‘Ban on Muslim scholar shows govt waffling about moderation’

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KUALA LUMPUR: The government is underestimating the intelligence of Malaysian Muslims with its ban on Indonesian Muslim scholar Dr Ulil Abshar Abdalla from entering the country, say critics. Ulil’s sponsor, Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) chief Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa said the government is showing its inconsistency in promoting moderation by preventing Ulil from visiting Malaysia to speak against religious fundamentalism.

Former minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, said this episode is just the latest event that shows how extremist Malaysia has become. Zaid also called on the leaders of Commonwealth countries to stop being “polite” to Malaysia and to make it answer for its actions.

“The government thinks that we do not have a mind of our own and we need to be guided on what to hear, what to read and what to think. Could there be anything more condescending than that?” Ahmad Farouk said.

“Like what was tweeted by Ulil, the government can ban him from entering the country, but progressive Islamic ideas cannot be stopped,” he said.

Ulil was to speak at a roundtable discussion organised by the IRF on “Religious Fundamentalism Threat in This Century” in Bukit Damansara on Saturday.

But the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) last Thursday said the forum should be stopped because Ulil is known for his liberal views. Jakim director-general Datuk Othman Mustapha said teachings that contravene the teachings of the Shafie school of Islam and which “threaten the faith of Muslims in Malaysia” have to be stopped.

The Immigration Department subsequently put Ulil on its blacklist, and Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was quoted as saying by a local daily that Ulil would “mislead Muslims ...  if he is allowed to spread his brand of liberalism here”. On Tuesday, the minister in charge of religion Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom reiterated that Ulil was barred  because his teachings go against the Shafie school which Malaysia subscribes to.

This prompted Zaid in a blog post to take the government to task for its increasingly authoritarian stance.  Ahmad Farouk told The Malaysian Insider  the forum will proceed with different panellists and at a new venue.  — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 16, 2014.