COMMON sense has finally prevailed with the return of the Bibles to the church, the rightful owner of the Holy Book.
It may have taken a longer time than it should, and there are still questions as to whether the Bible should have been seized in the first place. But that’s a moot point now.
The pertinent point is that the issue has been resolved through reasoning, compromise, patience and tolerance – which are surely the values of both Islam and Christianity.
The 351 copies of Al Kitab and Bup Kudus, the Bahasa Malaysia and Iban Bibles, were seized by the Selangor Islamic Department (Jais) from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) office in Damansara on Jan 2.
More than 10 months later, on Friday, these Bibles were returned to Christians in Sarawak through the Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) in a formal ceremony at the Selangor palace.
As part of a compromise deal, the Bibles were handed directly to Sarawak (where the Bibles were meant for in the first place) and not to the peninsula-based BSM, and with the understanding that such material were not to be distributed in Selangor, especially among Muslims.
The public debate over the issue was intense as everyone – politicians, religious authorities, lawyers and the common practitioners of both faiths – wanted to have a say.
Unknown to most people, there were plenty of behind-the-scenes steps being worked out to ensure that the parties involved were amicable and able to accept the final solution.
As in most organisations, there would always be those who were more prepared to compromise while there would be strong personalities who would insist on holding to what they perceived as their rights and principles.
Months earlier, even when Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim was still the Selangor Mentri Besar, various approaches were made to the BSM, Jais and the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais).
The most trusted aides and friends of His Royal Highness Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah worked, without the glare of publicity, to prepare the ground to end the impasse.
No politicians were involved, for sure. It was the wisdom of His Royal Highness who initiated the reconciliation process.
The proposal to return the Bibles was made known to the stakeholders but they were also told that a third party should come into the picture – in this case, the Sarawak Christians.
The Malaysian Bible Society, it was learnt, did not have a branch in Sarawak or Sabah. If there was one, the return could have been expedited.
There was scepticism and even signs of hostility towards those who moved quietly to work out the solution. So much anger had surfaced publicly that it would be difficult for those who were vocal to make the necessary compromise.
There were doubts over the clout of the “emissaries” and whether they represented the palace.
Understandably, there was also the question of wounded pride involving all sides.
But they had to be impressed upon that the prolonged crisis needed to end. Rightly or wrongly, the fact remains that in the state of Selangor, the distribution as well as the printing of Bibles that contain the word “Allah” is an offence under the Non-Islamic Religious Enactment (Control Development Among Muslims), 1988.
But the Attorney-General had also said there was no basis to charge BSM as the Bibles were not a threat to national security.
It made little sense for Jais to defy the orders and not return the Bibles. The two religious bodies, Jais and Mais, may be able to ignore the state government and the former mentri besar but when the palace came into the picture, the mood changed dramatically – or to put it in a better perspective, more positively.
The church groups were also advised about the futility of pursuing any form of legal action, which would not help resolve the issue.
The BSM and the Association of Churches in Sarawak chairman, Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok, worked hard to ensure the formula worked.
The Archbishop is a highly respected church leader. He is the acting president of the Council of Churches in Malaysia and a member of the Anglican Community’s Team to the Christian Muslim Dialogue at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University.
Jais and Mais, too, understood the significance of the compromise.
In the meantime, the Chief Minister’s office in Sarawak was kept informed of the matter so that the return of the Bibles could be smoothly carried out.
It has taken almost a year to close this chapter but it is important that the controversy has come to a harmonious end.
There is a lesson to be learnt here – moderation works. This episode has proven that rational Malaysians are still the majority, and there is no place for extremists who call for the burning of Bibles, or any holy book for that matter.
The role of the palace, especially the wisdom of the Sultan of Selangor, must be recorded. Without his intervention, all this would not be possible.
And it should also be put on record that the support of Mentri Besar Azmin Ali made this whole endeavour a real success. Azmin had earlier made clear his administration’s stand that the Bibles belong to the Christians.
At the same time, we must not forget the role of Khalid as it was during his tenure that he made the decision to let the Sultan decide.
There are issues that we still need to resolve, of course, such as the huge number of Sabahans and Sarawakians who work or study in the peninsula, especially in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
They attend church service in Bahasa Malaysia, where the word “Allah” is used, and they cannot be expected to use the English Bibles. For them, it would still be the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia or in Iban.
In fact, the Al Kitab is available online, so how does one ban the Internet version?
These are realities which all sides must learn to accept as Malaysia evolves. The growing use of Bahasa Malaysia is also the result of the education system where most people, especially the young, prefer and are more comfortable with the national language.
We cannot now tell them that when it comes to the Bible, they have to read it in another language.
What is important is the respect and sensitivity we must have for one another, so that in fully practising our faith, which is a right extended to all citizens under the Constitution, we do not intrude or cause consternation among our fellow citizens of different faiths. This has always worked well in our country where places of worship can co-exist side by side without any problems.
All Malaysians, regardless of race and religion, have a stake in this beautiful country. Let moderation prevail.