KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Academic Movement (MOVE) opposes any action by the government to require speakers at public forums, who focus on issues surrounding Islam, to apply for formal accreditation beforehand.
In a statement today, its executive council said the idea of the stipulation had come about following the detention of Turkish author and journalist Mustafa Akyol by the Federal Territories Islamic Department (Jawi) on Sept 25 after he had come to Malaysia on a lecture circuit.
“This is unprecedented and unreasonable, casting the net of authoritarian control over intellectual discourse way too far,” it said, adding that academics would also be affected.
“Indeed, it now appears that we have religious bureaucrats directly wanting a piece of the action, demanding that they certify and sanction the work of academics before anything else.
“MOVE opposes this dangerous and certainly undemocratic development, just as we oppose the policing and regulation of knowledge by the ignorant, the unwise and the unjust,” it added.
The NGO, which is also known as Gerak, the abbreviation of its Malay name Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia, said what happened to Mustafa must not be repeated.
“He was arrested not because of any criminal act but based on wild allegations,” it said.
It added that the manner in which he was detained, by not being allowed access for some time to his contacts in Malaysia and to legal representation, smacked of the ways of a police state.
“Akyol was arrested because some petty religious bureaucrats didn’t agree with what he had presented. Evidently they were uncomfortable with what he had to say about democracy, faith and justice.
“It is ironic and reprehensible that, at the same time, we welcome with open arms wanted fugitives and alleged terrorists, like Zakir Naik, and dance intimately with them,” it added, referring to the controversial preacher from Mumbai, who is wanted by India for terrorism and money laundering-related investigations.
Naik, who has been given permanent resident (PR) status by Malaysia, was reportedly photographed at the Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque in Putrajaya yesterday.
Last Monday, Akyol was about to board a flight to Rome via Istanbul at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 11.35pm when he was detained by immigration officers.
He had been in Malaysia on a lecture tour organised by the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF).
IRF director Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa was reported to have said that Akyol was summoned by Jawi for questioning over a charge of “teaching Islam without credentials”, following which the religious authorities pressured the organisers of a forum featuring him to call the event off.
Akyol was not able to meet up with Jawi and decided to leave the country as he had no further engagements.
According to Jawi, Akyol was arrested based on a “complaint from the public” over a speech he made at a roundtable discussion titled “Does freedom of conscience open the floodgate to apostasy?” at the Royal Selangor Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur.
In a column in the New York Times later, Akyol said the incident was proof that there was “a major problem” in Islam today, with “a passion to impose religion, rather than merely proposing it, a mindset that most Christians left behind at the time of the Spanish Inquisition”.
Recalling the session with Jawi, Akyol said a female officer “proudly” told him that “all of this was being done to protect religion”.