Religions have constitutional right to manage affairs, says church group

A King James Bible from the year 1617 is on display in the newly built Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, USA. The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship says translations of the bible into Bahasa Malaysia must be done by Christian scholars who are highly qualified in the study of the holy scriptures. – EPA pic, November 18, 2017.

EVERY religion has the constitutional right to manage its affairs, including Bahasa Malaysia translations of its holy texts, said the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF).

The umbrella body of Christian Evangelical churches in Malaysia was responding to Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, who suggested that Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) produce an official Malay translation of the Bible.

Haniff made the suggestion at the hearing of a suit brought by Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill against the Home Minister and government to uphold her constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in Christian publications.

NECF said in a statement last night that Article 11(3)(a) of the constitution made it clear that every religious group had a right to manage its affairs, including the translation of scriptures, subject only to public order, public health and morality.

“Therefore, no one, including ‘Dewan Bahasa’, can rename the God of that particular religion for whatever reason or claim the right to translate the holy scriptures.”

It said the right to profess, practice and to propagate one’s religion, as guaranteed under Article 11(1) of the constitution, included the right to pray in the name of their God.

“BM speaking Christians have been using the word, “Allah”. To them, that name for God carries spiritual meaning that has been passed down from one generation to another. This is born of centuries of usage of the word which has never harmed or caused any problem for people of other faiths.”

NECF said denying BM-speaking Christians the use of the word “Allah” not only infringed on their Article 11 rights, but also took away the spiritual identity of God from every prayer, baptism and sermon.

“Nobody and no party can dictate how Christians should call their God, in whatever language.”

It said Christian holy texts must be translated accurately by taking into account the historical and cultural context of the time when those scriptures were written or given. 

“This can best be done by Christian scholars who are highly qualified in the study of the holy scriptures who also believe in its inspiration but more importantly, by those who are the recognised and authorised translators of the Christian religion represented by the body of churches. 

“Mais’ attempt to deny the use of, ‘Allah’, by Christians is already very upsetting to the Christian community, and going on to suggest that a government agency like ‘Dewan Bahasa’ should translate the holy scriptures only adds insult to the injury.” – November 18, 2017.

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