KUCHING: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has made a clear commitment to church leaders that the impoundment of Bahasa Malaysia Bibles (Alkitab) will not recur.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala said Najib made the commitment during a dialogue with leaders from the Association of Churches Sarawak (ACS) yesterday.
“As far as the prime minister is concerned, he’s made a very clear commitment that the issue around withholding the Bibles and impounding them should not recur. He made it very explicit to the meeting today,” Idris told reporters after the dialogue.
The impoundment and stamping of 35,100 copies of the Alkitab at the Klang and Kuching ports had caused unhappiness among Christians, with church groups protesting that the move was unconstitutional and a desecration of the Bibles.
Idris said Najib informed the church leaders that he had written an official letter to the Christian Federation of Malaysia confirming that the 10-point solution to the Alkitab issue was a decision collectively made by the Cabinet, including himself as the prime minister.
“That’s a very big assurance,” Idris said, adding that copies of the letter were given to the leaders at the dialogue.
Idris also said Najib told the church leaders that the 30,000 Bibles impounded in Kuching had been collected by Gideon, the importer.
“With the 5,100 Bibles in Port Klang already collected, this means as of today there are no Bibles in the custody of the Home Ministry,” he said.
Hence, Idris said the 10-point solution was accepted by the churches, especially in regard to the Bibles.
He also said the Government recognised that there were other issues beyond the Bible issue and was committed to having dialogues with Christian groups to resolve the issues, as spelt out in point nine of the 10-point solution.
“The Prime Minister has said that Christian ministers in the Cabinet, including myself, would have regular meetings and dialogues with Christian leaders to look at issues other than the Bibles, such as mission schools and the teaching of certain subjects,” he said, adding that it would take time to resolve the issues and the Government would not hurry the solutions.
Idris said Najib also spoke about the need for national reconciliation.
“If there are hurts that exist between ourselves as a multi-racial, multi-religious society, it is important that we find ways to reconcile.
“That’s the whole nature of 1Malaysia. The lowest level of 1Malaysia is that we tolerate each other, the next level is when we accept each other, and the third and highest level is when we celebrate our differences,” Idris said.
He also pointed out that the Government had to take into account the interests of all religions, not just the Christians.
“We live in a society that’s diverse. Clearly, there are differences in the way we worship, but we need to accept and respect each other. We have to sit down together and find a creative solution that’s acceptable to all,” he said.- The Star
“As a body that brings together a wide cross-section of the Christian community in Malaysia, we know about the sinfulness of man and have experienced the forgiveness of God.
“As such, we receive these expressions with all the sincerity with which they are offered,” Association of Churches Sarawak (ACS) chairman Right Reverend Datuk Bolly Lapok said after attending an hour-long meeting with the Datuk Seri Najib Razak here this evening.
The Prime Minister had summoned a meeting with church heads at the Hilton Hotel today in an apparent bid to pacify the community ahead of the coming state polls this Saturday.
According to ACS secretary-general and head elder of the church, Ambrose Linang, this is the first time a prime minister had personally initiated such discussions with church leaders in Sarawak, which is home to the country’s largest Christian population.
Christian furore was sparked off following the ministry’s move to impound two separate consignments of the holy books at the Port Klang and Kuching port here as they contained the word “Allah”.The government is still locked in a legal dispute with the Catholic Church over the use of the word “Allah” to refer to God by non-Muslims as Islamic enactments in 10 states prohibit this practice.
With the Sarawak polls looming, the Barisan Nasional administration scrambled to pacify the Christian community and relented to its demands by ordering the release of the books and later drafting the 10-point solution to resolve all future disputes in the matter.
“The 10-point solution is a statement of regret and appeal for forgiveness expressed by the government of Malaysia with respect to the impounding and stamping of the Bahasa Malaysia bible, the Alkitab, resonates deep within the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM).
“We believe the government’s proposal represents a basis for further dialogue and engagement towards a viable long-term and comprehensive solution,” said Bolly.
He noted that the CFM felt the process of negotiation with the government over other issues affecting ties between the Church and the State should not be buried.
“Its constituent bodies are currently undertaking their own internal consultations prior to responding collectively to the 10-point resolution proposed by the government.
“We call for patience and perseverance and continued prayer and quiet reflection as we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in our deliberation,” he said.
According to Ambrose, the meeting, which involved 14 church leaders within the ACS body had also touched on topics including the livelihood of the Christian community, the church’s mission schools and other pertinent issues.
“The PM said he was very sympathetic to our schools and pledged his commitment,” he said.
When asked if politics and the state election had been brought up during the meet, Ambrose said, “No”.
“No, nothing about politics. We are non-partisan, we never talk about politics,” he said.
He also denied that discussions had touched on the brewing Allah controversy that is still trapped in the courts.
“It is a very good gesture of the prime minister whereby in the ninth point of the 10-point solution, he said he himself would be committed to meeting with representatives of all faiths.
“We are personally very touched by that,” he said.