10 March, 2011

The Christian Federation of Malaysia said it was "fed up" with the government's refusal to allow the distribution of Bibles.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia claims that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's promise that there would be no ban on the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Bible had been ignored by the authorities.

CFM, the umbrella body for almost all Christian groups in the country, said the premier decided last year that the scriptures would be allowed to be distributed freely, at least in Sabah and Sarawak.

This was communicated to CFM leaders by several cabinet members and their aides in December 2009, according to CFM's chairperson Bishop Ng Moon Hing.

Ng said that following the impoundment of another consignment of 5,000 copies of the scriptures last year, Najib was informed of the matter.

“When told about the continued impoundment of these 5,000 Bibles at a high-tea event last Christmas, (the premier) expressed surprise that the order to release the same held in Port Klang had not been implemented.

“However, nothing has been done by the authorities to ensure their release,” said Ng.

In all, Ng said that 30,000 copies remain impounded at Port Klang and the Port of Kuching. The Bible, in its Bahasa Malaysia form, is called Perjanjian Baru, Mazmur dan Amsal (New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs).

The rare rebuke by the Christian Federation of Malaysia signals growing impatience among the religious minority in a years-old dispute over the government's ban on the use of the word "Allah" as a translation for God in Malay-language Bibles and religious texts.

Christians were "greatly disillusioned, fed up and angered by the repeated detention of Bibles," the federation said in a statement. "It would appear as if the authorities are waging a continuous, surreptitious and systematic program against Christians in Malaysia to deny them access to the Bible" in the Malay language.

Home Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment, but the government has repeatedly denied being unfair. In another recent incident, the ministry acknowledged it had barred the entry of imported Bibles but denied they were seized, saying the importer had simply failed to claim them from the port.

The trouble stems from the government's stance that the use of "Allah" in non-Muslim texts could confuse Muslims and even entice them to convert. Nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 28 million people are Malay Muslims, while 25 percent are ethnic Chinese and 8 percent are Indians. Ethnic minorities are mostly Christian, Buddhist or Hindu.

A court ruled in December 2009 that Christians have the constitutional right to use the word "Allah." The government has appealed the verdict, but no hearings have been scheduled.

The dispute caused a brief surge in tensions in January 2010, when 11 churches were attacked by firebombs amid anger among some Muslims over the court ruling.

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