By Debra Chong
KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 — Bishop Ng Moon Hing, who heads the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), has denounced as lies a reported home ministry denial that it seized and locked up at Port Klang 5,000 Malay bibles shipped in three years ago from Indonesia.
The imported bibles have become a source of controversy because they contain the word “Allah”, which the majority Malay-Muslim community here believes cannot be used by non-Muslims to refer to their deities.
On Wednesay, national news agency Bernama reported the ministry’s clarification that the bibles actually had been refused entry into Malaysia for not fulfilling the ministry’s requirements.
Citing the ministry statement, Bernama said a letter of refusal dated June 26, 2010 had been sent to the importer; however, the importer had yet to claim the cargo.
When contacted by The Malaysian Insider, Ng demanded to know who had made the statement.
“Who said it?” he questioned.
When told it was a statement reported by Bernama, and no name had been mentioned, Ng said: “Well, they’re lying.”
The ministry was responding to the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship’s (NECF) claim that the ministry had conducted the seizure.
NECF secretary-general Sam Ang, writing in its bulletin, claimed the ministry had confiscated and detained the bibles in Port Klang since the year before last, and continued to hold them although the Cabinet had approved the release of the consignment.
The bishop said the CFM, the umbrella body representing over 90 per cent of all churches in the country — covering the Catholic, Protestant and evangelical segments — has documents to back their claim and called the ministry’s bluff on the issue.
Copies of two letters, sent by the ministry’s publication and Al-Quran text control division to the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) which had imported the Malay bibles, were also provided to The Malaysian Insider.
In the first letter, dated June 10 last year, a senior home ministry official wrote that the BSM’s appeal letter had been considered and the ministry in Putrajaya had decided to allow the release.
“Tuan diminta berhubung dengan pejabat ini untuk mengambil bahan penerbitan tersebut sebelum 25 Jun 2010 dari tarikh surat ini dikeluarkan. Semua penerbitan yang disita dan ditahan dibawah Seksyen 9A, 17 dan 18 ini akan terlucut hak menurut Seksyen 19(2) AMCP 1984 selepas tempoh 25 Jun 2010. Sekiranya tuan gagal berbuat sedemikian, penerbitan tuan akan dilupuskan mengikut apa-apa cara yang diputuskan oleh kementerian menurut peruntukan Akta yang sama,” it stated.
[In English, the letter reads: “You are requested to contact this office to collect the publications before June 25 2010 from the date this letter is issued. All publications gazetted and detained under Section 9A, 17 and 18 will be terminated according to Section 19(2) of the Printing Press and Publications 1984 after the period of June 25 2010. If you fail to do so, your publications will be terminated in whichever manner decided by the ministry according to the provision of the same Act .”]
Ng, who is also head of the Anglican diocese in the peninsula, said the Bible Society and CFM representatives have been seeking help from various Cabinet ministers, to no avail.
“They give us their assurance that they will look into it,” Ng said, adding he had heard the phrase repeated countless times.
However, things changed after church leaders sought for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to intervene directly.
Ng said he had spoken personally with Najib a few times about Christian dilemma over the Malay bibles stuck at the ports in Klang and Kuching, including at last year’s Christmas tea party hosted by the Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam.
“After we met the prime minister, the ruling was reversed very quickly,” the bishop said.
The Malaysian Insider understands a consignment of 10,000 Malay bibles locked up in Kuching were released to the importer, a local branch of international Christian group, The Gideons, the same day.
The 5,000 held in Port Klang, however, remained under the home ministry’s lock and key.
Ng said the PM very likely was not given the full picture and was not aware there was another shipment of 5,000 bibles imported by BSM.
“He sounded surprised. If you are the prime minister and were told one side had been released, you’d think that’s the end of the matter. Case closed,” Ng said, in Najib’s defence.
The bishop related that the PM seemed surprised when he was reminded about the Port Klang shipment and promised he would look into it.
But three months have passed since that private conversation on December 25 and the Christian groups have yet to get word from home ministry officials to collect their languishing cargo.
Instead, CFM received another report that a third consignment of Malay bibles, this time for 30,000 copies costing US$26,000 (RM78,000) meant for the Sarawak Christian market, have been carted off from Kuching port to the home ministry’s local office and put under lock.
Fed-up and angry at the unresponsive treatment from the Najib administration, CFM rebuked the PM in an open letter last week, signalling that Christians are likely to increase pressure in other ways to protect their religious rights as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, the highest law of the land.
“As long as this matter is not resolved, we have no choice,” Ng said.
“This is the Christian holy book. If Christians are not allowed to read the holy book in their own language, then we can’t talk about religious freedoms,” he added, referring to the Bumiputera Christians whom he said formed the biggest segment of believers in the country.
Christians make up close to 10 per cent of Malaysia’s 28 million population.
Its biggest bases are in Sarawak and Sabah, where the national language, Bahasa Malaysia, is used in churches to preach to the multi-ethnic congregation who each have a distinctive tribal language.
But evangelist churches there, notably the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB), have spread their wings and crossed the South China Sea to preach to the growing number of Sarawakians and Sabahans who are settling down in the peninsula after furthering their studies or finding work here.
The bishop stressed that there was not only one type of language that could be used for the bible and Christians “cannot be asked to change to another holy book”.