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Canadian author: M’sia lost its tolerance

 | May 19, 2012

Irshad Manji says that moderate Muslims in Malaysia are not only 'useless' but that their 'silence and passivity' allow extremists to get away with violence and intimidation.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Muslim moderates have two choices; either become reformists and contribute to society, or remain as they are and fuel Malaysia’s economic downturn.

So went Canadian author, Irshad Manji’s, message to the religious figureheads of a country that she said has lost its sense of openness, tolerance and pluralism.

The liberal Muslim activist was in Malaysia to launch a Bahasa Malaysia translation of her latest book “Allah, Liberty and Love” despite Putrajaya having banned all her public events here.

Islamic Affairs Minister Jamil Khir Baharom said earlier today that the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) and the Home Ministry had forbade any events by the Ugandan-born writer due to concerns that her ideology would have negative implications for Muslims here.

But Irshad and her local publisher, ZI Publications, succesfully pulled off the launch in KLSCAH where the 50-odd crowd were eager to hear her views on Islam especially in Malaysia.

In a brief interview after the book signing, Irshad told FMT that Malaysia’s reputation as an “open, tolerant and pluralistic” country was long gone.

And the reason for this, she believed, was because the moderate Muslims were in fact not very moderate.

The 44-year old New York University (NYU) professor then likened the Muslims in Malaysia to the Christians in America during the 1960s.

“When (civil rights activist) Martin Luther King said that the Bible was being use to justify racism, the Christians told him to stop creating tension,” she explained. “And he reminded them that tension already existed if the Bible was being used for such purposes.”

“I think the same message needed for Muslims today especially in Malaysia where the word moderate seems to have this wonderful tone to it but the reality is very different.”

‘Useless’ moderate Muslims

Irshad said that the moderate Muslims in Malaysia were not only “useless” but that their “silence and passivity” allowed extremists to get away with violence and intimidation.

She emphasised that the moderates should end their passivity and start being of use to society and Islam which she equated to becoming reformists.

If they resisted this change, she warned, then Malaysia should brace itself for an economic bust.

“The thriving economy in this digital age requires a population that is able and willing to think creatively and critically,” Irshad explained. “And as I understand it, the education system in Malaysia is not so big on critical thinking.”

“So this message is not just about faith. If Malaysians are apathetic because they don’t want to rock the boat and lose their material comforts then they need to understand that their children may not have those same comforts if they have been raised in an education system that does not encourage critical thinking.”

Irshad, whose work is banned in most Arab countries, further urged Muslims to have more faith in themselves.

“Many Muslims think that they are practicing Islamic teachings by uttering Quranic verses,” she said.

“And then they allow their emotions to heighten and get defensive over a world event that they perceive to be demeaning to them,” she added.

Hitler’s book still available

ZI Publications director Ezra Zaid meanwhile said that apart from the official statements from Putrajaya in the media, he had not received any directive to cancel the launch.

He however said that his collaborators had received pressure from the religious state department and that he himself had been inundated by concerned messages from members of the public.

“Irshad is a best-selling author and I think it reflects very well on the government to allow an international speaker to address the Malaysian public,” Ezra told the media.

“I’m proud to say that this is Irshad’s first successful event in Malaysia.”

Asked whether he expected the book to be banned, Ezra replied that he would leave that decision to the Home Ministry but quipped that Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) was still available on the bookshelves.


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