The announcement last weekend by Acting Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of the immediate lifting of the ban on the Iban Bible is a much-welcomed decision. It assuages some of the fears many Christians here in Malaysia here have in regards to the increase of religious intolerance. In fact, this decision should be welcomed by all religious minorities here in Malaysia as a positive sign that freedom of religion will be upheld when the acting prime minister takes over the reins come October.
Many Malaysian Christians and fellow citizens have expressed their concern over this issue, as shown in an online petition I started which received approximately 1,400 signatures after only one week.
However, there are some issues in regards to this recent banning of books which remain a concern. If the logic behind the lifting of the ban on the Iban Bible was because the word "Allah Taala" is the word which the Iban Christian community uses to address their God, then by the same token, the other Christian books in Bahasa Malaysia which were banned because of the use of the word Allah should be lifted as well since this is what the Christian Bahasa Malaysia-speaking community uses to address their God.
Letters have appeared here in malaysiakini which point to the pre-Islamic nature of the word Allah which both Arab Christians and Muslims use when addressing their God. Hence, the word Allah should not be the sole possession of Muslims here in Malaysia and should be allowed to be used by other communities which have a legitimate right to use this form of address for their God, more so now that more and more Malaysians use Bahasa Malaysia as their main medium of communication.
I have not read all the 14 banned Christian books which appeared on the list of the Home Ministry. I have read one by a certain John RW Stott entitled Understanding the Bible or Memahami Isi Alkitab. He's the author of more than 100 Christian books and is acknowledged by Christians worldwide as one of the most popular and influential contemporary Christian writers. I find it hard to believe that this particular book which helps Christians who are relatively new in their faith to read and understand the Bible better could be detrimental to national security. Any interested party can pick up the English translation of this book in any Christian bookstore and check it for themselves.
Therefore, I urge the acting prime minister, who is also the home minister, to review the ban on the other 14 Christian books and let the public know the reasons for the ban in the first place. If these can be resolved through meetings with the publisher or with other Christian organisations in the country, then the ban on these books should be lifted as well.
Finally, to prevent such a situation from happening again, i.e, when overzealous
bureaucrats from the Home Ministry or Jakim (Department of Islamic Development) act against the interest of religious tolerance and freedom of religion as enshrined in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, I suggest that the acting prime minister look seriously into the possibility of setting up an inter-religious council under the Prime Minister's Department, when he takes over the position in October. This council should be the official avenue where decisions made by the government affecting all religions (including Islam) should be discussed. It should comprise religious organisations from all religions (including Islam) in Malaysia.
To be consistent, I also urge the acting prime minister to reveal the reasons why the other 20 Islamic books were banned. Muslims in Malaysia have as much as right as citizens of other religions to decide for themselves what is 'deviant' and what is not.