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Umno’s tangle over “Allah”

(Corrected at 1:55pm, 1 April 2011)

Patience wearing thin…

“Each time, tedious steps had to be taken to secure their release. It would appear as if the authorities are waging a continuous, surreptitious and systematic programme against Christians in Malaysia to deny them access to the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia. Malaysian Christians, many of whom have grown up with Bahasa Malaysia as their principal medium of communication as a result of the government’s education policies, must have access to Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia in order to read, comprehend and practise their faith.”

Bishop Ng ( © edmundwoods | Wiki Commons)

Bishop Ng ( © edmundwoods | Wiki Commons)

Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) chairperson Bishop Ng Moon Hing in a 10 March 2011 press statement. The CFM, an umbrella body for different Christian churches and organisations, revealed that 30,000 copies of Perjanjian Baru, Mazmur dan Amsal or the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs were being withheld at Kuching Port in Sarawak. This was despite the Barisan Nasioanal (BN) government’s assurance that the Malay-language Bible would be freely available, at least in Sabah and Sarawak.

CFM said that since March 2009, all attempts to import the Malay-language Bible, known as the Alkitab, whether through Port Klang or Kuching Port, have been thwarted. It said a previous consignment of 5,000 Alkitab copies, imported in March 2009, was still being held by the Home Ministry in Port Klang. Ng said despite raising the matter with the prime minister, who reportedly agreed to release the copies, the relevant authorities did nothing to heed the prime minister’s decision. (Source:Group: PM consented to BM Bibles, Malaysiakini, 10 March 2011)

“Enough is enough. We have had our fill of the hypocritical gap between assurances of our freedom of religion and the reality of their restriction.”

Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing, speaking as the titular head of the Malacca-Johor diocese in condemning the impoundment of the bibles. Tan, who is also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, said the government’s action was a “flagrant example of the hypocrisy of people who treat the 1Malaysia concept as a vote-winning slogan rather than as a platform on which to unify the people.” (Source: Catholic bishop rails against impoundment of Bibles, Malaysiakini, 14 March 2011)

“No religious community will ever want to suffer the indignity of having its sacred scriptures banned and prohibited as though it is some seditious material or a contraband product considered immoral.”

“That this has [been] done repeatedly over so many years is an affront and insult to the religious community concerned and raises very serious questions about the status of religious freedom and respect for other religions in our country.”

Elizabeth Wong

Elizabeth Wong

PKR exco member Elizabeth Wong in calling, on behalf of her party, for the immediate release of the holy books and an assurance that the incident would not recur. At the end of 2010, the Home Ministry also seized 10,000 copies of the Bible but eventually released them after protests from Christian leaders. (Source: Zaid: Why let opposition capitalise on Bible issue?, Malaysiakini, 12 March 2011)

“As the Bible is the holy book of the Christians, due respect should be given to it by consulting the relevant Christian representative organs before any external text is inserted into the Bibles.”

Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), which imported the bibles, in revealing that the 5,000 Malay-language bibles that have been held back at Port Klang for two years have been stamped with a Home Ministry notice without the importer’s consent. According to the society, the ministry had agreed in a 22 Dec 2005 letter that the cross and the words “Penerbitan Kristian” would be engraved onto the bible’s cover by Christians themselves.

Instead, the society said the ministry printed spaces for serial numbers into the bibles and the words “Al Kitab Berita Baik ini untuk kegunaan penganut agama Kristian sahaja”. An urgent letter has been faxed to the ministry urging for the terms of the bibles’ release to be negotiated so as not to “violate the dignity of the holy books”. Meanwhile, church leaders have advised their consignee not to collect the 30,000 bibles being held in Kuching because they want further clarification over the ministry’s two conditions for the bibles’ release. (Source: BM Bibles ‘defaced’, decry importers, Malaysiakini, 16 March 2011)

“The Christian community in Malaysia has always acted in good faith and with great patience to find amicable solutions without compromising our fundamental beliefs. But that good faith has not been reciprocated by the Government. It is the Government that has moved the ‘goal posts’ over the years through a systematic imposition of unreasonable conditions and restrictions.

“We have never agreed to any wording to be endorsed on Bibles to say that it is only for Christians. The 1982 order issued under the Internal Security Act 1960 did not state that any form of words had to be endorsed on any copy of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia.

“The latest letter from the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 15 March 2011 is therefore a set of new conditions imposed on the release of the impounded Bibles which is wholly unacceptable to us. We will never accede to any desecration of the Bible since the Word of God to us is sacred.”

CFM’s Bishop Ng in expressing the Christian community’s deep hurt at the government’s desecration of the Bible. CFM also rejected the government’s claim that the Malay-language bible was a threat to national interest and security, and hence should be treated as a subversive publication. He confirmed that the consignee would not collect the bibles that had been stamped by the ministry. (Source: CFM Media Statement – Holy Scriptures Desecrated, 17 March 2011)

“KDN must remove the two degrading conditions immediately and apologise to Christians and all Malaysians for such seditious actions which clearly have incited distress and disharmony among God-fearing Malaysians irrespective of creed.”

Loh Seng Kok

Loh Seng Kok

MCA central committee and presidential council member Loh Seng Kok in a 17 March 2011 statement decrying the Home Ministry’s two conditions as “totally unreasonable”. He added that the ministry’s “high-handedness” betrayed the goodwill that was the aim of the bibles’ release. In a harsh rebuke, the MCA said the bureaucrats who violated the Alkitab suffer from the four syndromes which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak warned Barisan Nasional about — “delusion, amnesia, inertia and arrogance”. Other political leaders have also called for the government to release the bibles without condition. (Source: KDN Must Not Religious Profile Al-Kitab As High Risk Terrorist Object, Malaysian Mirror, 17 March 2011)

BN government contradicts itself…

“It is not a ministerial regulation, but the administration is required to adhere to cabinet decisions.”

“We also cannot take any action (to release them) because our court case with the Catholic publication Herald is still pending. So any action will mean sub judice (contempt of court). We will just have to wait for the decision of the Court of Appeal.”

The Home Ministry’s Publications Control and Quranic Text Division secretary Zaitun Ab Samad in explaining that the cabinet did not make a decision nor did it give permission to the ministry to release the 5,000 copies of the Alkitab held in Port Klang. She reiterated that it was the cabinet who in May 1986 issued a directive banning non-Muslims from using the terms “Allah“, “Solat”, “Kiblat” and “Kaabah”.

She said the government had also sent several notices to the importer to collect the 5,000 copies but to no avail. She added that the Customs Department could just destroy the bibles “but we also want to give them chance lah”.

(Corrected) In December 2009, the High Court, in a landmark ruling, lifted the government’s ban against the Catholic church from using “Allah” in its weekly publication, Herald. However, the government filed an appeal against the ruling in January 2010 and the case remains pending in court. (Source: Bible ban based on 1986 cabinet decision, Malaysiakini, 11 March 2011)

“The appeal has yet to be heard by the court to resolve the bigger issue of content, one way or the other.”

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein in explaining why the bibles were being withheld. Hishammuddin said the government was seeking the attorney-general’s advice on the matter because of the government’s pending appeal against the High Court ruling to lift the ban over the use of “Allah’ by the Catholic Herald. Hishammuddin stressed that the ministry would always act based on the law. (Source: Hisham: Issue of impounded Bibles being resolved amicably, The Star, 14 March 2011)

“… the government has decided to apply the 1982 gazette and release the Bibles accordingly.”

Idris Jala (source: pemandu.gov.my)

Idris Jala (source: pemandu.gov.my)

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala in a 16 March 2011 statement that announced the government’s decision to release the imported bibles that were being held at Port Klang and Kuching Port. He said the government’s about-turn decision was consistent with the 1982 gazette under the Internal Security Act which allowed limited and controlled importation and circulation of Malay-language bibles which must be stamped “For Christians Only.” He noted that the Sarawak government had said it wanted the bibles released. Sarawak is facing an impending election in which the Barisan Nasional government is expected to face some challenge.

Idris, a Christian from Sarawak, added that the attorney-general confirmed that the bibles’ release would not prejudice the pending court appeal. He asserted that the government was committed to amicably resolving any inter-faith issue. (Source: Govt agrees to release impounded Malay Bibles, Bernama as quoted in MYSinChew.com, 16 March 2011)


“…we would be breaking the law if we do it now.”

Nazri Aziz

Nazri Aziz

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz in declaring that it was alright to immediately release the 30,000 Malay-language bibles in Kuching, but not so the bibles in Port Klang. The de facto law minister said there was no enactment in Sarawak against the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims but there was in Selangor and the other states in the peninsula, except for Penang and the federal territories. These ten states enforce the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment which prohibits either the verbal or printed use of “Allah” by non-Muslims.

However, Nazri did not discount the possibility that the bibles in Port Klang could be handed over if they were only “in transit” to areas where they were not deemed illegal. Nazri admitted that the Sarawak authorities should not have withheld the 30,000 copies of the Malay-language bibles, adding that he too was in the dark over their actions since Sarawak did not have the same enactment. (Source: Despite Cabinet order, Nazri says Klang BM bibles subjudice, Malaysian Insider, 16 March 2011)

Hypocrisy exposed…

“In Sarawak, we have never faced such controversies before. In this state, we have mosques and churches built side by side. In our coffee shops, we have Chinese and Malay food sellers operating next to each other. We don’t have any problem with race or religion.”

Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan, who is also SUPP president, said the state government could not understand the rationale behind the treatment of the Bible and why the Bahasa Malaysia version could not be brought into the country. Other political leaders from MCA, Gerakan, PPP, DAP, PKR and Kita also called on the government to release the bibles. (Source: Home Ministry urged to release Bibles, The Star, 13 March 2011)

“This is hypocritical of us. We want everybody to use the common language of Bahasa Malaysia but are not willing to allow it when it comes to practising one’s religion.”

Kita president Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, adding that Muslims should “not appear to be so weak in our own faith that we cannot even let people who practise other religions do so in their own language.” He said that by prolonging the issue over “Allah”, the government was providing the Opposition with ammunition when the issue could be settled easily.  “Isn’t this already guaranteed in our constitution?” the former Umno and PKR member asked. (Source: Zaid: Why let opposition capitalise on Bible issue?, Malaysiakini, 12 March 2011)

“Every Malaysian has the right to practise his religion as guaranteed and enshrined in the Federal Constitution. In Sabah and Sarawak, the use of Bahasa Malaysia in the practice of Christianity has long been a common tradition.”

Dr Chua (Pic courtesy of MCA)

Chua Soi Lek (Pic courtesy of MCA)

MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek who also suggested that the Malay-language bibles be printed locally by Home Ministry-sanctioned printing houses instead of being imported from Indonesia. Later, in welcoming the government’s decision to release the bibles, he pointed out that since Bahasa Malaysia was a medium of instruction, more Christians would be using Malay to read the Bible. (Source: Better if Bibles in Bahasa are produced here under strict control, says MCA chief, The Star, 12 March 2011)

“Why is it so difficult to claim back the bibles? Why does the matter now have to be referred to the Attorney-General? They (the Government) are just throwing the ball around.”

DAP Member of Parliament Tony Pua revealing in Parliament that Hishammuddin’s position was inconsistent. Pua said that in a written reply to the Dewan Rakyat on 7 June 2010, Hishammuddin had already declared that the bibles’ importers were notified that the holy books would be released to them. (Source: Dompok optimistic Najib will find solution to Bible row, The Star, 15 March 2011)

Apparently, a trivial matter to the Home Minister…

“(They were stamped) based on amalan (the standard practice) before…(like) even during (former premiers) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) and Pak Lah’s (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s) time. There was no intention to deface the Bible… we will not entertain this kind of talk.”

“It is not a real big issue to me… we have engaged (BSM) but you can only engage with people who want to engage, and resolve issues with people who want them to be resolved.”

Hishammuddin, at a press conference in Parliament on 17 March 2011. He claimed the issue was revived in time for the Sarawak elections, similar to during the Sibu by-election when it was alleged that bibles had been destroyed. (Source: Home minister defends stamp on Al-Kitab, Malaysiakini, 17 March 2011)

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20 Responses to “Umno’s tangle over “Allah””

  1. Farouq Omaro says:

    The BSM should just accept the Bibles without creating much controversy as it will only benefit bigots and racist opportunists. Look at the bright side, the Malay Bible is probably the only religious text in the country that is stamped with the Home Ministry’s seal, you can say it is a sign of endorsement from the government over the Malay Bible.

    • Adam says:

      Farouq,

      From your comments in other articles, I know you meant well in suggesting that the Christians should just accept the Bibles as offered to resolve the issue. But I think the issue is more complex than that.

      If the Christian organisations accept the Bible with the conditions, stamping and all, the ministry would still create stumbling blocks in future imports.

      With some resistance, the ministry has now allowed importation without the conditions. The Christians should request for a written undertaking as verbal agreements would not hold water.

      By right, the required marking “for Christians only” should also be done away with, as the cover of the Bible has a cross on it and printed “Christian publication”. Also, the new generation has access to everything on the internet and such restrictions would not work.

      And on the “Allah” issue, my personal opinion is that the government should just drop the issue and revert to status quo. No doubt they could insist on banning the word and I believe they have, but it is impossible to implement such a ban and the issue would keep coming back to haunt them as what has been happening all this time.

      Perhaps, it is God’s will that this has come to pass. Now, everyone knows about the Alkitab and that Allah is also the God of the Christians, although in a different way. From the Holy Books of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, one would know that all 3 religions have come from the same origin. Why the animosity between them, really baffles me.

      I liken the different doctrines of the 3 Abrahamic religions to the story of the blind men and the elephant, each feeling the different parts of the animal believing that it is the whole.

      Hoping that good sense would prevail and the adherents of the 3 religions would come together and treat one another as brothers and sisters or at least distant cousins.

  2. Ming says:

    No such endorsement sought or wanted. Thank you very much!

  3. Ming says:

    Who created the controversy?
    Who are these bigots and racist opportunists?
    You want such seals as an endorsement of your holy book? You can always apply for it.

  4. orang lama says:

    It is obvious that Umno is practsing “ketuanan Melayu, ketuanan Islam”. They may not mention the term but by their actions, they are doing it, i.e. practising “dhimis”. All Malaysians must be aware of the complications even if Umno is not. Why are Umno putera so small-minded that they cannot see the complications of their extremist policies? They probably think that they can get away with it. They do not realise that the Chinese fought the British and then the Japanese, while the Malays had a easy time. Eventually, the Malays will find that the ground on which they walk will no longer be strewn with rose petals like now. They will be visited with a social earthquake the likes of which they have never seen before. This will be the end of Malaysia as the Malays know it. I hope they will be sensible and accept a plural society. This was the principle on which our independence was founded. 50 years ago, the Chinese were exhorted to obey the constitution. This time, I would strenuously exhort the Malays to obey it, too.

  5. Ellese says:

    A good article but missing one major point. You’ve quoted views from the BN and PR politicians as well the views of the Christians. But you fail to include or intentionally omit the views of the Muslims NGOs and influential figures like Persatuan Ulama or Abum or even Hairussani on this issue.

    Readers should be given a balance perspective of the situation so that they have a real feel of the bipolar views on the ground and are not fed by spins led by Malaysian Insider editors who are going for a kill on this issue inciting fury, rage and hatred.

    The article miserably fail to highlight that it’s not the use of the bible that Muslims are objecting to. But the manner of proliferating the usage of the word Allah extending beyond the long-accepted practice and norms in Malaysia (especially in the peninsula) of rightly referring the word exclusively to the Muslim god.

    You can import millions of English bibles and it’s not an issue. Or for that matter import if possible any copious numbers of the bible without the usage of terms exclusively referring to Muslims belief and practice. There are already many words in Kamus Dewan which can be used. But a change in meaning and connotation to the words Muslims have used here for hundred of years is difficult to accept by the Muslims where they see the non-Muslims don’t even use BM in daily parlance and vigorously fight and use their communal language daily.

    I personally think a compromise can be reached. But first we must leave our partisanship and deep prejudices behind. Going by the writings read, the time has yet to arrive.

    • Joey says:

      In what manner is the usage of ‘Allah’ being proliferated? You might want to elaborate on this. This is not an issue in the first place, let alone talking about making compromises. Religion is something very personal to the heart and if you are pious, no amount of convincing can shake your faith. The word has been used for hundreds of years in Malaysia, but it has been used by people of other faiths all over the world for thousands of years! The Quran and the Bible are so different and one would be able to identify which Holy Book it is by just reading the first page. Each religion in Malaysia has its own place of worship and a Christian does not simply walk in to a mosque and exploit the word ‘Allah’ to convert Muslims. To me, this issue is politically motivated more than anything else.

    • Kong Kek Kuat says:

      @ Ellese A

      “But a change in meaning and connotation to the words Muslims have used here for hundred of years is difficult to accept by the Muslims where they see the non-Muslims don’t even use BM in daily parlance and vigorously fight and use their communal language daily.”

      The lingua franca in Sabah and Sarawak is a form of the Malay language.

      Do you know Malaysia well?

    • Farouq Omaro says:

      Why should the Muslim NGOs be included? This is an issue between the Christians and the government.

      You said “age of the word Allah extending beyond the long-accepted practice and norms in Malaysia (especially in the peninsula) of rightly referring the word exclusively to the Muslim god”. This shows your lack of knowledge. Even in the peninsula, there have been Malay-speaking churches in Malacca and Penang, especially where there are high number of Peranakans. The word Allah was used without any objections. Only after fewer and fewer Peranakans began to use Malay did these churches stop their Malay-language services.

      The oldest Malay-language Bible is from Malaya, not Sabah or Sarawak. The resurgence of Malay-language services in churches only came after more and more Sabahans and Sarawakians began working in peninsular Malaysia, and this I believe began in the early 1990s.

  6. Beno says:

    The whole “Allah” ‘debate’ should not even exist if there was truly a genuine government that is interested in racial and religious harmony. The government under subsequent leaderships would have put in place positive public and governmental policies that made inter-religious harmony a cornerstone of all social-political-cultural policies. But no, nothing has been done for how many years? I won’t even bother counting.

    There has not even been the slightest acknowledgment of the need for a government body that works on interfaith harmony and cooperation; let’s not even go to the failed and shameful racial/religious apartheid-like policies we have seen for so many years, and it is now 2011.

    The whole Bible-in-detention issue and the Allah issue is a political scandal made possible only by an incompetent government(s) who have over the decades and years profited politically from such scandals at the expense of all Malaysians regardless of belief. I say this because it is not just our Christian neighbours/families who suffer; our Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Ba’hai, Taoist neighbours/families continue to be divided along religious and racial lines. My own family experience being one example. Families, friendships and communities that were once muhibbah have been torn apart for and in the political name of religion and race, and every now and then, the government panders to one denomination/faction to divide another within the same group. It is so sad – haven’t we have enough of this? It feels as though those who defend the status quo of dominance and distribution of power have little genuine concern over wanting good human values, let alone good religion. They are defending a corruptive form of power.

    The case of the latest scandal only goes to demonstrate in the most explicit way the failures of government policy: failures to bring genuine harmony, peace and justice to bear. You don’t need to be social scientist, philosopher or theologian to figure that out.

    The government’s response to both issues has not just been inadequate, but demonstrates its utter contempt of both good religion and basic human decency. The government’s discourse over the two matters is like trying to put bandages on cancerous growths – the very failure to identify a much deeper and grave problem goes to directly confront their contempt of the Malaysian constitution.

    One thing that has come out of all of this is that it has brought to our attention, by reflecting on our own complicity and civil (ir)responsibility, how we have allowed the state of our citizenry to disintegrate so badly. Be it about the Bible or about the naming of God, both conversations over [its legality] are nonsensical. We’re not talking about the legitimacy of the Bible are we? Rr are we talking about the legitimacy of “Allah” (God) being worshipped by Christians? If this ‘debacle’ is due to utter governmental negligence, then it goes to demonstrate years and years of government incompetency; if it is deliberate, the government is then purely scandalising and creating an ‘other’, the purposeful making of an ‘enemy’, which the ancients would call treason or blasphemy, as they go against the very truth-seeking spirit of monotheism and in fact any good religion.

    Let’s move the debate along from who has the right over calling on ‘Allah’, to demand from our politicians to adhere to fundamental human rights and godly teachings of compassion, justice and peace.

    Let’s move the debate from government incompetency to Malaysian citizens demanding for better representatives of the people, rather than those which still seek to defend the status quo that continues to institutionalise and implemented ungodly and immoral policies that discriminates one sister or brother citizen from another.

    Let’s move the debate from bad politicians to why have we not done anything to change politics and public policies that are so detrimental to our collective conscience.

    We have not even begin to deal with systemic and immoral racism that has invaded our homes, our communities, our lives; we have not even begin to deal with the rampant corruption in our social-economic-political structure, all of these are so far away from the call of Allah/God who cares for all Malaysians, all of God’s children, all equally precious and loved.

    Bad things happens when good people stand by and do nothing; positive social change comes only when good people demand reform of bad laws. Unjust laws are meant to be broken, changed, reformed. Look to all our heritage and history and see: it is in our legal journals, in our Bibles, our Qurans, our Sutras, the world’s historical annals, the teachings of sagas of philosophies, the great artists and poets of old and new.

    Buck up, Anak Malaysia, we really deserve better!

  7. cheongpw says:

    I think Faraoq Omaro is referring to those who tend to take on matters regarding race and religion and turn them into a political agenda, hence further elevating tension, with the vested interest of spreading their biased political agenda, be it pro or anti-government. Race and religion should never be politicised. But sadly, it’s the main playing field in our local political scene. Call me ignorant, but this issue could be settled in an easier and faster manner if it weren’t as hyped up as it is now.

  8. neptunian says:

    Ah Farouq [...] why so worried about someone else’s religious practice to the point of banning their books? Isn’t Bahasa Malaysia the lingua of Malaysia? Aren’t Sarawakians taught Bahasa Malaysia in school? NO logic, just insecure religious bigots bullying others in banning the bibles!

  9. rama ramanathan says:

    A good summary of a difficult-to-follow trail and dates. I have spotted an error which you may wish to correct.

    The article states “In December 2008, the High Court, in a landmark ruling, lifted the government’s ban against the Catholic church from using “Allah” in its weekly publication, Herald. However, the government filed an appeal against the ruling in January 2009 and the case remains pending in court.”

    I believe the judgment was delivered in Dec 2009 and the notice to appeal was filed by the government in Jan 2010.

    ====================================

    Thanks for pointing out the error. We will fix it immediately.

    Copy and Comments Editor

  10. a chong says:

    It started with the Jews wearing stars at one point in history.

  11. Anak Laut says:

    No matter what issues arise, I hope they will not affect the [relationship] that exists between non-Malays and Malays in East Malaysia. Never have the Dayaks and Malays of East Malaysia clashed. Malays and Malays, yes, during the ruling of the sultan of Brunei. Dayaks and Dayaks, yes. But not Malays and Dayaks.

    Please, East Malaysians, don’t be influenced and politised by the West Malaysians, especially from Umno members and their ulama.

  12. Farouq Omaro says:

    I believe those who can read between the lines will clearly know who the racist opportunists and religious bigots are. And yes, I have no problem with the Alkitab, in fact I read it too. As for endorsement, what I meant is that the government actually gives recognition to the Malay Bible and the usage of Allah among Christians. In the Bible, Jesus says “give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s”, so let the government have their stamps, and let the Christians read the Bible.

  13. orang lama says:

    It has been stated that the Quran has a statement that encourages the reader seek further clarification from the bible if he/she has any doubts. Perhaps this is why the government does not want the Malays to do so. Imagine, if you can refer to the bible to solve problems, then might as well be a Christian. Only in this country are the authorities fighting a battle to protect the Malay from thinking outside the “allowed” Islam box. It is obvious that Malays are wandering away from Islam. My guess is that this is because of the way the religion is being propagated. “Follow what we tell you or else” type of teaching is the norm in this country [...] Islam has not eradicated the morally decrepit.

  14. MLP says:

    Did I hear the sound of sarcasm flying some heads?


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