Bible Society To Move Out of Selangor

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Media Statement by The Bible Society of Malaysia

The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) expresses its greetings to the Christians and Churches in Malaysia who are observing Holy Week.

Recent announcements from Selangor State EXCO has confirmed BSM’s belief that the environment in the state of Selangor has become unconducive for BSM to carry out its work of supplying bibles to the Christians and Churches of Malaysia. Since the raid by JAIS on BSM’s office on 2 January 2014 together with the seizure of 321 copies of Malay and Iban bibles and the arrest of two of its officers, the Selangor State Government have demonstrated their lack of interest and will to address the unjust situation of state Islamic agencies taking unwarranted action against non-Muslim religious bodies for exercising their legitimate rights under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.

BSM wishes to put on record that since the announcement of the Ten Points Solution by the Federal Government in April 2011, BSM had imported 400,000 copies of the Alkitab, the Bahasa Malaysia Bible, into Malaysia for use by Christians and churches. This arrived in 21 shipments over a period of 2 years. On each occasion, these shipments of BM bibles were cleared by KDN at Port Klang without delay and without any problems. BSM commends the Federal Government for not only faithfully honouring the Ten Points Solution but respecting the rights of religious minorities to have access to their holy books in the Malaysian languages.

Unfortunately, the stand taken by the Selangor State EXCO to justify and to support the actions of JAIS is a clear signal that JAIS will continue to act as a free agent against non-Muslim religious groups and bodies in Selangor.

BSM had called for and hoped that Selangor State EXCO will follow the good example of the Federal Government by adopting the Ten Points Solution in their administration that will put an end to inter-religious tensions in the state of Selangor. Unfortunately, this has not been forthcoming.

Therefore, BSM wish to announce that it will be moving its headquarters and operations out of Selangor to the Federal Territories where better protection is given by the Federal Government to religious minorities. By moving to states where the Ten Points apply, BSM hopes to avoid incidents like that of January 2 that could disrupt the operations of BSM in supplying BM bibles to Christians and churches throughout Malaysia.

Apart from the change of our base, it will be business as usual for BSM. However, we will no longer be importing Bibles through Port Klang, Selangor but we will ship BM bibles directly to East Malaysia where most of the BM bible readers are. As for West Malaysia, we will ship through the state of Penang which does not have a law like the 1988 Selangor Enactment.

Christians and churches who wish to obtain BM bibles from BSM will have to get them from BSM’s outlets to be established in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kuching, Miri and Kota Kinabalu. Christians residing in Selangor  will have to personally undertake the risk of transporting and using the BM bible in Selangor territory. For the rest of the country, we do  not anticipate such problems.

The timing of this transition and the location of BSM’s new offices will be announced in the Christian media in the near future.

BSM calls on Christians to remember the spirit of this Holy Week. During his crucifixion, Jesus Christ prayed to God for forgiveness for his persecutors. As we remember the sufferings, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ this week, let us forgive all those who have wronged us and pray that they will receive God’s grace and salvation as we have.

15 April 2014

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.”

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!