Ministry’s ‘tax’ on Quran riles up publishers

(FMT) – A rule by the home ministry’s Publications and Quranic Texts Control Division that every copy of the Quran must bear a special hologram is unsettling local publishers, who say it is a form of unauthorised tax by the government and a regressive step for Muslims.

Under the rule first announced in 2011, every copy of the Quran in the original Arabic text must bear a hologram sticker purchased by publishers at RM1 each, as proof that the texts have been checked by a panel appointed by the home ministry.

Following protests, the ministry in 2017 halved the hologram price to 50 sen, but publishers say it is still an additional cost on the production of the Quran, which is already subject to several strict conditions.

These include requirements to follow a certain standard format based largely on a Saudi government-owned Quran printing press, and to get the draft copy proofread by a panel of experts appointed by the ministry for a fee.

In 2017, the “proofreading fee” was increased five-fold, from RM300 to RM1,500.

Those who fail to submit their draft copies for proofreading could be charged under the Printing of Quranic Texts Act, which carries a RM10,000 fine, three years’ imprisonment or both.

In the past, an approval seal was stamped on a page of the Quran to show that the final draft had been checked for errors.

With the hologram rule now, though, publishers say they are effectively being taxed.

They must also pay in advance the cost of the hologram based on their print run.

“If we plan to print 10,000 copies, we have to fork out RM5,000 upfront, before even printing and selling them,” one local Islamic publisher told FMT.

He said the flat 50 sen charge for every copy means publishers incur higher costs for larger volumes which should have brought down printing costs.

“Even if we manage to bring down the production cost to RM2 a copy owing to bigger quantity, we still have to pay an additional 50 sen. That’s an additional 25%, to be paid upfront,” he added.

In the past, a group of Islamic publishers protested the hologram rule, calling it a form of tax.

That group was led by the late Sabariah Abdullah, a Kuala Lumpur-based publisher who in the late 1990s spearheaded a “Quran in hotel room” project by getting hotels to place a copy of the translation of the Quran in each room, despite initial objections from Islamic authorities who said it would desecrate the holy book.

The publication of the Quran and its translations is already subject to strict rules by the home ministry, including a requirement that it be published only in the Uthmani script as used in Saudi Arabia.

Islamic authorities argue that the Uthmani script minimises the chances of mispronouncing Arabic words.

A guideline issued by the home ministry in August last year as cited by FMT now also requires publishers of the Quran to engage “two panel consultants” who hold at least a diploma in tahfiz or relevant qualifications.

“Fees for these so-called consultants are also additional costs for us,” said a publisher.

The guideline also requires all copies of the Quran to be based on the format published by the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Quran, one of the world’s largest Quran printers based in Medina, Saudi Arabia.

A publisher in Gombak told FMT that enforcement officers have been busy confiscating copies of the Quran, including popular translations of the holy books, because they do not have the hologram.

This is despite the copies carrying the seal of approval to show that its Arabic text has been proofread by the home ministry’s panel of experts.

The publisher said the move had incurred losses for both publishers and bookshops.

“We seem to make it difficult for Muslims and non-Muslims to access the Quran. The red tape and bureaucracy are adding unnecessary costs to the government and ultimately the public,” he added.