LAST_UPDATESun, 22 Jul 2018 9pm

Mustafa Akyol’s Detention: Is Jawi Acting As Thought Police Over Universities?

Pic: AliranPic: AliranIn great distress, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia asks if state religious authorities have now acquired the power of thought police to investigate and prosecute Muslim academics who speak intellectually on religion for “teaching religion without appropriate credentials”, a Sharia offence that is normally reserved for unauthorised preachers in mosques.

World-renowned Turkish academic-cum-journalist Mustafa Akyol and incidentally author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, which was translated by the Islamic Renaissance Front in 2015 as Islam Tanpa Keekstreman and launched by Mustafa Akyol himself, was detained at airport for 17 hours on 25 September 2017 for his cancelled talk in Nottingham University Malaysia titled “The Islamic Jesus: The commonalities between Judaism, Christian and Islam”.

Do universities and research institutions now need to seek clearance from state religious authorities before having any Muslim speakers on topics involving religion?

In a “rule-by-law” manner, the warrant obtained by the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Affairs Department (Jawi) to detain Akyol was given by the Federal Territory Sharia Court under Section 11 of the Sharia Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act.

This latest alarming episode contrasts strongly with the officially-sanctioned “comparative religion” programmes earlier this year where fugitive Indian preacher Zakir Naik was free to belittle other faiths. It is however consistent with the banning of academic books like A History of God” by Karen Armstrong, who is widely respected by Muslims for her empathetic views on Islam.

It is obvious that comparative religion perspectives that seek commonalities and peaceful co-existence between Islam and other faiths is seen as a threat to some parties.

If such closing of the Muslim minds continues, intolerance towards views disapproved by the authorities will graduate from intellectual policing by the state to extremism and radicalisation in society, tearing apart our social fabric with sectarian supremacy, segregation and distrust both within Islam and between Islam and other faiths.

This will undo not just the Malaysian government’s international public relations campaign called “moderate movement”, but the very idea of Malaysia as a diverse and inclusive nation-state.

Akyol is free now, but Malaysian Muslim academics and intellectuals are not free to speak on religion and comparative religion even in universities. Malaysians need to think hard where this country is going, having just celebrated its 54th birthday.

GBM stands in solidarity with Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), one of our 28 organisations, which hosted Akyol. Its executive director Dr Farouk Musa is also harassed by Jawi over Akyol’s talk. Dr Farouk Musa and IRF have been relentlessly promoting intellectual discourses on Islam. We are sure that their efforts to strengthen both Malaysia and Islam will not be in vain despite non-stop malicious attacks by certain forces.

- Aliran