Language and religion are separate identities

(The Star) – THE controversy over using the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia by Christians would seem to be over, judging from the views of some key ulamas. But why was it ever controversial anyway?

Bahasa Malaysia is the national language of the country. Many Malaysians are Christians, who form an important part of the social fabric of Malaysia.

The Quran and other religious texts have been translated into different languages. Why then should the Bible not be available in Bahasa Malaysia in Malaysia?

The initial uncertainty might have seemed like a projection from Government-Opposition politicking. That has often meant an extrapolation from Umno-PAS posturing.

But now Umno ulama Fathul Bari Mat Jahya and PAS ulama council chief Datuk Harun Taib agree that Bahasa Malaysia translations of the Bible is no problem. Malaysian Ulama Asso­ciation president Datuk Sheikh Abdul Halim Abdul Kadir also agrees.

Perhaps the earlier fuss originated in copies of the Bible being imported. And possibly, it grew from some bureaucrat’s uncertainty or insecurities over the prospect of proselytising to Muslims.

But let such doubts be put to rest from now. Since there is no indication of a religious, political or cultural obstacle to distributing Bahasa Malaysia Bibles, let more insular minds still unsure of the situation wake up to the realities of the contemporary world.

Language and religion are quite separate identities, even if both relate to culture. There should be no confusion between the two.

The nation’s leaders now ought to clear away any lingering doubts by proclaiming that any religious text in any language endorsed by adherents of the faith is permissible. Clarity in such times is invaluable.

If grounds for scepticism persist it would be that election season is near, and political entities are bent on promoting their better sides. Yet even if that were so, Christians should not begrudge the moment but instead welcome the spirit of accommodation and develop it further.

The situation serves all communities well. Just as an injustice to any community in the Malaysian melting pot is an injustice to all, the better accommodation of any community also helps in the accommodation of others.

The thing about accommodation in a multiracial and multicultural society is that it is mutually enhancing. But so too is its opposite, intolerance.