Banned Indonesian Muslim scholar Dr Ulil Abshar Abdalla revealed he attended a global Islamic conference in Malaysia and had even spoken here before – at a time when Malay Muslim conservatism was not as evident as it is today.
BY HASBULLAH AWANG CHIK
Published: 14 October 2014
Ulil said he was invited to Kuala Lumpur in July 2002 to attend the International Forum on Islam (Kalif) on “Islam and Politics” when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the prime minister.
“I was invited by Pak Abdullah Badawi to Malaysia to attend an international conference called Kalif in 2002.
“I have been to Malaysia many times before this. I have even given ceramah in Malaysia,” Ulil told The Malaysian Insider yesterday, referring to the time when Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was the deputy prime minister.
The conference, organised by the deputy prime minister’s office, brought together international Muslim thinkers who discussed, among other topics, Islam’s compatibility with human rights and democracy.
Abdullah’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, was chairman of the conference’s programme. The prime minister then, Dr Mahathir, delivered the closing address at the end of the conference, said Ulil.
It comes as a surprise to Ulil that he is now on the Malaysian Immigration Department’s blacklist after religious authorities said his liberal views on Islam would be dangerous for Muslims here.
“I am sad and disappointed about the ban. To me, this is not the way – to close discussion among Muslims, as we need the space to hear about different views of Islam.
“It is creating a culture of fear among Muslims. It is not healthy for Muslims,” he said in a phone interview.
Ulil, who is with the Jaringan Islam Liberal movement in Indonesia, was scheduled to speak at a roundtable discussion organised by the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) on “Religious Fundamentalism Threat in This Century” in Bukit Damansara on October 18.
But the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) last Thursday said the forum should be stopped because Ulil was known for his liberal views.
Jakim director-general Datuk Othman Mustapha said teachings that contravened the Shafie school of Islam and which “threatened the faith of Muslims in Malaysia” had to be stopped.
Malaysian Immigration subsequently put Ulil on its blacklist, and Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times that Ulil would “mislead Muslims in the country if he is allowed to spread his brand of liberalism here”.
Upon learning that he was barred from entering Malaysia, Ulil had tweeted on October 11: “I am sad that this ban happens in time (sic) when Muslim society needs more dialogue to stem radicalism in their midst”.
He also tweeted: “As sad as this ban might be, it won’t work. Authority might ban my entrance to Malaysia. But Islamic progressive ideas can’t be stopped”.
Speaking to The Malaysian Insider, Ulil said if Malaysia was not ready for open dialogue, it would be difficult to stem the radicalisation of Muslims.
It would also make efforts to nurture tolerance and openness difficult.
“We need a culture of healthy dialogue to overcome radicalism. Radicalism grows faster and stronger in a closed system,” he said.
Ulil noted that growing radicalism and fundamentalism was a problem in both Malaysia and Indonesia but said the Indonesian government did have programmes to address extremist rhetoric.
“I don’t know too much about the situation in Malaysia, but in Indonesia, the government holds programmes to counter radical influences.
Indonesia also had Muslim civil society groups that were working to address the rhetoric of fundamentalists, he said.
“An important strategy is to have moderate Muslim figures to address the views of fundamentalists.
“The role of Muslim thinkers and intellectuals to counter extremism is critical,” he said. – October 14, 2014.