Letter to Editor, Malaysiakini



April 29, 2005






Malay Bible – Open Minds or  Closed Societies


I refer to K J John’s  column “MPs: Much ado about nothing” in Malaysiakini yesterday, where he said:


“Should not the honorable opposition leader, Lim Kit Siang, rather take up the case of the statement made by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz that Malay Bibles are banned and not to be distributed freely, as a potential real issue for editorial comments and a statement of the real freedom of the press in Malaysia?

“That ministerial reply, however ill advised the minister was, is tantamount to denying the fundamental human rights of Christian Bumiputras (for whom Malay is their natural first language) just when the governments of Sarawak and Sabah are ready to recognise the equal status of the East and West of Malaysia on the issue of basic citizenship and immigration via identity cards. Instead, the so-called humiliation of the MPs is ‘politicised’.

”When some MPs fall into such
cakap kosong (empty talk), as I once wrote in my column in the NST, this is also k-talk, but not of the knowledge vintage. It is empty of substance and is only ‘a noisy clanging cymbal’ that attracts attention but says nothing.”


It has been said that “opinions are free, facts are sacred”, and unless this maxim is observed, one runs the risk of purveying “k-talk”,  not of the knowledge but “kosong” vintage.


John chided me for not taking up the case of the statement of the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz that Malay Bibles are banned and not to be distributed freely.


For the record, during the debate on the second 2004 supplementary estimates on 20th April 2005,  when speaking on the RM3.4 million provision to fund information activities on Islam Hadhari, I specifically referred to  Nazri’s statement on the ban on Malay Bible and the Indonesian Bible, and its correction by the Prime Minister the previous day that there was no ban on Bibles published in the Malay language but they must be stamped with the words "Not for Muslims".  


Firstly, I asked whether logically,  the Quran should be stamped with the words “For Muslims Only”


Secondy, I stressed that Islam Hadhari should encourage an open and tolerant culture that promotes inter-religious dialogue and understanding as the ban on the use of Bahasa Malaysia for the Bible will not contribute to nation-building giving three reasons:


  • Bahasa Malaysia has become the common language of all Malaysians regardless of race or religion, being the medium of instruction in schools.  With all Malaysians, regardless of race,  fluent in Bahasa Malaysia,  the right of non-Muslims to the Malay Bible should not become an issue as Bahasa Malaysia has become the common language of all Malaysians.


  • If the problem of the  Malay Bible is that it could be  be read by Muslims, does this mean that one day, even the Bible in English could be banned on a  similar ground, especially as all Malaysians, including Malays, are being encouraged to master the English language?


  • On the Internet, all Bibles, including those in Bahasa Malaysia, could be accessed.  Do we have to ban  the Internet?


In my speech in Parliament, I said it  was important  that Islam Hadhari advocated by the administration should encourage a meaningful   inter-religious dialogue where all religions can understand and appreciate each  other’s  values, and that any  perception that Islam Hadhari is associated with  the ban on the use of Bahasa Malaysia for the Bible is not conducive to the nation-building process in Malaysia.


I went on to  openly urge the government to bravely ensure that the various holy books of the great religions to be found in Malaysia are  freely accessible in Bahasa Malaysia, not for the purpose of proselytisation but to promote meaningful religious dialogue, based on understanding and appreciation of each other’s religion, whether Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism or Sikkhism, to  foster “open minds” and not “closed societies” befitting the information technology era of the 21st century.


Those interested can access this parliamentary debate on  the parliamentary website from its Penyata Rasmi for 20th April 2005 (pp 119 – 123).


In the same speech, I referred to the seminar conducted by the government-funded Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim) on March 30 to “enlighten”  non-Muslims about Islam Hadhari, informing Parliament of the reservations and criticisms raised at the forum by leading non-Muslim personalities, in particular the questions by:


  • Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) Commissioner Ramon Navaratnam why only one of the 10 principles of Islam Hadhari directly addressed the rights of non-Muslims;


  • V. Harcharan Singh, Chairman of the Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism, whether the “justice” preached in  Islam Hadhari is being applied to all religions, as public funds spent to give explanations about religion should not be limited to only one religion but should be available to all religions.


  • Malaysia and Singapore chief Buddhist prelate K Sri Dhammananda Nayake whether non-Muslims would be invited to talk to Muslims about their various religions in the Ikim seminars; and


  • Pure Life Society President Mother A Mangalam on the meaning of justice in Islam Hadhari.


As former Vice President of Mimos, at first for Information Technology Policy Development and later for Strategic Intervention, who served as National Director for the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKII) event hosted in Malaysia in March 2000, Dr. K. J. John should be an exemplar of “K-talk” which is of the knowledge and not “kosong” vintage -  (to continue to  borrow  John’s language), empty of substance and is only ‘a noisy clanging cymbal’ that attracts attention but says nothing”.


Yours sincerely,                                                                                         


Lim Kit Siang

Parliamentary Opposition Leader

MP for Ipoh Timor



*earlier debate on the Malay Bible issue in the Dewan Rakyat on 12.04.2005