Monday, February 4, 2008

Islamist Malaysia confiscates christist literature

Malaysian Airport Customs Seize Bibles
By JULIA ZAPPEI – 8 hours ago

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian customs officials seized 32 Bibles from a traveler, a church federation said Monday, adding its voice to a raft of complaints that the Muslim-majority country is becoming less tolerant of other religions.
The Royal Malaysian Customs department, however, said it was only trying to determine if the Bibles were imported for commercial purposes.

Custom officials at an airport in Kuala Lumpur took the Bibles from a Malaysian woman Jan. 28 on her return from the Philippines, according to the Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia. She was carrying the Bibles for a study group, he said.

The woman was told that all religious materials had to be sent to the Internal Security Ministry's publications control unit for clearance, Shastri said, adding that he had never before heard of anyone being told to do this when bringing English-language Bibles into the country.

"It's getting from bad to worse," Shastri told The Associated Press. "This either points to a concerted effort to undermine the current practice of religious tolerance, or the religious enforcement authorities have been given a free hand and they are having a field day."

About 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people are Muslim Malays, who have generally lived peacefully with Christians, Buddhists and Hindus in the minority Chinese and Indians communities.

However, the minorities have become increasingly worried that their constitutionally guaranteed right to worship is being gradually eroded. In a recent case that undermined minority confidence, the government banned the word "Allah" from Malay-language Bibles and other Christian publications, saying the word can only be used by Muslims.

Indians have also been enraged that their Hindu temples have been demolished by state authorities. Many legal disputes involving Muslims and non-Muslims have been ruled in favor of Muslims.

There is no evidence that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is encouraging the rise of Islamic tendencies in the country, and some critics have suggested it is the handiwork of overzealous Muslims in positions of authority.

However, Abdullah has been criticized for not reining in the Islamization process, which is threatening to tear the carefully nurtured racial peace in this multiethnic society.

In a statement, the Council of Churches called on Abdullah to publicly reassure Christians of their rights, and urged authorities to release the Bibles and issue a formal apology.

Customs department spokesman Iskandar Jaafar denied the Bibles were confiscated because of religious intolerance.

"It's the normal procedure" to check if so many books were being imported for commercial purposes, Jaafar said, adding that the Bibles had been sent to the Internal Security Ministry for vetting.

On the Net:
• Council of Churches of Malaysia:

Confiscating of Christian Literature

The Council of Churches strongly deplores the action of the state enforcement officials of the Publications and Al-Quran Texts Control Department under the Internal Security Ministry who recently confiscated English language Christian children’s books said to contain offensive caricatures of prophets from several bookshops in three states; Johor Baru, Negeri Sembilan and Perak.
Such officials have no right and have overstepped their bounds by confiscating Christian literature.
It has been stated that illustrations of prophets depicted in the children’s books are offensive to the sensitivities of Muslims.
In the first place, the Christian children’s books are not meant for Muslims, so how can it be offensive to them?
Second, the illustrations contained in whatever form in such books depict biblical characters of spiritual significance for Christians.
By such an action the officials have offended the sensitivities of Christians because their publications and depictions of their biblical personalities have now become targets of unscrupulous Muslim officials bent on curtailing religious freedom in the country.
The Council of Churches strongly urges the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to take immediate action to put a stop to such actions by the said Ministry.
If such actions continue, it will undermine democracy and tarnish the good relations between the different religious communities in the country.
Immediate steps should be taken to amend administrative rules and regulations especially in the Internal Security Ministry that give a freehand to enforcement officials to act at their whim and fancies.
Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri,
General Secretary
Council of Churches of Malaysia
17th January 2008

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