MARCH 24 — On 23 March 2011, Datuk Seri Idris Jala, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, issued a press statement in The Star which gives the impression that the government has made a great offer to Christians in solving the Alkitab issue. Christians should remain guarded about the terms of the offer.
First, the press statement undermines trust in the negotiation process. CFM had earlier told Idris that it needed to consult the major stakeholders, the Christian leaders of Sarawak and Sabah, before getting back to him. But Idris evidently pre-empted the whole process and put up a one-sided statement before receiving a definite reply from CFM. Now the unfair impression is that the Christians are the bad guys holding up the process of settlement and refusing a good offer.
Second, the offer is not as good as it appears.
1) The words “For Christianity” is ambiguous and open to differing interpretations. Given the trajectory of this ongoing dispute, be assured that Umno and government officials will interpret the phrase to mean “For Christians only”.
Put the government’s suggestion in context: CFM had already made a compromise with the government in 2005 to print on the cover of the Alkitab the symbol of the cross, along with the caption “A Christian Publication”, even though there is no law that requires such an imprint. The government seemed satisfied then, and for a few years thereafter, that the imprint is sufficient to prevent confusion among “weak Muslims”. But even though the Christians acted in good faith, the government now has reneged on the agreement and wants to substitute it with the phrase, “For Christianity”, which is a questionable proposal that can only worsen the dispute in future.
2) The offer of a directive from the Director General to expedite future importation of the Alkitab is also of questionable value. Lawyers familiar with the government administrative process are doubtful of the effectiveness of the directive from the DG. Such directives have no force of law and can easily be changed/superseded by later directives. It is also an open question whether other government officials will follow the proposed directive (details of which remain unclear) since it stands in conflict with other gazetted government circulars.
Third, assuming that copies of the stamped Alkitab are released – does it then mean Christians can use the words Allah, Akhirat, Baitullah, Firman Allah, Imam, Injil, Nabi, Salat, and Wahyu? These words are proscribed by various State enactments but are used in the Alkitab.
The contradiction of the government position becomes glaring in light of the Mufti of Selangor's objection to the release of the Alkitab on grounds of some Islamic enactments by the State (even though the judgment by Lau Bee Lan in the High Court ruled these enactments to be invalid). It is reasonable to conclude that Muslim officials will “follow their religious conscience” and block future consignments.
Fourth, Idris offers himself as an honest broker in this dispute since he is a Christian and “the only Cabinet minister who is not a member of any political party.” I have no doubt that Idris is a committed Christian who sincerely believes he is just trying to be a peace-maker. But with all due respect (and good regard as a Christian brother), his present position does not qualify him to be a neutral mediator or honest broker. Party member or not, he is presently appointed to serve the ruling party and maintain loyalty to the Prime Minister. As such and with much regrets, the Christian community cannot view Idris as a person who can adequately represent the interests of the Christian community.
In short, it must be emphasized that there is presently no definite agreement between Idris/AG and the Christian leaders. I understand CFM is still deliberating the matter with Christian leaders from East Malaysia and will convey its considered response to the government in due time.
May truth and justice prevail and bring about a rational and peaceful solution to the situation.
* Dr Ng Kam Weng is research director of Kairos Research Centre, a Christian think-tank.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.