Forum “Is Reason a Threat to Faith and Society?”

October 15, 2017

Date: Sunday, 22nd October 2017
Time: 2.00PM – 5.30PM
Venue: University of Nottingham, Jalan Raja Chulan, Kuala Lumpur
Register at:

Prof Zaharom Nain, University of Nottingham
Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, Sisters In Islam
Dr Isham Pawan Ahmad, International University of Malaysia
Dr Azmi Sharom, University of Malaya

Elma Berisha

Again, complaints of threat towards the faith of Islam and the public order of Muslims in Malaysia have resurfaced. The culprit causing such nauseating anxiety to the rather sombre conservative minds of the people is none other than the fresh voice of reason. Unsurprisingly, religious authorities in their best of efficiencies took immediate actions through a series of banning, investigation and interrogation to those who were perceived to cause such instability.

In the past few weeks, a new list of banned books was announced, among those were publications by the Islamic Renaissance Front’s Malay translation of Mustafa Akyol’s Islam Without Extremes, and the series of Wacana Pemikiran Reformis I and II that call for a reform in Islamic thought and implore to revitalize Muslim intellectual discourse in the Muslim societies. The book-banning spree happened in succession to the harassment and investigations to a guest speaker, the internationally renowned Turkish intellectual-journalist, Mustafa Akyol, who openly promotes liberty, religious inclusivity and democracy among the Muslim ummah. One thing in common about these persecutions, as occasionally happened before, towards books of critical ideas and intellectual speakers, is the aim in curtailing the voice of reason in Islam. Such persecutions have once again exposed and amplified the insecurities of the majority Muslims, brings us to question the centuries-old myth; of whether reason, is really a threat to faith and society?

Or could it be that reason, is what that has actually been missing in our religious minds and thoughts, causing intellectual stagnation, civilizational decay, political injustice, and the growing conservatism? Could there be honest and genuine individual faith without rational thinking? Could there be any social progress without the appreciation of reason? And perhaps, could it be that this is the time for us to demystify; that reason is actually a cure, instead of a threat to our faith and society?


2.00-2.30:   Registration
2.30-2.40:   Opening speech by Ehsan Shahwahid
2.40-2.50:   Welcoming speech by Dr Joanne Lim, Head, School of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
2.50-3.00:   Speech by moderator, Elma Berisha
3,00-3.20:   Panelist I: Prof Zaharom Nain
3.20-3.40:   Panelist II: Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir
3.40-4.00:   Panelist III: Dr Isham Pawan Ahmad
4.00-4.20:   Panelist IV: Dr Azmi Sharom
4.20-5.30:   Discussion
5.30           :   Tea

Jointly organized by:
Islamic Renaissance Front, University of Nottingham and Democracy Academy of Malaysia

Speakers’ Biographies
Prof Zaharom Nain is Director of the Centre for the Study of Communications and Culture, and Professor of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC). His academic background and research interests are in the sociology of communications and the political economy of the media.  He is currently Chair of the Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak), and was the only academic on the national-level Creative Industries Advisory Council which was set up by the Malaysian Academy of Sciences to map out the future of the creative industries in Malaysia. Internationally, he is the recipient of two Fulbright professorships – as a Visiting Professor at the University of California, San Diego in 1998-99, and as a Senior Scholar-in-Residence at Johnson State College, Vermont, in 2009. He is presently finalising a co-edited volume on civil society and the new media in six Southeast Asian countries, the product of a two-year IDRC (Canada) funded project which he headed. The book, Regimes, Civil Society and the New Media in Southeast Asia, is slotted for publication in 2018. Within Malaysia’s civil society circles, Zaharom is a director of the Centre for Combating Corruption and Cronyism (C4), an advisor to the Malaysian Centre for Independent Journalism, and is on the executive committee of one of the oldest human rights organisations in Malaysia, the Penang-based Aliran. He is also a contributing editorial board member of the Aliran Online news portal.

Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir is a recipient of the highest French honour of Chevalier de Legion d’Honneur. She is a staunch advocate of the freedom of speech, especially with regards to unjust laws and policies. She is also a published author, writer and a human rights activist. She headed the non-governmental Malaysian AIDS Council for twelve years from 1993-2005. She has also been Vice-President of the AIDS Society of Asia and the Pacific, sat on several UN expert panels, represented Asia Pacific AIDS NGOs on the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board and spoken at the United Nations General Assembly. Currently she is a member of the Steering Committee of the Asia Pacific Leadership Forum on HIV and Development (APLF), the Global Advisory Group of AIDS2031 and the Global Task Force Review Group of the UNAIDS Action Framework for Addressing Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV. Apart from HIV work, she is a member of the Women’s Aid Organization, and currently sits on the Board of Sisters in Islam, an advocacy group that works for justice and equality for Muslim women; is on the International Advisory Group of Musawah, the global movement for justice and equality in the Muslim family; and is on the Global Advisory Committee of the Women’s Forum for the Society and Economy, France.

Dr Isham Pawan Ahmad is an Associate Professor teaching philosophy and theology at the International Islamic University, Malaysia. He obtained his Master at the University of Chicago under the late Prof. Fazlur Rahman and his PhD from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. His research interest focuses mainly on questions on epistemology and how it impacts our understanding of the relationship of revelation to reason. This understanding shapes our view of religion and ethical worldview. He has expanded this research to include works on interfaith dialogue which translated in collaborations in works on global religious understanding and appreciation with recognition and acceptance of global ethics. He has written and presented numerous papers both locally and internationally.

Dr Azmi Sharom is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya. He obtained his LLB from Sheffield University, LLM from Nottingham University and his PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies. He is the Head of the Human Rights Research Group in his Faculty and has been with SEAHRN since its creation. He teaches Environmental Law and Human Rights Law. His latest academic publications are as Chief Editor of Human Rights and Peace in Southeast Asia Series 2: Defying the Impasse, and Human Rights and Peace in Southeast Asia Series 2: Amplifying the Voices, Southeast Asian Human Rights Studies Network, 2013. He writes fortnightly columns on current affairs for The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh. A collection of his newspaper and magazine articles has been published in a book entitled Brave New World: Greatest Hits, SIRD, 2015. As a vocal activist, he was charged in September 2014 under the Sedition Act for giving his Legal opinion but was freed in February 2016 when the Attorney-General withdrew the charges against him.