Yet another book banned
MAY 29 — Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved reading. My parents started me off with the “Peter and Jane” Ladybird series, and I discovered Enid Blyton when I was eight.
Since then books have been the most constant thing in my life. These days I read anything that interests me — fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy fiction; I don’t discriminate when it comes to reading.
It therefore would not surprise you to know that I was dismayed by the action taken by our authorities over Irshad Manji’s book.
The whole incident should not have been a surprise, of course. When it comes to matters concerning Islam, our official position is that conservatism holds sway. Anything that dissents from the official version of Islam might as well be haram as far as our religious officials are concerned.
This whole episode underscores once again our authorities’ real views when it comes to non-conforming Islam. Forget our PM’s visit to the Vatican last year when he told the world that we are a tolerant and modern Muslim nation. No, if we want to know how Islam and Muslims are viewed in our country, just observe the various Majlis and Jabatan Islam in our country.
Now we also know that JAWI is above the law, and can raid bookstores and seize assets (lest we forget, bookstores own these books) without the need for a court order, as JAWI senior enforcement assistant principal director Wan Jaafar Wan Ahmad tells us: “No need for court order. We are not searching. Before coming to seize, we had already obtained intelligence on finding the book.”
Clearly, in JAWI’s eyes, a court order is only needed when a search is needed, but not when assets are seized.
This incident illustrates yet again the reactionary values that we Muslims hold. It seems to me that we are completely incapable of dealing with thoughts and ideas that are contrary to our own.
Whenever anything happens that could be construed as insulting to Islam or damaging to our faith — and there are a great many things that are apparently insulting to Islam or are threats to our faith, or both — then our reaction is never temperate: death threats against Salman Rushdie; riots over the Danish cartoons; burning the US flag; the cow head incident; a plethora of bans, from books to concerts.
Am I the only one who thinks not only that this is a pitiful state of affairs, but is also ultimately damaging to Islam itself?
Much of the Western world views Muslim societies as backwards and insular. Who could blame them for thinking so?
Muslim societies are among the most oppressive in the world — societies where women’s lives are worth almost nothing; societies where women are automatically discounted from contributing to their countries; societies where migrants are little more than slaves; societies where the ruling class can kill their opponents without restraint.
Our country is often held up as an example of a modern and progressive Islamic nation. We are Muslims who are comfortable living amongst non-Muslims.
What is often not mentioned however is that we are less comfortable when it comes to dealing with those who challenge the established orthodoxy.
Yet Islamic history shows us that there has always been diversity in Islamic thought. The four schools of Islamic jurisprudence tell us that early Muslims constantly questioned and challenged Islamic law.
Islam’s glory days were full of outstanding scientists, scholars, lawyers and even poets; people such as Al-Khwarizmi, Ibn Sina and Al-Ghazali.
Would such people flourish in today’s Islamic societies? Somehow I think not. Al-Khwarizmi, for instance, based some of his work on Persian and Babylonian astronomy.
I wonder, would JAWI allow the study of such material, or would these have been deemed unIslamic? Or what about one of his other works, a treatise on the Jewish calendar? Imagine that happening now — would we applaud such work, or would we mutter that such a scientist would do better to study Islam instead of the Jewish?
You might not agree with what Irshad Manji has to say. You might have no wish whatsoever to listen to what she has to say.
You might even consider her beyond the pale because of her sexual orientation. But that should not give you the right to stop other people from doing the opposite.
Our religious authorities have to stop acting as if our faith is so fragile that it needs protecting from everyone and everything all of the time.
When will we start acknowledging that we, and Islam, will ossify if we do not allow ourselves to be open to other ideas and interpretations? When will we realise that we will never recapture the golden age of Islam if we continue to constrict thoughts and ideas?
I love books. With rare exceptions, I don’t believe books should be banned. You may be afraid of the effect a particular book may have on you, and you may be afraid of the effect it may have on others, but unless there is proof that a book made someone act in a dangerous way, I don’t think anyone has the right to determine what we should or should not read.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.
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