Response to 10-point Press Statement by Idris Jala: A Cautious Welcome Given Unaddressed Root Problem

It is right that Christians should cautiously welcome the 10-point press statement released by Datuk Idris Jala. LINK

We should welcome the statement since the government has at last conceded that Christians have the right to use the Alkitab without restrictions. But we must also receive it with caution since the statement does not address the root problem of the present crisis, i.e., the Allah issue. Unless the root problem is resolved, the government’s concession will only amount to a temporary act of expediency that can easily be overridden by later administrative directives.

First, we note two points in the press statement.

4. For Sabah and Sarawak, in recognition of the large Christian community in these states, there are no conditions attached to the importation and local printing of the bibles in all languages, including Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia and indigenous languages. There is no requirement for any stamp or serial number.

5. Taking into account the interest of the larger Muslim community, for Peninsular Malaysia, bibles in Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia, imported or printed, must have the words “Christian Publication” and the cross printed on the front covers.

The government’s requirement of two sets of rules, one for West Malaysia and one for East Malaysia, naturally has given rise to concerns that the government is deploying a “divide and rule” policy. An official policy of 1Malaysia but 2 separate Christian communities amounts to sowing disunity among the Christian community. This is sure to undermine the little trust that is left between the government and the Christian community.

The 10-point press statement should therefore be carefully analyzed so that the Christian community can give a measured response.

It should be emphasized that the statement only partially addresses the deep concerns of the Christian community. In particular, the government’s failure to address the 1981/1982 ISA gazettes, the1986 Cabinet decision and the unconstitutional state Islamic enactments that ban the use of so-called Islamic words in Christian publications means that it will not prevent the recurrence of seizure of Christian literature by some officials in the future. Notwithstanding the threat of disciplinary action (point 7), these officials can appeal to other circulars and guidelines (Garis Panduan) on importation of publications issued by the Home Ministry that conflict with the provisions of the 10-point press statement, to defend their action.

One may envisage the dreadful scenario in the future when the government uses the Court to issue a judgment declaring that Christians may not use the so-called Islamic words. Should that happen, the directives given through the 10-point media statement will be ruled as invalid and be rescinded. In the light of this happening, the 10-point statement will end up as a poisoned chalice offered to the Christian community.

As I see it, the only justification left to defend the government’s restriction of the use of the Alkitab is the existence of some state Islamic enactments that control the propagation of non-Islamic religions amongst Muslims, enactments purportedly made under Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution which provides that State laws may control or restrict the propagation of any religion to Muslims.

It should be stressed that even though Article 11(4) allows for control of propagation of religion among Muslims, the prohibition of the use of the word Allah and other so-called Islamic terms leading to the banning of the Alkitab at best may be used to regulate propagation of faith among Muslims. When applied to Christians, it is ultra vires the Federal Constitution and amounts to a violation of the constitutional rights of Christians to practise their faith using the Alkitab.

However, until someone brings the matter to Court and obtains a judgment that rules that the government gazettes and Islamic state enactments are unconstitutional, the government can continue to rely on these legal fig-leaves to justify its policy of restricting the use of the Alkitab. That being the case, Christians cannot cease from urging the government to repeal the ISA gazette and related guidelines that have allowed government officials to justify their harassment against Christians using the Alkitab all these years. In particular, Christians must urge the government to separate the Home Ministry’s Publication Control Department from the Quran Text Department since it is unconstitutional that the Alkitab and other Christian publications be subject to the control of Islamic/Quranic officials.

Clearly, the government is aware that it has no legal grounds to impose conditions on how the Alkitab may be used in East Malaysia since there are no Islamic state enactments that prohibit the use of so-called Islamic words. It relies on debatable Islamic state enactments to justify imposing conditions on the use of the Alkitab in West Malaysia although a consistent policy should accord the same freedom to Christians in Penang, the Federal Territory (WP) and Melaka where there are no such Islamic state enactments.

It is obvious then that the government’s proposal is only a partial and provisional solution. As such, Christians can only give a guarded and provisional response to the press-statement. That is to say, Christians will accept point 4 and point 5 of the 10-point press statement as a temporary solution.

We urge the government to work in good faith with Christians to bring about a just and lasting solution. This would mean that the government must repeal any enactment that violates the constitutional rights of Christians to practice their faith through the unrestricted use of the Alkitab, whether in West or East Malaysia.

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Statement from the Office of Datuk Idris Jala

Malaysia Insider 2 April 2011 LINK

APRIL 2 — The government confirmed that it has been in dialogue with the Christian groups to look into their specific requests on the Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia Bible and also other religious issues. Taking into account the polarity of views of the different religious groups, including the Muslims, the government decided on a 10-point solution.

1. Bibles in all languages can be imported into the country, including Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia

2. These bibles can also be printed locally in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. This is a new development which should be welcome by the Christian groups.

3. Bibles in indigenous languages of Sabah and Sarawak such as Iban, Kadazan-Dusun and Lun Bawang can also be printed locally and imported.

4. For Sabah and Sarawak, in recognition of the large Christian community in these states, there are no conditions attached to the importation and local printing of the bibles in all languages, including Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia and indigenous languages. There is no requirement for any stamp or serial number.

5. Taking into account the interest of the larger Muslim community, for Peninsular Malaysia, bibles in Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia, imported or printed, must have the words “Christian Publication” and the cross sign printed on the front covers.

6. In the spirit of 1 Malaysia and recognising that many people travel between Sabah and Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia, there should be no prohibitions and restrictions for people who bring along their bibles and Christian materials on such travel.

7. A directive on the Bible has been issued by the Ketua Setiausaha (secretary-general) of the Home Ministry to ensure proper implementation of this Cabinet decision. Failure to comply will subject the officers to disciplinary action under the General Orders. A comprehensive briefing by top officials, including the Attorney-General, will be given to all relevant civil servants to ensure good understanding and proper implementation of the directive.

8. For the impounded bibles in Kuching, Gideon, the importer can collect all the 30,000 bibles free of charge. We undertake to ensure the parties involved are reimbursed. The same offer remains available for the importer of the 5,100 bibles in Port Klang, which have already been collected by the Bible Society Malaysia last week.

9. Beyond the Bible issue, the government wishes to reiterate its commitment to work with the Christian groups and all the different religious groups in order to address inter religious issues and work towards the fulfilment of all religious aspirations in accordance with the constitution, taking into account the other relevant laws of the country. In order to bring urgency to this work, the Prime Minister will meet the representatives of the Christian Federation of Malaysia soon to discuss the way forward.

10. The Christian ministers in the Cabinet will meet on a regular basis with representatives of the various Christian groups in order to discuss their issues and work with the relevant ministries and PM in order to resolve them.

Datuk Seri Idris Jala said: “I hope this 10-point solution will be received positively by the Christian groups as being fair and reasonable. We have to look for a solution that deals with the Bible issues and also put a way forward to handle other issues raised by the Christian groups”.

“I think the Bible issue is very unfortunate, and in the spirit of Lent, it is time for sacrifice, reconciliation and forgiveness. In our history as a young nation, we achieved a lot in a short period of time, but we have our shortcomings. The government and our civil servants are not perfect as indeed all human beings are ‘beautifully imperfect’ in the eyes of God. And for all our shortcomings in handling the Bible issue, I hope the Christians would find it in their hearts to forgive us. In my church at SIBKL, we have been praying for a Christian revival to take place in our country. For all the hurt that exists as a result of our differences, I believe that we need healing, forgiveness and reconciliation in this country. The Bible says in Matthew 18: 21-22 ‘Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’.”

* Datuk Seri Idris Jala is a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

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3 Responses to “Response to 10-point Press Statement by Idris Jala: A Cautious Welcome Given Unaddressed Root Problem”

  1. Pathi Says:

    I do agree that we must be very cautious of the above. In fact the Home Minister himself has said it is not final and knowing how the govt can change their policies overnight, we must continue to press on for the freedom to use the Alkitab anywhere in our country without any restrictions. We may have won today but the battle never ends, We must always be alert and ready.

  2. Kon Onn Sein Says:

    Forgiveness is central to the message of the cross but so to is justice and fairness. Without repealing discriminatory directives, there can be no true lasting unity and reconciliation. Freedom of religion must be upheld if true unity is desired. An offer that avoids this critical issue by offering temporary solutions leaves in question the sincerity of the ruling powers in respecting the fundamental freedom and dignity of Malaysian citizens of all faith. One needs to ask why the ruling powers refuse to repeal the ISA directive on the Alkitab, especially if it contravenes rights enshrined in the Constitution and is the right thing to do?

  3. CS Ting Says:

    If we uphold the belief that all Malaysians are equal under the Federal Constitution, and that there are no citizenship categorisation or classification, then we have only one single reference point… and that is, the unalienable rights that all of us have, as Malaysian citizens, for unhindered religious freedom as guaranteed by our Constitution. Nothing less than that is satisfactory. Who is above the Law of our land? Who has assumed that power to pronounce new rules ultra vires the Constittuion, YB Menteri or anyone for that matter? How can mere men, Menteri or not, pronounce human authority over Divine Word and authority? Shameful treachery!

    We must have nothing less than full and equal religious freedom justly due to us, just as much as it should be due to all other citizens. Stand firm, and persevere. CCM Youth’s stance is lauded. Thanks.

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