Time to close down our 20 public universities?

On Sunday, hundreds of innocent people died in terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, yesterday, the High Court upheld the ban on a book titled “Islam without Extremism”, because it was thought that its contents could disrupt public peace.

Prophet Muhammad himself disrupted his own society to the point that he was forced to leave his hometown. At that time, the “home minister” was a man called Abu Jahal, who had just issued an order to kill Muhammad.

Egyptian scholar Syed Qutb’s works on the Quran were also considered controversial. His book “Milestone” put forth ideas of Islam that I had never considered. The Egyptian regime hanged him for those thoughts.

Indonesian scholar Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah, or Hamka, completed his voluminous exegesis of the Quran behind bars. In the foreword, he thanked Allah for his time in prison or else he would never have finished his work!

Hassan al-Banna was assassinated for wanting to create an Islam that would rebuild society based on faith and compassion. His thoughts, too, were detrimental to public order.

Now my question: What is the use of the International Islamic University (IIUM) – which was supposed to be the beacon of an enlightened Islam for nation building and co-existence – if it is run by narrow-minded people?

This university was born from the ideas of an American-Palestinian scholar, Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, who founded the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in the US.

IIUM was the realisation of the spirit of IIIT to lead the Muslims into a new era of a global and civilising Islam, not an extremist or narrow-minded Islam.

Today, what has happened to IIUM? One problem is the racialisation of its framework, to recondition Islam into a narrow Malay-Sunni-Shafi’ite construct.

In throwing out IRF’s application to challenge the ban on its books, the High Court said that the home minister had sought expert opinions from the Islamic Development Department (Jakim), convincing him that the works would confuse Sunni Muslims and could therefore be detrimental to public order.

This begs the question: should all academic works now go through the vetting process of Jakim and its likes? Should Jakim now be invited to oversee all accreditation processes and be present in all 20 public universities to oversee everything from anthropology, sociology, psychology and cosmology, to business administration and finance?

In any one of these fields, I can give examples of how thoughts can be a “threat to public order” and to the Sunni Muslims.

I have learnt a great many things from the banned books. For example, I look forward to reading Faisal Tehrani’s banned novels, to understand the mind of the man behind the excellent weekly writings on Malays and the Islamic intellectual heritage from both the Shia and Sunni traditions.

Despite being a professor and a decade older than Faisal, I am willing to be a student to his ideas in order to unravel some other spiritual and societal constructs that I have been struggling with, in creating a better society for a global existence, one that would not see the bombing of places of worship and hotels and marketplaces in the name of religion.

The only time when our mind is actually working at full capacity is when it questions the obvious, challenges the norm and wonders about the unthinkable.

The rest of the time, we are content to repeat experience, data and information to earn some degree or other.

Repetition, conformity, conditioning and patterned thoughts are the bread and butter of today’s universities, but they also mark the death of critical thinking and innovative thought.

With the High Court’s ruling yesterday, perhaps we should either close down all our public universities or downgrade them to trade schools, for there is no future for the thinking graduate or the enlightened academic.

There is no future for innovative thoughts. There is no future for new permutations of race relations. There is no new and higher construct of truths.

Because the religious officials and the home minister are now guardians of the truth!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.