come About? (Part I)

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There is an expression: the Malaysian way of doing things. In recent years, another expression became popular: Malaysia Boleh! (meaning Malaysia can or is able to do it). It has been used by the public to describe everything from the good to the bad and especially government behaviour that irks the public. I think the Malaysian way stems from the complexity of the multi-racial and multi-religious population of Malaysia. Compromise (in a good sense) has been a way of life in Malaysia. At the political level, the government that ruled the country since Independence is a coalition government drawn from different races and founded on the approach of give-and-take. Most of us grew up with friends from other races and we have co-existed happily until race-based politics reared its ugly head from the 1980s onwards.

In my previous posts, I had described how imports as well as local printing of the Al-Kitab had been restricted by the Federal Government. In mid-2005, then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi ordered the release of BSM’s 1,000 Al-Kitabs detained by the Government and issued a letter to the effect that all future copies of the Al-Kitab that are brought into the country must carry on its cover the symbol of the cross and the words “Penerbitan Christian” (Christian Publication).

In spite of this, the next shipment of 5,000 Al-Kitabs imported by BSM with the cross and words on its cover was detained at Port Kelang by the Home Ministry (KDN) on 23 March 2009. Appeals and complaints were made to the KDN. From time to time, there were rumours of the release of the bibles but none them were founded.

In early March, 2011, BSM called the churches to pray for the release of the bibles to mark the approaching second anniversary of its detention. This call coincided with the campaigning for the Sarawak state election due in early April. The issue was picked up by the press and the opposition parties. The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) through its head, Bishop Ng Moon Hing, issued a strongly worded protest. Very quickly, the detention of the bibles became a national issue as well as a campaign issue in Sarawak.

Thoroughly embarrassed and fearful of losing Sarawak which had a significant Christian majority, the Federal government appointed Senator Idris Jala to handle the crisis. Idris is a Christian native of Sarawak. Before he joined the government, he was a corporate superstar having served in Shell worldwide and then turning Malaysian Airlines back into the black.

On 12 March 2011, Idris called CFM and informed them that the Prime Minister Najib Razak had ordered the Home Minister to release the 5,000 Al-Kitabs held in Port Klang and 30,000 BM Bible Portions imported by the Gideons held in Kuching port.

CFM is an umbrella body set up to represent the Christian community to the Government. It has 3 component bodies: the Roman Catholics, the Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF). CCM is the umbrella body for the mainline Protestant churches and NECF represents the newer evangelical denominations.

On 14 March 2011, I was invited to attend a meeting between Idris and CFM. I was representing BSM whose bibles had been detained. Idris briefed the meeting about his involvement in this issue and the PM’s order to release the bibles. He said that a letter to inform BSM about the release of the bibles will be issued by KDN within the next few days and that future imports of Al-Kitabs are subject to the conditions laid down by Abdullah Badawi in 2005. He also stressed that the issue of the Al-Kitab must be kept separate from that of the Herald case.

The next day, Idris announced in the press the Government’s decision to release the bibles. Later that evening, BSM received a letter from KDN Putrajaya informing us that the bibles will be released but that it must be stamped and serialised. A sample of the stamp was attached to the letter. We immediately decided to reject this condition to stamp our bibles and prepared our reply while at the same time informing CFM of this condition that had never surfaced in the meeting with Idris.

The purpose of the stamp was obvious. It was a means to track buyers of the bibles. Any of these bibles that end up in the hands of a Muslim can then be traced back to the original buyer. Once Christians learn about this, no one would buy our bibles. This would kill off the distribution of the Al-Kitab in the country considering the fact that BSM is the sole producer and importer of the Al-Kitab.

Before we could reply, I received a call from a lady the next day, 16 March 2011. She identified herself as the head of the Control of Publications and Quranic Texts Department of KDN in Putrajaya. She said, “Can you come and collect your Bibles. We chopped it for you already.”

“What!” I blurted out, “did you say you chopped my bibles?”

“Yes. No need for you to do it. We did it for you already,” came the reply.

“How dare you chop my bibles,” I raised my voice, “We never agreed to any such condition. You check with Idris Jala.”

“Anyway, we sudah chop. You come and collect, lah.”

“No, I am not going to collect. I am going to inform CFM and we are going to complain,” I said as I slammed the phone down.

An example of the stamp with serial number made on every one of the 5,000 Al-Kitabs.

An example of the stamp with serial number made on every one of the 5,000 Al-Kitabs.

Within the hour, I released a press statement saying that the Government had desecrated our holy books. Then all hell broke loose!

BSM Media Statement: 2 April 2014

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After making many promises to return the bibles seized by JAIS, Selangor State EXCO washes their hands off the problem and tries to pass the buck to Attorney-General. Read Menteri Besar Khalid’s statement here ( at Malaysian Insider; Malay Mail; Free Malaysia Today). Here is my response on behalf of Bible Society of Malaysia:

BSM will not write to AG.

BSM was raided by JAIS, a Selangor government department. The bibles are held by JAIS in their office in Shah Alam, a stone’s throw from the Menteri Besar’s office.

This problem was caused by a department of the Selangor State Government. It was an assault by Selangor State authorities against the rights of the Christian community in Selangor. It is the responsibility of the Selangor State Government to correct this unjust situation and BSM will not be party to Khalid’s attempt to dump his rubbish in somebody else’ backyard.

The Federal Government has given the Ten Points Solution in 2011 that allowed Christians to import, print and distribute the Alkitab throughout Malaysia. In reliance on the Ten Points, BSM has imported the Alkitab on many occasions over the past 2 years and the Federal Government has faithfully honoured the Ten Points when they ensured that each shipment of bibles were promptly cleared and released without delay.

The action of JAIS in raiding BSM and the Selangor State Exco washing their hands off their responsibility today is a clear statement to the people of Selangor that the Government of Selangor rejects the Ten Points Solution and that it does not intend to accord Christians in Selangor as well as the rest of Malaysia access to their holy books in the national language.

Recollections: How Did We Get Here? (Part II: Laws and Bans)

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In early 1976, Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, passed away in London when undergoing medical treatment. I remember the date as the university examinations were postponed as a mark of respect. Tun Hussein Onn succeeded him as Prime Minister. Later that year, Hussein Onn announced on live television that he had appointed Dr Mahathir Mohamed as the Deputy Prime Minister. I remember the Prime Minister broke down at one point and wept as he said, “I hope I did not make a mistake.”

Coming back to our subject, why did Terengganu pass an anti-propagation law in 1980?

In 1980, Terengganu was ruled by Barisan Nasional. The Prime Minister at that time was Hussein Onn who was also the leader of BN. However, Hussein Onn’s popularity in UMNO was at a low ebb (Wain, Malaysian Maverick, pp. 39-40). He was also very sick and in early 1981 had to go to London for medical treatment prior to his retirement. In his absence, Dr Mahathir was acting Prime Minister. Terengganu was a backwater state and the state legislative assembly was made up of Muslims. The passage of that law went unnoticed.

In 1980, the country was in transition. It was preparing for a change of leadership. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 gave a new leash of life to many Islamic movements in Malaysia primarily PAS, the Islamic opposition party which back then agitated for an Islamic state. UMNO responded to the claims of PAS, as later events would show, by portraying itself as the true champion of Islam in Malaysia instead of PAS. Later on, the challenge of the country’s most radical Islamic youth movement, ABIM, was neutralised by Mahathir co-opting its leader, Anwar Ibrahim, into UMNO and the Government. In the 1982 general elections, Anwar defeated PAS in their own backyard to win a parliamentary seat.

The passing of the Terengganu law in 1980 was the first demonstration of UMNO’s credentials as Islam’s champion. The war to protect the honour of Islam had begun. The following year in 1981, Kelantan passed a similar law. Kelantan at that time was under the rule of BN since the declaration of emergency in Kelantan in 1977 (by doing so, the Federal government was able to kick out the PAS-led state government).

The next stage was the banning of the Malay Bible. Thus, at the end of 1981, the Home Minister issued an order under the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) to ban the Al-Kitab on the grounds that it was prejudicial to the security of the nation. Why? The Al-Kitab contained words which contravened state laws. An outcry from the Christian community in 1982 led to the Government modifying the ban into a partial ban. Thus, in 1983, a new order was issued by the Home Minister banning the Al-Kitab except for use by Christians in churches.

Thus, the passing of the Terengganu law was necessary to criminalise the Al-Kitab’s use of certain words and provided the justification for the Federal Government to impose a nation-wide ban on the Malay Bible. By doing so, the UMNO-led government would be clearly seen as the champion and protector of Islam in Malaysia.

In 1987, the nation tottered at the brink of communal violence due to an UMNO-MCA dispute over Chinese vernacular schools. Hundreds of people were detained without trial under the ISA. One of the groups of people detained were Christian evangelists accused of propagating Christianity to Muslims. It was in this atmosphere of religious paranoia existing in 1988 that the states of Kedah, Malacca, Perak and Selangor passed laws similar to that passed by Terengganu in 1980. Pahang followed suit a year later and in 1991, Negeri Sembilan and Johor also passed this law. It would be 20 years later in 2002 when Perlis became the the latest state to adopt this law.

By the time the Federal Government took action to systematically restrict the importation of the Al-Kitab in the mid-2000s, they were able to argue that the words in question had been banned for a long time and the Christians had no business using it in their Malay Bible. Furthermore, this argument had been repeated so often in the Malay and Islamic media by UMNO politicians that in the minds of most Malays the word Allah was without doubt the sole preserve of Muslims. A recent survey by the Merdeka Centre showed that 77% of Muslims believe that Christians should not use the word Allah.

Some pointers can be drawn from the above historical treament. Firstly, the ban on the use of the word Allah is the result of politics. Secondly, the danger of non-Muslims using the word was an idea manufactured by a political agenda and implemented by laws and governmental orders to convey the appearance of illegality. Thirdly, the anti-propagation laws were passed by BN-ruled states. Fourthly, when these states fell into the hands of opposition parties (eg. Kelantan, Selangor and Kedah), their was no interest or commitment by the opposition parties to undo these laws or to alleviate its harsh effects.

RECOLLECTIONS: HOW DID WE GET HERE? (Part I)

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The heart of the ongoing Allah controversy and also the basis for the raid on The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) by Islamic Department of Selangor (JAIS) is a Selangor state law which seeks to control and restrict the propagation by non-Muslims of their religion to Muslims. In particular, the law makes it an offence for a non-Muslim, in a published writing or broadcasted speech, to use the word Allah (among others) to refer to anything in a non-Muslim religion.

We need to ask the question: Why did these laws even exist in the first place? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the historical context.

In the 19th century, the British colonised the Malay peninsula. Singapore, Malacca and Penang called the Straits Settlements fell under the direct rule of the British. For the rest of the peninsula, the British intended to introduce a system of indirect rule. The Treaty of Pangkor was entered into between the British and the ruler of Perak in 1874. The Perak ruler had to accept a British Resident who would in effect rule the state. By this treaty, the British gained effective and absolute rule and control over Perak. However, the British did not want the local people to think that they had ousted the sultan. So, it was important to give the appearance that the sultan was still in control. Thus, the Treaty of Pangkor stipulated that the sultan had to accept the advice of the British Resident in all matters except matters relating to Malay religion and custom.

From the inception of British colonisation, residual powers like these were given to the sultans as the British took away everything else. The sultans were still the heads of Islam and they retained the power to decide on and administer matters relating to Islam and Malay customs. This model was followed in the rest of the states that the British colonised except that in the Unfederated Malay States the Resident was called Adviser.

For the next 80 years when the British ruled Malaya, they did not allow any Christian missionary work among the Malay peoples. Significant defections of Malays from Islam would reduce the power base of the sultans and this would chip away at whatever little power the sultans were left with. The British were more concerned with the success of their colonial programme and did not want anything, in particular, missionary activity, to upset the Malay sultans and the Malay people (see Michael Northcott, “Two Hundred Years of Anglican Mission” in Hunt, Lee and Roxborough, edd, Christianity in Malaysia, Pelanduk Publications, 1992, pages 35, 36 and 40).

Thus, British policy gave rise to a thinking that, firstly, matters relating to Islam belonged exclusively to the Malay rulers, and, secondly, propagation of other religions to Muslims must be avoided.

On the insistence of Malay nationalists and the Malay rulers, this thinking was reflected in the Malaysian Constitution when the country gained its independence in 1957 (see Joseph Fernando, The Making of the Malayan Constitution, MBRAS, 2002) . The Yang Dipertuan Agung became head of Islam for the Federal Territories and the sultans were the heads of Islam in their respective states. In the division of powers between the Federal and State governments, it was enshrined in the Constitution that the power to legislate on Islam belonged to the States. While a chapter on human rights was introduced, freedom of religion was qualified by Article 11(4) which stated that states may pass laws to control and restrict the propagation of other religions to Muslims.

While this power was given the States, it was never used for more than 20 years. In 1980, the state of Terengganu passed the first of such laws, the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment (No. 1 of 1980) of Terengganu. Other states followed suit. The complete list is as follows: Terengganu: 1980; Kelantan: 1981; Kedah: 1988; Malacca: 1988; Perak: 1988; Selangor: 1988; Pahang: 1989; Negeri Sembilan: 1991; Johor: 1991; Perlis: 2002. Only 4 states do not have such laws: Federal Territory, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak.

Why did Terengganu pass the law in the first place? An examination of the social and political situation in Malaysia in the 1970s does not disclose any friction between the various religious communities. The only inter-religious conflict I could think of was the Kerling Incident in 1977 where a number of Muslim zealots were killed by temple caretakers when they attacked a Hindu temple in Kerling in the middle of the night. This incident had nothing to do with the use of Quranic expressions but arose from the sensitivity of some Muslim extremists towards religious images.

In his article, “Allah judgment: The role of Mahathir, PAS and Anwar,” Rama Ramanathan identified Dr Mahathir’s diabolical diagnosis of genetic and mental weakness of Malays as the root cause of the present “Allah” dilemma. He said:

“Mahathir became Deputy Prime Minister in 1976 and became Prime Minister in 1981 when his predecessor Hussein Onn resigned “due to health reasons.” At that time, Mahathir was considered unlikely to succeed. There were serious doubts over whether he could lead Umno to victory. He was vilified by PAS. Mahathir soon proved his critics wrong. He patiently and vigorously sculpted strategies to ensure his survival for long enough to achieve his vision for Malaysia. Mahathir devised a powerful strategy to rob PAS of the claim that Umno is not ‘Islamic’. He would ‘show the people’ Umno was Islamic, and would make Malays rich. Mahathir used Islam as a tool to sculpt the new image of Umno. Barry Wain has put it so well, I can do no better than to quote him again: “Recast overnight by his critics as an “anti-Muslim villain” and contemptuously labelled Mahazalim, Mahakejam and Mahafiraun – the Great Oppressor, the Cruel One and the Great Pharoah: in summary, the cruellest of them all – Dr Mahathir chose not to address the many sources of discontent. Instead, he tried to recover Malay affection by further out-bidding PAS on religion, offering some of the items on the fundamentalist agenda he had always opposed. Encouraged and emboldened, religious bureaucrats flexed their muscles and tried to impose a grim form of Islamic orthodoxy (Barry Wain, Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times, Palgrave: 2009 p. 218). Mahathir co-opted Anwar Ibrahim, then leader of ABIM. At the time Anwar joined Umno in 1982, only Terengganu and Kelantan had passed the restrictive enactments. How did Umno get its Islamic credentials? (1) The co-option of Anwar, a politician with stellar Islamic credentials; (2) Mahathir’s strategy of doing “Islamic things” like passing legislation to ‘show’ Umno is Islamic – and thereby silence PAS; (3) courting the international media and showcasing Malaysia as an Islamic nation.”

(Tomorrow: The next step in the grand plan)