Friday, March 25, 2011

Who next after Christians, questions non-Muslim interfaith council

By Debra Chong ( The Malaysian Insider)
March 25, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, March 25 — A fever has broken out over Putrajaya’s handling of the Alkitab row that appears to have split multicultural Malaysia into two distinct camps — Muslim and non-Muslim — as the nation readies for crucial polls in Sarawak, its biggest Christian state.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) issued a strongly worded statement today accusing the Najib administration of riding roughshod over religions other than Islam when it imposed conditions for the release of 35,000 Malay bibles seized from Port Klang and Kuching.

“This means that the Alkitab (Bahasa Malaysia version) is now considered a restricted item and ‘the Word of God’ has been made subject to the control of man,” it said, citing the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) in the latter’s previous attempt to free the bibles.

CFM is the umbrella body that represents over 90 per cent of churches here.

In a series of news statements that started earlier this month, the Christian organisation denounced the Najib administration for defacing its holy books with the home ministry’s official seal, an act it said amounted to desecration.

“Does our current prime minister wield any authority? And if he does not, who does?” the interfaith council demanded of Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

“We also vehemently oppose the present line of action being pursued,” it said in solidarity with the Christian community.

About one in 10 Malaysians is Christian.

The MCCBCHST said the authorities seemed to want Malaysians to believe that the Alkitab conflict is solely a tussle between two creeds, Islam and Christianity; and affects only Muslims and Christians.

“After the Christians have been ‘fixed’, who next?” the MCCBCHST questioned.

The council — which represents five out of the country’s six main creeds — reminded the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition of its founder’s words uttered shortly after Independence in 1957.

“Let freedom be secured for all the law-abiding people. There shall be freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from want, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement,” it said, citing first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.

“The political leaders definitely do not have a finger on the pulse of the nation. They are definitely wrong in what they are doing,” it added, in a thinly veiled dig at Najib’s 1 Malaysia slogan aimed at uniting the different communities.

The MCCBCHST further accused Islamic leaders of not knowing their own religion despite dipping their fingers into the controversy.

“In the face of what has been alluded to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the narrative about ‘The Promise to St Catherine’, it is highly suspect that the Islamic high officials in our country do not even know their own religion!” it said.

Prophet Muhammad was said to have made a promise to a delegation of monks from the monastery near Mount Sinai over 1,400 years ago that Muslims will always protect Christians and their way of worship.

An English translation of the promise as published in the Islamic web site, Muslim.net, can be read here.

The Christian and Muslim religious communities have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the word “Allah”, with the latter group arguing that its use should be exclusive to them on the grounds that Islam is monotheistic and the word “Allah” denotes the Muslim God.

Christians, however, have argued that “Allah” is an Arabic word that has been used by those of other religious beliefs, including the Jews, for centuries in reference to God in many other parts of the world, notably in Arab nations and Indonesia.

The tussle is still trapped in the courts after the ministry won a stay of the 2009 High Court ruling that allowed Catholic weekly The Herald to use “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section.

The ongoing bible row started in January and came to a head last week after the home ministry stamped the two separate shipments with its official seal before ordering their release.

The Christian importers have denounced the Najib administration for the act, which they say is a desecration of their holy book.

Two days ago, the government backed down and offered to paste over the marked Alkitab with labels that simply read “For Christianity”.

In a media statement to national news agency, Bernama, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala said Christian donors have also volunteered to ship in a new replacement consignment so long as the importers agree to have the same words “For Christianity” stamped on their covers in font type Arial size 16.

“No other words or serial numbers will be stamped on the bibles,” Jala added.

CFM is pondering accepting Putrajaya’s offer and has said will give its decision after consulting with all Christian leaders next week.

With Sarawakians going to the polls on April 16, the twin issues are expected to weigh on the minds of Christians who make up close to half of the hornbill state’s total population.

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