KL's half-hearted "For Christianity" move unlikely to appease S'wakians
Ahead of Wednesday's meeting by the Election Commission to fix a date for the Sarawak elections, Prime Minister Najib Razak and his cousin Hishammuddin Hussein finally agreed to back down on the Malay-language Bible row. But their half-hearted and belated measure is unlikely to go down well with the Christian community.
Instead of completely withdrawing their requirement that the Bibles be stamped with the words "For Christians Only" and a serial number, Najib now wants the Bibles to be stamped with just the words "For Christianity".
"Our stand is quite clear. We do not believe there should be any stamping at all but the Christian Federation of Malaysian will be meeting tomorrow and we will discuss ths latest development," inter-faith group MCCBCHST president Rev Thomas Philips, told Malaysia Chronicle.
The Christian Federation of Malaysia is due to meet around 10.30am on Wednesday.
In a statement issued late on Tuesday evening, Minister in the PM's Department Idris Jala urged Christians not to reject the offered solution as "the act of stamping and serialisation of the Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia" should not be perceived as desecration.
The new deal
Idris listed down the three-prong solution put forward by the Najib administration as follows:
1. The BM Bibles currently impounded in Kuching and Port Klang will be released with the words "For Christianity" stamped clearly in font type Arial/size 16 in bold. No other words or serial numbers will be stamped on the Bibles.
2. To ensure that there is no misrepresentation in its implementation by civil servants, the Government will issue a directive from the Director-General of the Ministry of Home Affairs. As with all similar directives, failure to comply with this directive will subject the relevant officers to disciplinary action under the General Orders.
3. To highlight the Government's commitment to resolving this issue amicably, the Government has received an offer from Christian donors who are prepared to pay for the cost of all the Bibles, which have already been stamped and serialised. These BM Bibles can either be released in their present state (with stamps and serial numbers) or arrangements can be made to put stickers with the words "For Christianity" to cover the existing stamps and serial numbers. The choice is for the importers of these Bibles. In the event they do not wish to take possession of these impounded Bibles in the present state, the Christian donors will pay for the full cost of new bibles to be brought in with the words "For Christianity" printed at source or stamped with these words "For Christianity" by the Ministry of Home Affairs at Port Klang and Kuching.
According to idris, the representatives from Christian groups requested for time to meet and discuss and have advised the government that they would revert on their decision as soon as practicable.
Free of charge carrot
He also urged Christian groups to come and collect the Bibles immediately for three reasons:
1. The focus should be on getting the bibles into the hands of people who want to read them; it has been established that the Ministry of Home Affairs is not singling out the Bibles for stamping and serialisation because this is also the same practice as they appear in the Quran.
2. Notwithstanding (1) above, an arrangement has been made by the Government with the help of Christian donors to pay for the cost of all 30,000 impounded bibles in Kuching and the 5,100 bibles in Port Klang free of charge. The importer can take these bibles completely free of charge at no cost. If the Christian groups do not wish to take the Bibles, then the Christian donors have agreed to pay for the cost of bringing in new bibles as replacement and these will be printed or stamped with the words "For Christianity."
3. The Government has agreed to issue a Directive so that future Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia can be brought in as long as these have the words "For Christianity" in Arial font size 16 either printed at source or stamped at the receiving Port.
A little too little, a little too late
Since the row broke out between Christians and the Home Ministry earlier this month, importers have refused to collect the Alkitab or Malay-language Bibles after the Home Ministry stamped the books without consulting anyone.
The perceived desecration riled already-annoyed Christians even more, while extremist Mulsim groups with ties to Umno began demonstrating against the Church over the matter.
Umno-linked Perak chief mufti Harussani Zakaria even warned Christians not to get too big for their boots and start imagining that Malaysia was a "Christian country". His comments sparked an immediate backlash, and calls grew for him to be charged under the Sedition law.
Pundits have said if not for the Sarawak state elections, widely expected to be balloted on April 16, it is unlikely that Najib would be willing to compromise.
Christians form 43 per cent of Sarawak's 2.4 million-strong population. They have expressed anger at Putrajaya's high-handed ways in firstly detaining the bibles, then releasing the books but with the "defacements".
"It may be a little too little, a little too late,"PKR Sarawak chief Baru Bian told Malaysia Chronicle.
"Why put the Christians through so much anguish and hurt and in the end offer a solution that is not satisfactory. What do you mean by 'For Christianity'? And then, what about the Allah court case? All these questions are still oustanding - how can the Christians be sure of their future when they see with their own eyes the behavior of these Umno-BN leaders." - Malaysia Chronicle