Many of us would like to express our gratitude to Selangor MB Azmin Ali for orchestrating the return of the Malay and Iban language Bibles which were seized by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) in January 2014.
In June, after much investigation and deliberation, the attorney-general (AG) concluded that Jais erred in seizing the Bibles and ordered for the case to be closed.
Under the Ninth Schedule of the federal constitution (which contains the legislative lists), religion is under the purview of the states.
As per Frank Murphy (former US Supreme Court judge), “religious freedom is too sacred a right to be restricted or prohibited in any degree without convincing proof that a legitimate interest of the state is in grave danger”.
Although religious issues are under the scope of the state, it is trite law that state enactments cannot contradict the federal constitution which is the ultimate law of the land.
Prima facie, the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslims) Enactment 1988 is constitutional as it is made as per Article 11(4) of the federal constitution which allows for state law to control or restrict the propogation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.
Under section 9(1)(a) of the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslims) Enactment 1988, “a person commits an offence if he in any published writing uses any of the words listed in Part I of the Schedule, or any of its derivatives or variations, to express or describe any fact, belief, idea, concept, act, activity, matter, or thing of or pertaining to any non-Islamic religion”.
At first glance it appears as though as the Malay and Iban Bibles breached Section 9(1)(a) by virtue of containing the word ‘Allah’. However, there shouldn't be an offence under the enactment for the following reasons.
Firstly, there is no proof of propogation because the Bibles were taken from the Bible Society of Malaysia’s (BSM) premises. At most, Jais can say they acted under suspicion, but whether their suspicion is reasonable is a different story
Then-BSM president Lee Min Choon pointed out that all its Malay bibles were imprinted with a picture of the cross and the words ‘Penerbitan Kristian’ on the cover and noted that the Home Ministry regularly inspects its Bible shipment imports .
This is a huge sacrifice on the part of BSM to abide by the law in order to ensure that its customers may have access to Malay Bibles
‘More than 60pct of Malaysian Christians only speak BM’
As to why the Bibles are in our national language, “more than 60 percent of Malaysian Christians only speak Bahasa Malaysia, and the word used for God in the Bahasa Malaysia Bible (Al-Kitab) since its translation in 1731, is ‘Allah’.
“The word is used by bumiputera Christians who only have Bahasa Malaysia as their common language in Sabah, Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia, and by the Baba community in Malacca,” according to the Christian Federation of Malaysia.
Regarding why the Bibles are in Selangor and not in Sabah and Sarawak, it is important to note that BSM is the one that imports, prints and distributes Malay Bibles to Sarawak and Sabah (as per Nic Ng, BSM’s executive council member). Perhaps the Bibles were in storage awaiting importation?
Even if some of the Bibles were not to be imported, it shouldn’t be an issue that the Bibles are in Selangor because there are Malay speaking Christians in peninsula Malaysia (e.g. Sabahans and Sarawakians who come over looking for jobs).
If Malay language Bibles aren't allowed in Selangor, it would most definitely infringe on the right of the Malay speaking Christians to freely practice their religion (enshrined in Article 11 of the federal constitution).
US Politician Mike Quigley once wisely said that the “protection of religious freedom means considering the faiths and beliefs of everyone involved”.
In future, Jais and other religious enforcement agencies should not be so overzealous, especially when dealing with holy books of other religions. Perhaps a more thorough investigation (which would have made the raid unnecessary) could have prevented this dark dent in our history
Even if the roles were reversed and Qurans were superfluously seized, right-thinking Malaysians would stand up and speak out against the blatant infringement of the freedom of religion!
JOSHUA WU Wu is a first year law student who blogs at www.rebuttedopinions.wordpress.com