* This fact sheet on the Alkitab controversy was published in The Herald on April 10, 2011.
The recent government offer was released to the public on April 2 evening. The headlines of the news in some mainstream media appear to imply that the issue has been resolved. This fact sheet seeks to clarify the Catholic Church’s present position and future course of action.
Has the matter of Alkitab been resolved?
No. Since, this is a new offer from the government, the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) would need to meet and deliberate on this matter. In respect of the last offer from the government (March 22), the component bodies of the CFM, namely the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF), Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) and the Catholic Bishops Conference (CBC), engaged in wider consultation with their leaders, both from peninsula as well as from Sabah and Sarawak. On March 31, CFM issued a statement rejecting the offer of March 22 to have the Alkitab stamped with the words “For Christianity” and said that any solution needs to be tied to wider issues concerning religious freedom, e.g. use of religious words (“Allah”), display of symbols, places of worship.
Have all restrictions been removed in the government’s latest 10-point formula?
No. No restrictions have been imposed on the import, publication and distribution of the Alkitab in Sabah and Sarawak whereas some restrictions have been imposed for the situation in Peninsular Malaysia. In other words, the government’s latest proposal provides a two-standard policy — one for east Malaysia and another for Peninsular Malaysia.
The reasons cited by the press statement of Senator Idris Jala are that this two-standard policy reflects the size of the Christian community on both sides of the South China Seas. As, Muslims are the majority in Peninsular Malaysia, such restrictions have to be imposed.
What are the restrictions imposed on the copies in Peninsular Malaysia?
The word “Christian Publication” (Penerbitan Kristian) and cross will be printed or stamped on the cover.
In fact, the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) has already been stamping these bibles with the wording and cross since 2005, pursuant to an agreement between CFM and the government. After a long period of harassment, detentions, imposition of unilateral conditions by government, the CFM came up with this proposal in 2005 and presented in to the then-Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who accepted it. Subsequently, a letter from the Home Ministry was issued to confirm the government’s acceptance of this proposal.
But the agreement of 2005 was only honoured by the Home Ministry in one shipment. Thereafter, additional restrictions and conditions were imposed which eventually led to a series of detentions and finally the two-year detention of 5,100 copies of the Alkitab in Port Klang in 2009.
Please note that there is no legal jurisdiction for the stamping or imposition of conditions on the Alkitab. The above detentions, proscriptions and imposition of conditions have been done at the administrative level, often citing one reason or the other.
What happens now?
The CFM would have to meet to decide on this latest offer, after extensive consultation with all stakeholders. We are not sure when this will take place.
How should the “silence” or delay in decision-making be interpreted?
The silence of the leadership should not be interpreted as a lack of action. Perhaps, the following explanation can be given:
Due to the gravity of the issue and its relation to other matters concerning religious freedom (Herald case, use of the word “Allah”), wider consultation is required. Leaders would also need to consult their own constituents, lawyers and advisers.
There is no hurry for us to come up with an answer for the government’s latest offer, even thought the government seem to have a dateline (Sarawak election on April 16). We should not be dictated by the timetable set by the government but rather the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our deliberations.
Our Christian leaders and bishops are asking all the faithful to act in solidarity with the CFM’s last position and keep this matter in prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament.
*by Rev Father Michael Chua – an ecclesiastical assistant in the Archdiocesan Ministry of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (AMEIA) for the Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.