Banning a book published by G25 has not only increased the book popularity and curiosity; it might even be a best seller.
The ban was signed by Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on June 14.
The gazette read “…which is likely to be prejudicial to public order, likely to alarm public opinion and likely to be prejudicial to public interest… throughout Malaysia.”
After the ban was announced, G25 members have been deluged with calls from friends and associates asking where they can get a copy. A check Amazon.com shows “Breaking the Silence, Voices of Moderation, Islam in Constitutional Democracy” is available.
Many people are angry with the ban. While we ban moderate intellectual writings on Islam by our own citizens, toxic preacher Zakir Naik writings, speeches and videos are given a free rein in this country.
Countries like India has issued a warrant for his arrest, United Kingdom and Canada has banned his entry, and our government is just happy to give him permanent residence or even citizenship.
In an immediate response, G25 spokesperson Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin said she was flabbergasted by the news of the ban, calling it an act of repression on the part of the government. Prof Tajuddin Rasmi of UCSI University said Malaysian intellectuals should be allowed to discuss matters of religion and other social issues.
It seems intellectuals cannot offer an opinion on religion because they did not go to religious schools.
According to Tajuddin, Malaysia is heading towards becoming a “nanny state” where the government interferes in almost every aspect of a person’s personal choices.
Banning a book that aims to counter extreme and bigoted views of Islam maybe proof that the government fears a different and moderate interpretation of the religion. This was the opinion of Chandra Muzaffar, one of the contributors of the book. He said that it’s a collection of essays which intended to show that extremists and bigoted thinking on matters pertaining to the practice of Islam in the country should be combated in an intellectual manner.
The irony of the ban was that Tun Abdullah had written a foreword for the G25 book, where he endorsed the G25’s call on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, to exercise his leadership and to demonstrate the political will to establish an inclusive consultative committee to find solutions to the intractable problems that had been allowed to fester for far too long.
Abdullah shared the hope of G25 that the publication of the G25 book would further encourage an informed and rational dialogue on the ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia, yet within the letter and spirit of the Federal Constitution and the spirit of Rukun Negara.
Now that the ban has taken place, are the authorities saying that Pak Lah’s foreword in the book is likely to be prejudicial to public order, likely to alarm public opinion and likely to be prejudicial to public interest throughout Malaysia.
Senior Umno leader and MP for Gua Musang, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah could also be accused of being complicit with G25 as he launched the book at a forum “Islam in a Constitutional Democracy” in December 2015.
In his speech, he warned of “a religious bureaucracy” which is but a mask for the appropriation of power by vested interests through the application of Islamic laws and which threatens the constitutional provision where the Sultans must be the ultimate decision makers in the administration of Islam.
This is the first for Malaysia where you ban a former PM foreword in a book and make a senior Umno leader and MP appear complicit at a launch of a book deemed prejudicial to public order and public interest.
The ban itself is contradictory on the government’s stand as PM Najib was the one who articulated the “International Initiative of Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) in 2010 at the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York. GMM is essentially a call on rational, peace-loving people of all races, cultures and beliefs, to work together to drown all aspects of extremism in promoting tolerance, mutual understanding and respect.
Like many of the government initiatives, GMM has gone with the wind and cast to the wayside.
It’s important to note that in 2004, the government under the Abdullah was on track for the development of a moderate and just society by introducing Islam Hadhari. In a paper authored by Mohamed Nawab, he explains “The Islamic concept is a comprehensive approach for the development of mankind, society and country based on the perspective of Islam as a civilization. The introduction of Islam Hadhari was supposed to pave the way for the development of Malaysia as a bastion of Islamic moderation. The Malaysian government has sold Islam Hadhari as a model for development for other Muslim countries. It is seen by observers as a possible alternative to the more conservative approach to Islam in some parts of the Arab world. (Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 2006).
What has happened to Islam Hadhari as a model for development for other Muslim countries?
The gap between the ideals of Islam Hadhari and its actual implementation could be attributed to the difference in the way the country’s leadership and its ulama understand the concept. Despite the government’s rhetoric about the implementation of a moderate form of Islam, various developments and events in Malaysia seem to suggest a more conservative form of Islam has emerged and used as a political tool. Some people suspect conservative elements working in the government departments egged on by PAS sympathisers and Muslim organisations could be the hidden influence for the book ban.
Whatever the reasons, it is not a good sign for Malaysia which purports to promote an open democracy and freedom of religion. We could be the advanced civilisation of Muslim Spain. In a poem written by Abu al-Baqa al-Rundi, d.1285, he laments the civilisation lost, “Where is Cordoba, the home of sciences, and many a scholar whose rank was once lofty in it? Where is Seville and the pleasure it contains, as well as its sweet river overflowing and brimming full? Today, tourist flock all over the world to Spain to witness what is left of the wonders of Islamic civilisation in cities like Cordoba, and Granada. Where we could be country like Spain (1492-1614) that promotes the advance of science, where scholars thrive and respected, a country of abundant resources and beauty, we have now become regressive based on suspicion and fear. A book written by Muslim academics and intellectuals becomes something of a mistrust and threat, rather than to appreciate and debate.
The current government has let religion creep into politics for its own ends. Never before we see two muftis, Perak and Perlis, slanging each other over a civil judgement which declared that a fatwa has no force of law under the Federal Constitution. DPM Zahid Hamidi joined in saying Muslims should be united to make sure that the Fatwa Council is not challenge by any parties or any legal system.
Tawfik Tun Dr Ismail is also challenging the government encroachment of the powers of the Sultans as head of Islam which is clearly stated in the constitution. The G25 book ban may not help but curb moderate Islam and allow extreme views for short term political gain.