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My Bible, My faith, My church

January 29, 2013

Perkasa has lighted a fire of religious intolerance which is burning slowly but will grow bigger if not doused.

Perkasa chief Ibrahim Ali wants to make a bonfire of the Malay version of the Bible that uses the word “Allah” and is written in Jawi. But a Bible is a Bible, whether it is in English or Malay or Jawi. It is still a sacred book and to throw it into the fire is an act of sacrilege. He is encouraging a course of action which is likely to lead to dire consequences. He has forgotten that Malaysia is a land shared by many races and faiths.

Ibrahim has triggered widespread resentment in the Christian community for making such a provocative statement. Most of the worshippers using the Malay-language Bible are native Christians in Sarawak and Sabah. They also work and live in the Peninsula and continue to practise their faith. They have been using this Bible for ages without anyone trampling on their rights to religious freedom. The Bible is their faith and their church. But now come Ibrahim and his Bible-burning threat.

Ibrahim’s burning anger flows from two causes: he cited a report lodged by Persatuan Mukabuku Pulau Pinang alleging that two individuals had been giving away the Malay version of the Bible to Muslim pupils at the gate of a secondary school in Penang; and the Bible carried the word “Allah”.

These are two “sins” that Perkasa feels must be purged in the interest of the Muslim faithful.

The Malay rights NGO has a point when it advances the argument that it is wrong to distribute Bibles to Muslims. Its secretary-general Syed Hasan Syed Ali points out that such attempts will only “confuse the Muslims into leaving Islam and converting to Christianity”. The Federal Constitution expressly prohibits the “propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among Muslims”. Based on the country’s sacrosanct laws, the two individuals who distributed the Bibles should be charged and that would have ended the controversy.

But the flame lighted by Ibrahim grew bigger when he urged Muslims to burn the Malay version of the Bible that contains the word “Allah”. Granted that he told Muslims to burn these Bibles upon receiving them. He did not goad them to seize the holy book and torch it openly. But the firebrand had unleashed a reaction that threatens to destroy the delicate balance of religious tolerance and racial harmony.

Extremely dangerous

Ibrahim started the fireball rolling and now it has gone out of control. His “jihad” will be taken up by other rabid groups bent on “teaching” Christians a lesson. One group, the Pasukan Bertindak Anti Bible Bahasa Melayu (Anti-Malay-Bible Action Force), even wanted to throw the Bibles into the fire on a Sunday when Christians go to church. It is an extreme form of provocation which carries the seeds of a wider conflict. This group thinks Christians pray to many gods and not the one and true Allah. Therefore Christians are infidels. Such ignorance can lead to disaster.

In this highly-charged atmosphere, it is extremely dangerous to advance the argument that Christians want to subtly convert Muslims by using Allah in the Bible. When Christians call out to “Allah” in their prayers, they seek help, blessing, guidance. Seeking to convert their Muslim brothers and sisters is furthest from their minds. Christians, like Muslims, pray to only one God who rules supreme below and above.

Ever since Ibrahim unleashed his burn-Bible tantrum, other religious experts rose to defend him and put a strange spin on the term Allah to give it an air of exclusivity and mystery. According to their interpretation, Allah is a holy word and is the “personal” property of Muslims and Islam. But “Allah” is also mentioned in other religions. Ibrahim and all those army of zealots cannot push all the people of God into the flame because all of us He created.

Perkasa has rekindled the debate over the use of the word Allah, and it has become hotter when Ibrahim raised the temperature. The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has also exacerbated the situation when it warned non-Muslims not to use the word “Allah” in their holy book. The non-Muslims or Christians have been branded the enemies of Islam, which means Muslims are put on a “war” footing to defend their faith. Indeed, no one now can stop anti-Bible fanatical groups from wreaking havoc on the lives of Christians. One day they will openly burn the Bibles and probably torch the churches.

But the churches in Malaysia are unlikely to back down in the face of this grave threat. They are united in their stand to exercise their “constitutional right” as enshrined in the Federal Constitution to use the term “Allah” for God. They will “use the holy Bible in Bahasa Malaysia… in all their liturgical services and in meetings of worship”. Will Ibrahim and his ilk raise hell when they hear “Allah” recited in the churches? Religious conflict is too steep a price to pay. Burn the Bible, you burn the church; burn the church, you burn the country.


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