Bible Society jumps from frying pan into the fire?


(The Ant Daily) – I wonder if certain parties are stage-playing BSM’s desperate act into political theatre to hit at Khalid prior to PKR party polls.

When the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) announced its move from Selangor to Kuala Lumpur, some saw it as political theatrics. Others deemed it a desperate act of desperate men, but perhaps it was jumping from the hot frying pan into the burning fire.

The society believes that the federal government may or can provide better protection to religious minorities, but it may have moved under a false sense of security.

Looking at it from another perspective, perhaps not all the hue and cry lamenting the organisation’s “self-exile” is for BSM but is by those seeking to profit from its woes.

Indeed, as noted by political observers prior to this, the very seed of religious persecution may be buried in the federal government itself and the agencies it controls directly or indirectly to help assure the ruling BN’s grip on power.

“BSM wishes to announce that it will be moving its headquarters and operations out of Selangor to the Federal Territories, where better protection is given by the federal government to religious minorities,” the society said in a statement.

The organisation will also cease importing copies of the Bible meant for Sabah and Sarawak through Port Klang and will ship the scriptures direct to East Malaysia, perhaps to avoid further misunderstandings.

Copies of the holy book meant for Peninsular Malaysia would be shipped through Penang as the state does not have a law like the 1988 Selangor enactment, BSM reasoned.

The society added that copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia would be distributed at their outlets in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kuching, Miri and Kota Kinabalu though but warned those in Selangor that its import and use in the state was at their own risk.

While Selangor MB Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim has been lambasted to hell and back for supposedly not doing all that he can to assist the BSM resolve its seized bible conundrum, the issue here may not be what he can do, but what he is allowed to do.

The society, DAP politicians and civil society activists clamouring for Khalid’s head perhaps do not remember what constitutional law expert Abdul Aziz Bari said of the matter.

The scholar explained that while the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) and Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) are state institutions, control may not necessarily rest with the MB.

As the state constitution defines, the Sultan as head of Islam oversees Mais while Jais works under the council’s authority.

And of course, even other state agencies while under the state administration are staffed at the higher levels by federal government officers, which brings into question the real issue of commanding authority and possible conflict of interest.

The Selangor state secretary fracas and the Perak coup by BN are cases in point. All bespoke of federal hands in state positions.

Furthermore reports state that police were involved in the controversial BSM raid by Jais, and police are federally controlled. I wonder if BSM realises this, even as it goes running into the federal bosom.

But more than just doubts on whether Khalid can or cannot order Mais and Jais, there is the matter of existing religious administration in Kuala Lumpur itself.

And while it does not fall under the jurisdiction of Mais or Jais, Kuala Lumpur is a federal territory and under the purview of the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council (Maiwp) and the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi).

It should be noted that the Agong, the head of Islam for the Federal Territories, has already said in a royal address that “Allah” is for Muslims alone. This is the atmosphere of the “safe area” that BSM is walking into.

As BSM noted that Penang does not have Syariah enactments prohibiting the proselytisation of Muslims like Selangor does, the Syariah Criminal Offences Act (Federal Territories) is also valid in the federal territory which contains similar provisions.

While the BSM raid is a famous case, let us not forget the other well-known cases regarding the Allah issue – the Borders raid which involved the confiscation of Malay translations of the book Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta by new age Islamic reformist Irshad Manji and the prosecution or perhaps persecution of the manager of the store that stocked the book and its publisher.

That was a Jawi raid, the religious enforcement authority with powers to act in Kuala Lumpur. So is BSM safe then?

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