If Muslims can get so worked up by the fact that some right-wing Dutch politician hungering for publicity can stir up a debate by demeaning the Quran, why is it that so many Muslims remain indifferent to how their fellow Muslims treat the holy texts of other faiths and belief-systems? A case in point is the recent seizure of thirty-two Bibles from a Malaysian Christian who was on her journey back to Malaysia from the Philippines. Upon arrival in Malaysia, her bags were checked by the customs authorities and all of the Bibles were confiscated, on the grounds that they had to be vetted by the Ministry of Internal Security. But since when were Bibles deemed a security threat in Malaysia, and to whom might they pose a danger? More worrying still is the fact that the customs officers – who we were told were Muslim – had seized the Bibles on their own initiative, despite there not being any formal ban on Bibles in the country. (After all, there are literally millions of Christians of all denominations in Malaysia and they have lived there for decades if not centuries, so why the fear of Bibles now?) In the event the Bibles were eventually returned to the Malaysian Christian in question, but worrying doubts remain. What will be the fate of other books of other religions and belief-systems? As a scholar who teaches comparative religion, I have in my collection not only numerous editions of the Bible but also Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu, Tantric, Animist and Jewish texts. Are these to be screen and vetted too? And on what grounds; that as a person born to the Muslim faith (a contingency of history that I did not decide or determine, I might add) I am not allowed to read such texts for fear that I may be ‘contaminated’ by alien ideas of alien creeds?Farish Noor on The Other Malaysia website is commenting on this incident.
Lucia Lai blames the UMNO gomen, though it seems to me that in most cases it is individual officers (whether of the Internal Security Ministry, or as in this case customs officers) who are acting on their own woefully misguided initiative.
Of course such incidents provoke an outcry and are put right later, but not without bringing the country a barrage of bad publicity (look at how this story has bounced round the globe) and causing deeply hurt feelings at home.
Such incidents really worry me because there is such a need for religious tolerance in this multi-faith, multi-ethnic country. We've seen too many countries take the other path.