“I don’t want to see or even hear of another incident involving the seizure of our Bibles. Don’t let it happen again,” the outspoken Land Development Minister from Sarawak.
He was commenting on the return of the seized Bibles today to the Association of Churches in Sarawak which signalled an end to the religious saga that hogged the nation since January this year.
The release of 321 copies of the holy book, however, came with two conditions; one, that they are not to be distributed in Selangor, especially among Muslims, and two, they are only for Christians in Sarawak.
Nevertheless, for Christians throughout the country, news of the release of the Malay and Iban-language Bibles was a welcome relief.
Arguing that the seizure was illegal in the first place as it went against the Federal Constitution, which guaranteed freedom of worship, Masing felt that some overzealous officials had gone overboard.
“It’s illegal in the first place…even the AG has ordered the Bibles to be returned. They should not have detained the holy book until now,” he said.
The minister appeared upset with the conditions that the Iban-language Bibles should not be distributed in Selangor and could only be used in Sarawak.
His concern is understandable as there is a sizable Sarawak population in Selangor who are Christians. And this group has been using the Malay and Iban-language Bibles.
So what happens to the thousands of Sarawak Christians residing in Selangor who have all along been using the Iban-language Bibles?
Says Masing: “There should be no restriction for Sarawak Christians in Selangor as long as these Bibles are only for them. Of course it would be wrong if they are given to non-Christians.”
The controversy began in January this year when Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) officials seized the Bibles from the Bible of Society of Malaysia (BSM) on grounds that the Bibles violated a 1988 Selangor enactment which prohibited non-Muslims from using the word "Allah".
The Bibles were handed to the chairman of the Association of Churches in Sarawak, Rev Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok, in a simple ceremony at the Istana Alam Shah in Klang witnessed by Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah and Menteri Besar Azmin Ali.
After the ceremony, Azmin had twitted that an “amicable solution” had been reached.
Unlike his predecessor, Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, Azmin had taken a tougher stand and stood up for the Christian community, arguing that the Bibles did not belong to the Muslims and therefore should be returned to the Christians.
“Islam has never asked its followers to disrupt the harmony of other faiths. It is our duty to respect the practice of the other religions in the country. This is a multi-religious society. This is not Saudi Arabia or Sudan. This is Malaysia. This is Selangor.”
His remarks were welcomed by the Christian community.
The MCA, meanwhile, in urging Azmin to ensure there is no repeat of the fiasco, regrets the condition which prohibits the distribution of the Iban-language Bibles in Selangor.
The party’s Syariah Law and Policy Implementation Special Task Force chairman Gan Ping Siew questioned how Sarawak and Sabah Bumiputeras working in the armed forces, police force, civil service or studying on the peninsular alongside with Orang Asli Christians whose first language is Bahasa Malaysia would refer to their scriptures.
He called on state governments to look into the relevant provisions in the state enactments to enable Malay-speaking Christian Bumiputeras and Orang Aslis to have access to Bahasa Malaysia or native-language versions of the Bible in their homes and places of worship in the peninsula.