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Mustafa Akyol’s detention was extreme and arbitrary

We, the members of G25, join our friends and colleagues in Suhakam and the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), as well as the lawyers and academicians who have spoken out criticising the detention of Mustafa Akyol at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Sept 25, as he was leaving the country after completing his speaking engagements in KL.

He was accused by Federal Territories Islamic Religous Department (Jawi) of violating Section 11 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997, which requires that a person teaching Islam must get the prior approval of the agency. We consider the action by Jawi to be heavy-handed, extreme, and arbitrary.

Mustafa was here for the fifth time and has developed a special liking for Malaysia. Although he was aware that Islam is highly politicised in this country, he felt it to be a model Muslim country which has done well in providing for the economic and social development of its be a model Muslim country which has done well in providing for the economic and social development of its people.

He was here, as with the previous four occasions, to conduct an academic discourse on Islam, and not, as accused by Jawi, to “teach “or “preach” Islam for which he would require “tauliah“ (credentials).

Mustafa is a Turkish national residing and teaching in the United States, and has written several books and articles on Islam. Teaching in prestigious universities, including Oxford, he is also a leading speaker at international conferences, and is a regular columnist for major newspapers including the New York Times. He often appears on international TV networks in well-known talk shows.

Mustafa is one of the few Islamic scholars who has been effective in speaking out against Islamophobia in the west. In fact, he is a highly respected figure there for his positive views on Islam. He has always been a champion of Islam as a religion of peace, tolerance and moderation, and that democracy and Islam are compatible.

But the misguided and overzealous Jawi officials chose to arrest this well-known, peaceful, moderate, and democratic advocate of Islam, and kept him in detention for 17 hours without proper sleep, which is tantamount to gross mistreatment.

This will leave him with a lasting impression on how a religious law in Malaysia can be used selectively by religious authorities on any person that they pick on to show their power, and shows that the administration of Islam in the country is not based on justice, but on the whims and fancies of the religious authorities.

We in the G25 also fully support the statement by Suhakam which inter alia states: “Such extreme action in our multi-religious, multi-racial and moderate Malaysia in our view is repressive, undemocratic and intended to be intimidating. There is no question that this must stopped by the government and such actions that reflect hostility, narrow-mindedness and intolerance of civil, intellectual and religious discourse should not be committed again.”

We are particularly concerned that this action by Jawi is part of an increasing series of views and actions by Islamic authorities, groups, and individuals which are becoming more and more intolerant and disrespectful towards Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Arbitrary actions like these, in the name of religion, threaten the very foundation of the multi-racial and multi-religious character of Malaysia as a nation.

This incident further strengthens the belief, as a result of the perceived rise in extremism in this country, that Malaysia is fast losing its reputation as a moderate and democratic Islamic country. Ironically, the Malaysian government was adamant recently on pushing its initiative on moderation at the UN General Assembly.

Many Malaysians are seriously concerned that the rise of extremism and intolerance by various groups is the result of a perceived ambivalent attitude, if not tacit countenance by the government.

We therefore call on the government to take a clear and firm stance to urgently put a stop to the rise of religious extremism and intolerance, and take definitive and urgent action to promote unity and harmony in this beloved nation of ours through moderation and renewed commitment to the Rukun Negara and the Federal Constitution – beginning in schools, colleges and universities, and local communities.

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