Comments about the Bible have caused uproar in Malaysia's parliament. (Photo: Unsplash)
A prominent Muslim lawmaker in Malaysia has remained steadfast in his refusal to apologize for saying that the Christian Bible has been corrupted and its message has been distorted in comments that have caused outrage among the country’s Christians.
During a recent session in parliament, Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh, a prominent Muslim politician who studied in Egypt and Jordan, insinuated that the New Testament did not reflect the true message of Jesus’ life and ministry because the text had been altered over the centuries.
The statement caused outrage among many Christians in a country where Islamic fundamentalism has been on the rise, but it is in line with a normative Muslim belief that holds that whereas Jesus was a messenger of Allah, he did not die on the cross and was not divine.
Such views in Islam are backed up by certain passages in the Quran, which Muslims consider the true word of God.
Several lawmakers have chastised Zawawi for voicing this view in parliament, saying his comments were religiously divisive and asking him to apologize.
Yet Zawawi refused to do so, adding further fuel to the uproar by saying it was a “fact” that the Christian Bible had been corrupted. “They have no right to be offended,” the Muslim lawmaker said.
“What I said was not an accusation but a fact,” he went on. “There is no need to apologize. Why should I? I don’t want to comment. What I said is right. Why should I apologize?”
In response, Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen, a politician from the Democratic Action Party, stressed in a public statement that the Muslim lawmaker’s comment “sets a bad precedent in the honorable house where such insensitive comments against other religions can be made without any repercussions.”
Yii added: “I will continue to pursue the Bible issue as it is important to send the correct message that, regardless of position or power, no one is above the law.”
Zawawi, who represents the district of Pasir Puteh in the state of Kelantan, has also ignored calls for an apology from several interfaith and Christian organizations from across the country, including the Association of Churches in Sarawak, the Sabah Council of Churches and the Sarawak Evangelical Christian Association.
Archbishop Julian Leow Beng Kim, a prominent and outspoken Catholic clergyman, and several other religious leaders from the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism have also warned in a public statement that denigrating the faith of Christians and others in the country’s parliament could set “a dangerous precedent.”
Zawawi’s comments were “totally unacceptable to all peace-loving Malaysians of all faiths,” the archbishop and his fellow signatories said.
“Parliament is a place to debate responsible and just governance based on rational arguments, best practices and in tune with the provisions of the federal constitution,” they stressed.
“If this is the new normal, it will open the door for others to do the same and it may lead to unnecessary arguments that may pit one religion against another, to be used by politicians for their political gain and maneuvering.”
In a separate statement, Archbishop Kim, who is chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, took Zawawi to task over his comments.
“In trampling with shocking audacity on the sacred and holy Word of God, the representative for Pasir Puteh showed a reprehensible disrespect not only for his fellow Malaysians who are Christians but also for all the efforts of our forefathers in forging peoples of diverse creeds, colour and cultures into a peace-loving and harmonious nation,” the archbishop said.
“Recalcitrant and reportedly unwilling to withdraw or apologise for his demeaning words, this lawmaker must be unreservedly censured and rebuked by all right-minded people.”