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Christians want Putrajaya to prove sincerity over Alkitab

Penulis : Datu pitung on Apr 3, 2011 | 5:23 AM

KUALA LUMPUR, April 3 — In Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia, Christian clerics greeted with caution Putrajaya’s latest 10-point formula to resolve the bible impasse, saying action alone — and not words — can convince the community the pledges will be honoured.

Kuching-based Anglican bishop, Bolly Lapok, said he was surprised by the apparent generosity and sensitivity of the federal government’s latest overture to the Christian community’s 30-year-old-dilemma.

“The Christian community here welcomes it even though it is just an ointment for a symptom,” he told The Malaysian Insider today.

In its 10-point resolution released last night, the Cabinet through its minister Datuk Seri Idris Jala, assured the huge Bumiputera Christian population in Sarawak and Sabah they are free to bring in and use their bibles in Malay as well as in indigenous languages; and that no restriction will be applied.

Jala also said that the bible can now be printed locally in any language, including in Iban, Kadazan-Dusun and Lun Bawang.

Lapok said he was heartened to see the federal government showing commitment to resolve long-standing interfaith disputes.

“It’s an assurance, but we have been given such assurances before,” he said, and noted with concern another set of rules for believers in peninsular Malaysia, requiring the holy books here to be stamped with the words “Christian Publication” and a cross on the cover.

According to Jala, this is because Muslims are the majority community on the peninsula, unlike in Borneo where they are the minority.

“We share the sentiments of our West Malaysian colleagues. There should be one law, not two,” he said.

“If this is negotiable, we stand by what we had said earlier and call on the government to repeal the relevant laws,” he added, referring to legislation that continued to bar Christians from using the word “Allah” for God beyond the Muslim context.

Lapok said Christians are praying the level of understanding and harmony among adherents of the different faiths in Malaysia will rise above the root-cause that ignited the dispute.

The Bible Society of Malaysia’s (BSM) general-secretary, Rev Simon Wong, remained doubtful that the federal government would honour its pledges.

“Datuk Seri Idris Jala may be sincere, but how trustworthy is the BN government?” Wong asked, referring to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) administration which has stayed in power since Independence.

He said the Home Ministry already has a record of breaking its word, which includes “harassing” local printers for printing the bibles and detaining bibles even after an agreement was reached.

“KDN has harassed local printers before. Same condition in 2005, but KDN never honoured — March 20, 2009, KDN detained BM Bibles printed with the same words ‘Penerbitan Kristian’ and a cross,” Wong said, calling the Home Ministry by its Malay initials.

Part of what provoked Christian anger has been blamed on the home ministry’s unilateral decision to seize the BSM’s cargo of 5,000 bibles from Indonesia, locking them up for two years and then hastily stamping the books with serial numbers and the Home Ministry’s official seal before they were released to the importers.

The Petaling Jaya-based BSM is one of the two affected bible importers in the present row.

The other importer is the Sarawak branch of global Christian group, The Gideons.

“They’ve made life hard for us for two years. Even before releasing the bibles, they stamped and serialised them unilaterally. This defacement of holy bibles has caused us great distress and loss of RM70,000,” Wong related.

“After the Sarawak state election or GE, we fear the government would revert to its old ways despite the directives,” he said, voicing the general view among Christians that the latest olive branch was a ruse to pacify the community and prevent a possible backlash at the ballot box when Sarawak goes to the polls in two weeks.

Wong echoed Lapok’s call for the federal government to adopt only one policy to prove its commitment to upholding the Federal Constitution’s guarantees on freedom to worship, in line with Prime Minister’s “1 Malaysia” slogan to nation building.

“Better to adopt only one policy for 1 Malaysia. No restriction, no proscription,” he said.

Rev Thomas Phillips of the Mar Thoma church here said Jala’s statement was “encouraging” but questioned the timing of the 10-point formula.

“Why, after all these years?” asked the cleric who is also an executive councillor in the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM).

The umbrella body representing over 90 per cent of churches here had earlier snubbed the Cabinet’s initial overture to resolve the row, saying it failed to address the core problem of religious discrimination.

“There’s a lot the government has to do to win the trust of the people. It should be 1 Malaysia, one policy. Everybody should have the freedom to worship according to their own religion,” said Phillips, who is also president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST).

The priest told The Malaysian Insider the CFM exco will have to hold another meeting to discuss this latest overture before it responds.

“But we are in no hurry,” Phillips told The Malaysian Insider.

Yesterday, the Cabinet initiated a new list of suggestions to put an end to the month-long standoff, in a bid to head off a possible backlash against BN in Malaysia’s biggest and most Christian-dominant state on April 16.

Nearly half the state’s one million population is Christian.

In his media statement, Jala spelled out the government’s 10-point formula to pacify the minority Christians without incurring the anger of the majority Muslims over the religious controversy.

However, he made no mention of the word “Allah”, which both Christians and Muslims view as being the crux of the Alkitab row.

He added that the federal government would reimburse the two bible importers over the markings carried out by Home Ministry officials, which the Christian community regard as a desecration of their holy book.

Jala said that the Cabinet’s decision will be gazetted through the Home Ministry’s secretary-general to ensure the order is carried out and that action will be taken against civil officials who breach these directives.

He said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak will meet the CFM to look for a way forward on outstanding religious issues beyond the bible row.

He added that Christian ministers in the Cabinet will also hold regular meetings with Christian groups to discuss religious issues.

“I hope this 10-point solution will be received positively by the Christian groups as being fair and reasonable,” Jala said in his statement, adding that the government was committed to a peaceful way out of the impasse.

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