KUALA LUMPUR: Using laws to restrict intellectuals from abroad from discussing Islam will stunt the intellectual development of the country, warned Universiti Malaya Academic Association chairman and law professor Azmi Sharom.
“By not appreciating intellectual development, you are actually being anti-patriotic and you are destroying this nation.”
Azmi was responding to a report today that a prominent US academician had cancelled her trip to Malaysia after learning about Turkish-born writer Mustafa Akyol’s experience here.
Akyol, who came to Malaysia to deliver a talk, was detained and questioned by religious authorities on suspicion of speaking on Islam without officially recognised credentials.
He claimed he was only released after the intervention of former Turkish president Abdullah Gul, who contacted Malaysian royalty to sort out the matter.
Prof Asma Afsaruddin, from Indiana University, was invited by the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) to come to Malaysia to speak on the subject of her book, The First Muslims: History and Memory.
She decided to cancel her trip due to concerns regarding her safety after being informed by Akyol himself of his experience and his book being banned.
“Her decision not to come here shows this country is being ruled and governed by people who do not appreciate intellectual development,” Azmi said.
He spoke during a panel discussion at the launch of Lim Teck Ghee’s book, Challenging Malaysia’s Status Quo, at the KL Regional Centre for Arbitration here today. Lim is Centre for Policy Initiatives chief executive.
Mohd Sheriff Kassim, a former civil servant and member of the G25 group of prominent Malays, who was present, also shared his reflections.
He said the definition used by the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) meant that if someone was involved in discussions revolving around Islam, that included quotes from the Quran, Hadith or Islamic scholars, they would need tauliah (credentials).
“This is very dangerous for freedom of speech. Those involved in the academia are worried now,” said Sheriff.
Former cabinet member Zaid Ibrahim was also against the government not welcoming academics or intellectuals to share their perspectives on issues that revolved around Islam.
“This is one unique Islamic country where they do not welcome academics and intellectuals of a variety they are not able to dictate or control,” said Zaid.
“Why take the risk of being deported or humiliated?”
He expected to see more academics not wanting to come to the country in the future for the same reasons.