Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Malay-Language Bible Ban?

The karmic cycle of "Bible Ban" reemerged in Parliament recently...

John Chung: I'm glad the PM has clarified the matter. But for a Minister in the PM's own department to say in Parliament that there is such a ban is really quite shocking! Thankfully, our Christian leaders are quick to respond.


No ban on Malay-language Bibles: Abdullah

Apr 19, 05 6:45am

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today said there was no ban on Bibles
published in the Malay language but they must be stamped with the words "Not for

He was responding to questions after a minister told parliament last week that
the government did not allow editions of the Bible published in Malay to be
distributed as it could be construed as an effort to spread Christianity among

"There should not be any concern. I met all the leaders of the various church
denominations in my office before when I was deputy prime minister," said
Abdullah, who became prime minister in October 2003.

'Your Bible is your Bible'

"I said your Bible is your Bible, I'm not going to ban your Bible even though
the Bible is written in Malay," he told reporters.

However, Abdullah said the Malay Bible must have the words "Not for Muslims"
printed on the front and can be distributed only in churches and Christian

The government imposed a shortlived and controversial ban on the Bible published
in the language of the indigenous Iban tribe in 2003 but lifted it after a
protest and an appeal by Malaysia's Council of Churches.

Some 60 percent of Malaysia's population are Muslims, while there are large
ethnic-Chinese and Indian minorities who practice other religions including
Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Kian Meng's keen analysis of the situation:

After reading the parliamentary debate, I'm saddened by the lack of quality, especially on the part of Nazri. But then again, I shouldn't be too surprised.

We need to be careful in approaching this issue from a Christian Malaysian's perspective. Nazri and Ayub tended to confuse a few arguments together. We need to
make distinctions.

Firstly, I think we need to make it clear that it is a question of freedom of religion on the part of Malaysian Christians and we can approach it from a
variety of angles. The fact that BM is our national language and has been the sole national language since 1967 means that for many Malaysians and non-Malays,
especially in East Malaysia. If a non-Muslim Malaysian of whatever religious persuasion cannot have access to his or her religious text in the language that he or
she is most comfortable with, BM in this case, then his or her religious freedom will be impinged upon. We should distinguish (initially, at least) this issue –
freedom of religion for non-Muslims – from the issue of possible conversion for Muslims arising from a BM Bible.

We can extend this further. If we take Nazri’s logic – that the BM bible might be used to convert Malay Muslims – then this must mean that we cannot have any
services in BM or even sing Christian songs in BM. Not only does this take away the ability to read Holy Texts in the language a non-Muslim is most comfortable
with, it also must mean that even religious services cannot be conducted in a language which might be ‘used’ to convert Muslims. Christian songs or indeed
Christian books or religious songs and books of any other religion other than Islam, cannot be allowed!

Not only might BM be the language that a particular group or individual be most comfortable with, BM might be the language which is the common denominator for
many different groups or individuals of a particular faith. For an Indian Christian who is fluent in Tamil but not in English and a Chinese Christian who is
fluent in Mandarin but not in English, BM might be the only common denominator in which both these individuals (and groups of individuals like them) can come together to worship their God. These services in BM clearly cannot take place without the use of a BM bible.

There is also a matter of personal religious freedom in choosing more than one language to express our relationship with God. I might be fluent in English or
Chinese but I also want to choose to use the BM language be it in prayer or in song and in the reading of my Holy Text. Speaking from personal experience, my sense of being a Malaysian is increased when I sing a Christian song in BM or read the bible in BM.

So the first point that we should assert is that this is an issue of freedom of religion. And this not only concerns Christians, since it extends of having
religious texts and perhaps public services in BM for other religions in Malaysia – Bhuddism, Hinduism. But practically, the biggest impact of this seems to be on
the Christians since many Christians in East Malaysia use BM as their primary language.

If one can make a convincing case that the use of the BM bible will be kept strictly in the context of Christian services and personal Christian use, then Nazri’s arguments (and that of Ayub, PAS’s Youth Chief) will be much weaker.

But I hesitate to push the last point too much since Nazri’s point on the ‘possible’ use of the BM bible as a conversion tool is weak. One could argue that the English bible could easily be used as a tool for evangelizing Malay Muslims since many Malay Muslims are fluent in English.

Would this be grounds for banning the English bible?

Are there currently any guarantees that Malay Muslims will not buy the English
bible today?

Anyway, the notion that Malay Muslims can be converted just on the basis of reading the Bible in BM is, in a way, an insult to the faith of Malay Muslims.
This is like saying that Christians or Bhuddists or Hindus are more likely to convert to Islam because the Quran is widely available in English, Chinese or

One could of course go further and contest Nazri’s notion that proselytizing to Malay Muslims is not allowed under the Federal Constitution since the
constitution only stipulates that the states (and the federal government in the Federal Territories) can pass laws to ‘control or restrict’ proselytizing
activities to Muslim groups (Article 11 (4)). But I leave this to the more legally minded among us.

Before I end, I think this challenges us as Christians in a specific manner. We should not back away from defending religious freedom for non-Muslims in Malaysia (I’ll leave the religious freedom for Malay to another time) even though we ourselves might not use the BM bible. But this episode highlights to me, at least, of the need to brush up our BM (and even get a copy of the Al-Kitab and read it regularly) so that we can engage and participate in services in BM (if
and where it happens) as a demonstration of our Malaysian identity as well as to show unity among the Christian community in Malaysia. The argument for the
use of a BM bible would be so much more convincing services in BM are regularly conducted in Christian communities throughout Malaysia.


statikmajik said...

Whatever. If you are so devout a Christian, then follow Jesus, preach (or at least, read) in Aramaic. But I know you can't do that, as there is not even one Aramaic copy of the Bible which still exists. The oldest one Christians have is in Greek. No, Jesus did not speak Greek. Jesus was sent only for Israelites, not to Gentiles, and he was circumsized as Jews and Muslims are. Are you circumsized (if you are a male of course)? Paul corrupted Jesus' teachings and now you are joining hands with Paul, not Jesus. Read the Bible again closely with and you will find a lot of contradictions between what Jesus said and what Paul said. To follow Jesus is to put your back against Paul.

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree by what Mr. statikmajik said. Paul is sent by Jesus to preach among the Gentiles. Don't believe, refer to the Acts of the Apostle. Whether you are circumsised or not, it does not matter because everything has been renewed by the New and evrlasting covenant of Christ, by Jesus dying on the cross. Old ones has been abolished, like whatever circumsision, dietary restriction etc etc is no use. Jews still practising it because they do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

Please do not take all Israelites as Christians ok? Paul is truly a disciple and apstle of Jesus. Remember Jesus said that the Kingdom of God will be taken from you (Jews) and handed over to the Gentiles?

Think about it seriously. Don't judge according to the wrod alone.

Anonymous said...

And also mind you about the Aramaic things. Yes, at those times, Aramaics and Hebrews is widely spoken. When Jesus ascended to Heaven, the Church spread the Gospel using oral ways only. Until the destruction of Jerusalem by RoMANs at AD 70, Jews are scattered. Before then, many Jews migrate to Greece and speak Greek too. So, when they heard the Gospel in Greek, then they write in Greek too.