A PRO-MODERATION group comprising eminent ethnic Malays has questioned the Malaysian government’s move to ban a book it published on “moderate” Islam amid concerns of rising Islamic fundamentalism in the country.
The Home Ministry banned the book authored by the group of predominantly former senior civil servants, who call themselves G25, for being “prejudicial to public order”, reported Malay Mail Online on Thursday.
A notice on the Federal Gazette, dated July 27, listed the prohibition of the book, titled Breaking the Silence: Voices of a Moderation Islam in a Constitutional Democracy under the Printing Presses and Publications (Control of Undesirable Publications) (No 12) Order 2017.
The group’s spokesman Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin said she was shocked by the ban, given the government’s long-standing drive to promote the wassatiyyah (moderation) concept espoused in Islam.
“This is obviously an action intended to suppress free speech. The articles in the book were written by respected academics, lawyers and social activists,” she told Asian Correspondent when contacted.
“They are intellectual articles mainly discussing the place of Islam in the Federal Constitution. None of the articles have criticised Islam or touched on matters of Aqidah ( faith ).”
Noor Farida, a prominent former judge and diplomat, also suggested the questionable timing of the ban as the book was released back in December 2015.
“This does not make sense as in the nearly two years that the book has been on the market, we have not heard of any of the readers causing public disorder or a public nuisance as a result of reading the book!”
The government, she said, should instead favour the book due to its “moderate” stance. Malaysia promotes an image of moderate Islam internationally, despite the increasing implementation of Syariah law across the country.
The government gazette’s notice stated the printing, importation, production, publishing, sale, issue, circulation, distribution, or possession of the publication is “likely to be prejudicial to public interest”, which led to the nationwide ban.
Noor Farida said the G25 group would seek an explanation from the ministry and appeal the ban.
“We are still discussing this among our group members, but we will appeal and ask the Home Ministry to point out to us what the offending passages prejudicial to public order are,” she was quoted by The Star as saying.
Civil society groups such as the G25 have recently expressed alarm over the northeastern state of Kelantan’s move to amend its religious Islamic laws to allow public caning against “criminals” who breach its strict Syariah code.
At the end of this month, Malaysia’s lower house of Parliament is expected to debate a Bill to amend Act 355 of the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, also known as the controversial RUU355.
The Bill – commonly known as Hadi’s Bill after the man who proposed it – would increase the Syariah punishment caps in Malaysia to a maximum 30 years’ imprisonment, RM100,000 (US$22,400) fine and 100 lashes of the cane – far harsher sentences than those currently implemented under the civil system.
Noor Farida said the G25 promotes moderation and peace and harmony among our people of various faiths and ethnicities.
“We believe in promoting respect for the beliefs of others. And we firmly believe in upholding our secular Federal Constitution against any attempts by religious bigots to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state.”