SEPANG: Turkish-born author Mustafa Akyol said he was surprised that Malaysian religious authorities were after him, after the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi) pressured a private university to cancel a forum where he was to speak.
“I don’t claim to be a mufti or imam with religious authority,” Akyol told FMT as he arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to board a flight to Rome, following the last-minute cancellation of a forum based on the theme of his latest book.
“I just had referred to the more liberal views in Islamic tradition, from an academic perspective, and the fact that even this raises alarm is puzzling to me.”
The prominent journalist was on a lecture tour, his fifth visit to Malaysia, on the invitation of the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF).
Yesterday, Akyol was to address a forum at the Kuala Lumpur campus of University of Nottingham Malaysia on the theme of his latest book, “The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims”, which the New York Times described as “a welcome expansion of the fragile territory known as common ground”.
However, the university was forced to cancel the forum at the last minute following pressure from Jawi, who had earlier summoned Akyol and IRF director Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa for questioning, accusing Akyol of teaching without official credentials, an offence under the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act.
Akyol has often spoken out against both Islamists and secularists in his home country, and is a staunch advocate of free speech in Muslim countries. He has criticised Muslim governments for using undemocratic laws in the name of religion.
IRF’s Farouk yesterday said he was convinced that the 45-year-old critic of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was detained by Malaysian immigration authorities before his flight to Rome via Istanbul. Efforts to reach him failed and he had also not returned calls as promised.
‘Yes, I’m a liberal Muslim’
Speaking to FMT earlier, Akyol said the forced cancellation of his programme yesterday only confirmed his fears.
“I believe Muslim societies need more freedom of speech and religion, and this incident only confirmed that conviction,” he said.
At separate events over the weekend, he criticised governments who use draconian laws to remain in power, and questioned advocates of moral policing, saying it is not part of the shariah which only sought to fight crimes and not personal sins.
“I believe as a Muslim, that sins should not be matters of the state. You can and should advise Muslims who commit sins but you should not punish them,” he told a forum organised by IRF yesterday.
Akyol agreed with critics who labeled his views as “liberal”, saying his views were based on the Quranic dictum of “No compulsion in religion”.
“Yes, of course. I am a liberal Muslim,” he told FMT. “I think Islam should not be coerced and Muslims should be able to share their different views freely.
“Liberal does not mean ‘secular’ or ‘non-believing’. It just means believing in ‘no compulsion’,” he added.
Akyol said he still loved Malaysia despite the incident, and hoped to return.
“I have been here five times before and I always felt great love and admiration for Malaysia.
“I just hope that Malaysian authorities can be a bit more open-minded when it comes to allowing different points of view in the Muslim ummah.”