“For non-Muslims only”

When I started last semester at University of Malaya I met a Korean girl. Actually, I met many Koreans but this Korean girl was the only Korean to invite me to a Korean culture night at a nearby church or church hall in Taman Jaya. So I guess there would probably have been some sort of blessing or speech or something Christ-related alongside the Korean food, K-pop, dancing and Taekwondo. She gave me a flyer for the event which had all the usual event flyer information. At the bottom of the page, however, it said the event was for non-Muslims only. I’m not sure the exact wording but that was the message. “Wow, these people are a bit up front with their prejudices,” I thought.

Seven months later, I’m tidying my desk and come across an advertisement a friend had cut out of May 28 2011’s edition of The Star. It was an advertisement by the Australasian Bible Society, in response to the Harold Camping’s predictions for the end of the world, claiming to “have Correspondence Notes that will clarify what the Bible actually says” regarding the return of “Lord Jesus”. At the bottom of the advertisement were the words “For non-Muslims only”. There it was again! But this time I reacted a little differently. There must be a reason for these Christian groups putting these words on their advertisements, I thought. And I guess I’ve learnt a few things about Malaysia since January.

In Malaysia, although it is legal (and in cases such as certain inter-racial marriages, required) for a non-Muslim to convert/revert to Islam, it is more or less illegal for a Muslim to convert to another religion or renounce belief in God altogether. It is also illegal for members of other faiths to proselytise to Muslims. So I came up with these two hypotheses:

  • The words “For non-Muslims only” are a tactic used by non-Muslim faith groups taken by their own initiative to guard themselves against any accusation of attempting to convert Muslims.
  • The word “For non-Muslims only” are actually a requirement imposed on non-Muslim faith groups. To remind the non-Muslims the boundaries of their proselytising and to remind Muslims not to even consider leaving the path of Islam and deter Muslims from engaging in the ideas of other faiths.

So with my hypotheses I headed straight to the nearest centres of research – Google and Wikipedia. Here’s what I found.

The Wikipedia page for Freedom of Religion in Malaysia, under the Proselytising sub-heading, states that proselytisation of Muslims by non-Muslims is not necessarily prohibited by federal law, it is prohibited in 10 out of 13 states – all states except Penang, Sabah, Sarawak and the Federal Territories. ‘Most Christian and a few other religious groups in Malaysia put a standard disclaimer on literature and advertisements stating “For non-Muslims only”.’

It would seem that not only Christian events are “For non-Muslims only”.  Back in 2009, the Black Eyed Peas had a concert that was deemed for non-Muslims only by the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture. See: The Malaysian Insider (Aug 27).

Earlier this year there was a big isssue (and maybe it still is) in which the Malaysian Government had confiscated a shipment of Malay translations of the Christian Bible printed in Indonesia and said they will be released on the condition they be stamped with “For Christians only” (in line with a 1982 Gazette under the Internal Security Act) and a serial number. On March 17, MalaysiaKini posted a collection of interesting quotes in response to the issue. Geronimo makes a really good point: “If the Bible is so offensive to you, why not remove the ‘Injil’ from the Holy Quran?” The Injil being the parts of the Quran that make reference to the Gospels. Maybe I’m missing something but considering Christianity and Islam are part of the same lineage and Jesus/Isa is considered a major prophet in Islam, wouldn’t it also make sense for Muslims to at least have some knowledge of the Gospels as they are printed in the Christian New Testament?

Back to the Australasian Bible Society, they are offering their “Correspondence Notes” free of charge – all you’d have to do is email or post them a letter. I’m wondering, what would they do if they received an email from a Muslim (or just someone with a “Muslim” name) asking for these free “Correspondence Notes”?

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