The raid of Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) by the Selangor Islamic authorities, JAIS (Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor) is a flagrant violation of religious liberty and a deliberate affront to the dignity of the Christian community. LINK JAIS’ action suggests that a threshold in inter-religious relations has been crossed, that is, the Islamic authorities have progressed from harassing to persecuting Christian minorities in Malaysia.
The raid is not unexpected, given the orchestrated agitations and provocations coming from Islamic authorities and NGOs in the last few weeks. The decree by the Sultan of Selangor which bans non-Muslims from using the Allah word was followed by a statement by JAIS new Director declaring that JAIS will be sending warning letters to all churches. Islamic NGOs followed suit with police reports against Herald and the Catholic Church. Next, the former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir accused Christians of irritating Muslims in using the Allah word, and the Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin publicly supported UMNO Selangor in its campaign against the editor of Herald. Strangely, the Prime Minister has remained silent although he has personally guaranteed Christians their right to use the al-Kitab a few years ago. The ominous beating of war drums can only lead to hostile action against Christians.
Observers rightly conclude that the raid portents a foreboding future for the Church in Malaysia. But Christians should not give in to fear. Christian leaders should calmly weigh options in responding to this provocation from JAIS. More importantly, they should set this escalating tension in the light of God’s sovereign providence that they may discern what message God has for his Church in its struggle against ‘principalities and powers.’
Discernment and right action would need to take into consideration the following factors:
First, under the Federal Constitution, Islamic authorities (JAKIM, JAIS, Shariah courts) have no jurisdiction over non-Muslims. It is noted that JAIS has limited powers to restrict and control proselytization of Muslims under the Selangor “Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment, 1988. This power must be properly delegated to JAIS senior officers to investigate on grounds of reasonable suspicion. Even then, they cannot act independently and must include a police officer with the minimal rank of a police inspector to assist them in carrying out the investigations. The Act mentions that the officer may report to a Magistrate if a warrant is required. It is disturbing the JAIS officials are reported in the media as not only failing to produce a search or arrest warrant, but that they were threatening forceful entry into BSM. Any charge arising from the investigations has to be based on Civil law and presented to the Civil Court.
Second, JAIS probably considered BSM a soft target of high symbolic value when it raided BSM, although BSM has been conciliatory in the Allah dispute. Is this because the Islamic officials concluded that they are less likely to get away with their abuse of power if they act against other Christian institutions that have so far acted clearly and resolutely in their principled stand against JAIS’s unconstitutional threats?
Third, regardless of how the present events may unfold, it must be emphasized that this raid is not an issue restricted to BSM. The action by JAIS (including JAKIM and other Islamic NGOs) has set a precedent whereby an Islamic authority has acted beyond its jurisdiction. It would be irresponsible for any aggrieved party not to challenge legally such violations of the fundamental liberty guaranteed to non-Muslim religions enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
Fourth, Christians are mindful that the officials who acted against various Christian institutions represent fearsome authority of the State backed by enormous resources. They know JAIS’ action is aimed at intimidating the Church to submit in fear, paralysis and compliance. Christians are rightly exasperated by JAIS’ arrogant display of power. Perhaps the raid is an act of cynical political opportunism by the government eager to project itself as a champion for Islam, and to deflect the citizens’ anger against imposition of new taxes and recent removal of subsidies resulting in increase of price of consumer goods. By the same token these officials are acting out of desperation.
Still, JAIS is under legal obligation to produce prima facie evidence to show that BSM has violated the Selangor Enactment of Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims, but it seems such evidence is not forthcoming. The fact they allowed BSM officials free (albeit on police bail) without any specific charge shows that JAIS officials know their accusations are groundless. Christian leaders must stand firm against these harassments. They should take court action if necessary, to ensure such harassments should not be repeated in future. Failure by Christians to stand up for their rights will only embolden the Islamic authorities to carry out more illegal raids against Christian institutions.
Finally, the ban of the Allah word (and 40+ religious terms) and the al-Kitab brings fatal consequences to the Malaysian church. The national education system ensures that the primary language of the next generation of Malaysians will be Bahasa Malaysia. English will be relegated to functional purposes in science and commerce. The next generation of Christians can connect spiritually to the Christian faith only if they read the al-Kitab and Christian literature in Bahasa Malaysia, since Bahasa Malaysia has become their language of aesthetic, ‘heart language’ or ‘language of the soul.’ With the emotional and spiritual roots of their faith effectively cut off from Christian scripture, their faith will inexorably be suffocated. The Allah word ban ensures that Christianity in Malaysia will be decimated within two generations.
Christians in Malaysia from churches of all language streams are inseparably joined together in their fight against the current abuse of power by JAIS/JAKIM, which if left unchecked will lead eventually to religious persecution. Did not Saint Paul write, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12: 12, 26). It is imperative that the body of Christ take a firm stand together.
Christians must ask for discernment from the sovereign God regarding his message to the Malaysian Church. In the end the raid is not just a matter of political dispute. It is a test of the faith and faithfulness of Christians (1Peter 1:3-7). Christians are assured that no external forces can overcome the Church of Christ (Matthew 16:18). But the duty of Christians is to remain firm and faithful to God. Perhaps, it is time for Malaysian Christians to search their hearts, review priorities in their lives and renew their commitment as obedient disciples of Jesus Christ as they will be called to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).