Malaysia bans book with foreword by former PM
KUALA LUMPUR — A book on Islamic law in Malaysia, which contains a foreword by a former prime minister and later launched by a senior Member of Parliament (MP) from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, is among the books banned by the Home Ministry, citing “prejudicial to public order”.
Former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi - who is well-versed in Islamic matters and has sought to project a liberal image of Islam with his Islam Hadhari (Civilisation Islam) policy during his tenure - had written the foreword to the book, Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation – Islam in a Constitutional Democracy, published by the Group of 25 (G25).
The Malaysian moderate group is made up of Malay former high-ranking civil servants who have spoken out on conflicts between syariah and civil laws, and called for reforms to how religious authorities function.
The book, which had been on store shelves for about two years, was launched by BN MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in 2015, but was banned by the Home Ministry on June 14.
The ban on the book — which was published in Singapore — was signed by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, noting that printing or possessing the book was “likely to be prejudicial to public order” and “likely to alarm public opinion”.
The ban by the ministry, which Mr Abdullah himself used to helm, has perplexed G25 members, who are now seeking a judicial review to challenge the ban.
“Abdullah would not have written a foreword to a book or be at all involved in any work that could be deemed prejudicial to public order,” G25 member Zainuddin Abdul Bahri told The Malaysian Insight.
“(The ministry) also never indicated which parts of the book they found offensive.”
The book contains 21 essays exploring the intersection between Islam, shariah law, the constitution and politics in Malaysia’s plural society.
The essays are penned by some of Malaysia’s most renowned academics and scholars, such as Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi, Dr Maszlee Malik, Associate Professor Azmi Sharom, Dr Syed Faris Alatas, Dr Chandra Muzaffar and Ms Zainah Anwar.
In his foreword, Mr Abdullah — Prime Minister Najib Razak’s predecessor — said the book contained articles about Islam within a constitutional democracy and that it sheds light on the relationship between the religion and the federal constitution.
“The members of G25 are particularly concerned about recent developments pertaining to the administration of shariah laws in the country,” he said.
“The long-standing conflicts between the civil and shariah courts reflect a lack of clarity and understanding on the place of Islam within our constitutional democracy, and has led to disputes and conflicts in and outside the courts.”
These disputes have confused both Muslims and non-Muslims and have led to questions on the limits of the shariah law’s jurisdiction and how religious authorities enforce them, Mr Abdullah noted.
“If left unresolved, these disputes may well affect peace and harmony in our multiracial and multi-religious country.”
Mr Abdullah also said he had worked closely with many of G25’s members while he was in government and that they had “served the nation with distinction”.
“I share the hope of my friends in G25 that the publication will further encourage an informed and rational dialogue on the ways that Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in multiracial and multi-religious Malaysia, yet within the letter and spirit of the constitution.”
Malaysia routinely bans books, movies and songs that may contain sensitive material regarding religion or sex, but critics say the government’s clampdown on anything deemed un-Islamic has accelerated in recent times as Mr Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) seeks to appeal to its Muslim Malay base amid speculation elections could be called in the coming months.
Since June, the Home ministry has banned four more books on Islam on grounds that they could “likely be prejudicial to public order and interest” and “likely to alarm public opinion”.
They include two volumes of essays published by the intellectual movement Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) titled Wacana Pemikiran Reformis (Jilid I) (A Discourse on Reformist Thought, volume I) and Wacana Pemikiran Reformis (Jilid II) (A Discourse on Reformist Thought, volume II).
Also banned was the latest book by prolific Malay author and academic Dr Mohd Faizal Musa, or known as Faizal Tehrani, titled “AKU _______, MAKA AKU ADA! (I ___, therefore I exist).
The ministry has also banned the Bahasa Malaysia and English versions of a book by Turkish author Mustafa Akyol titled Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty. THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT