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Home Ministry should immediately lift the ban of 13 Christian books as well as other banned Muslim books in order to be consistent with natural justice


Media Statement
by
Ashvin Raj

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): Acting Prime Minister and Home Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi should be commended for revoking the ban imposed on the Iban-language Bible, Bup Kudus, after meeting church leaders on the issue.

However, it is most disappointing that the Home Minister has stated before the meeting that the "ban would be lifted if the ministry was satisfied with the arguments put forward by the Iban community in appealing against the ban."  In the first place, what Datuk Seri Abdullah should have done is to direct the lifting of the ban immediately, not just on the Bup Kudus but also on the other 13 Christian publications in Bahasa Malaysia due to the lack of natural justice and a blatant disregard of the right of Christians to practice their faith freely as provided by the Federal Constitution.

Besides, most Malaysians are generally proficient in Bahasa Malaysia, and Malaysian Christians should have free access to read and be informed about their faith even in the National Language.

The Government has been insensitive in the first place to the feelings of Christians in classifying their Holy Book as "undesirable publication and publication prejudicial to public order" and not having prior consultation for example, with the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), in respect of the said Prohibition Order.

Islam is recognized as Malaysia's official religion, and the Federal Constitution guarantees the right of freedom for all citizens to practice and propagate their religion. That freedom however is subject to another clause stating that laws "may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam."


This provision seems to provide the authorities with a loophole, for example by making it easier to identify publications they claim would cause confusion among Muslims. The authorities have wrongly believed that this would confuse Muslims who picked up such books. The word that causes concern is "Allah." It's the word Muslims use for God, but the Arabic word pre-dated Islam and is also used by Christian Arabs when referring to God - despite the considerable differences in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic conceptions of God.  As such, the authorities must not get carried away in making the prohibition order by exploiting the loophole in the law to the detriment of non-Muslims to practice their faith freely under the Constitution.

 

The Iban translation of the Bible uses the term "Allah Taala" for God, while the other banned Christian books, in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, also use "Allah" for God. To say that the Iban-language Bible must use some other word to describe God is not the point of argument and doesnít hold water.


It is simply wrong for any specific religion to claim monopoly over certain words. Terminology or language doesn't belong to any particular religion. It should be universal property. By the same token, shall we ban the English version of the Quran? The use of different languages for all publications, including those of a religious nature should be encouraged to promote greater understanding.

 

Language is universal to all peoples irrespective of race or religion.  No religion should claim exclusive use of any word in any language. Translations are meant so that all can understand in their own native language. In this case, it is the same here, nothing more and nothing less. I'm sure all Malaysians, irrespective of race or religion are matured enough to accept or reject and make their choices. Hence, there is no need to cast a veil over their eyes!  We should be prepared to discuss issues openly in whatever language. After all, language is only a medium of instruction.

If the government is worried that some Muslims may be confused, it is the government's responsibility to address the problem through educational programs aimed at Muslims - not choosing the easy way out by banning Christian books based on words used, it should not become typical of the Malaysian mentality, that if you canít win, then ban them.

In a multi-religious society like ours, it is important for the government to go through a process of what we call 'natural justice,í i.e. the right to be heard.  It should by all means have consultation or dialogues with the respective religious representatives concerned before making any prohibition decision over questionable materials affecting their religious rights.

It is hoped that such an insensitive decision by the Home Ministry should not be repeated in future. The Home Ministry should also immediately lift the ban of the other 13 Christian books, as well as the other banned Muslim books in order to be consistent with natural justice.

(2/5/2003)


* Asvin Raj, DAPSY National Assistant Publicity Secretary