OCTOBER 13 — The recent uncalled for incidents namely the temporary detention of the Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol who was invited to be on a speaking engagement in Malaysia and the harassment of Akyol’s host, Dr. Farouk Musa of Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) together with the arbitrary banning of a number of books by Malaysian scholars ring alarm bells for the academic community.
What alarm us are the possible implications and consequences of such actions for academic freedom and freedom of speech in Malaysia, and for Malaysia’s aspirations to be an innovative, inclusive and progressive nation that respects diversity and difference.
We note that the Prime Minister constantly calls for all Malaysians to be more creative and innovative in order for the country to become a developed nation by 2020 and as it moves towards 2050. To achieve such lofty goals, it is imperative that the citizens we are educating be exposed to all kinds of writings and different ways of thinking, so as to be able to make informed judgments on various issues and the future of the nation.
However, it is sad to note that many implementers in public agencies such as JAWI feel insecure and cannot accept different points of view and critical perspectives, regarding them as a challenge to their authority and position. They are not mindful of the possible negative effects which their actions could have on the image of Islam, in their role as moral custodians of the faith.
By censoring intellectual discourse on Islam, instead of engaging in intellectual debates, they are not only going beyond the limits of their authority, but gave the impression that Islam has no answer to the criticisms made against it, or to the interpretation of Islam that they espouse.
From hindsight, we now know that one of the causes of the decline of Islamic Civilisation was the rise of orthodoxy and the suppression of rational discourse in Islamic culture. Should such restrictive thinking and action by the current orthodoxy have their way, we can rest assured that history will repeat itself, creating a disjuncture between Islam and modernity—a disjuncture which is not inherent in the religion itself.
In this regard, the Malaysian Social Science Association (PSSM) calls for a more reasonable and enlightened approach in the exercise of power by the authorities especially religious authorities, so as not to create a climate of fear and disunity among Muslims in particular and Malaysians in general, and to uphold the virtues of scholarship and rational discourse in Islamic thought.
Given that Malaysian Muslims live in the context of a multicultural and multi-religious society, within a wider globalised world, it is only appropriate that government policy on religious matters, and the exercise of power by the relevant authorities based on the accepted policy, be more enlightened and inclusive, and not be dictated by ethno-religious or ethno-nationalistic perspectives of the days gone by, and by the desire for thought control to produce a so-called ‘conformist’ society.
Finally, we in the PSSM feel greatly encouraged by the statement issued by His Royal Highnesses the Malay Rulers that they took issues of unity and harmony among our multi-ethnic nation very seriously and reminded Malaysians to adhere to the core principles in the Federal Constitution and the Rukun Negara.
We also fully support the stand by the Malay Rulers that we should not allow actions by some individuals and groups who in the name of Islam to threaten the harmony and unity of Malaysia’s multi-religious and multi-cultural society.
*This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.