Jun 27: A recent spate of book banning by Malaysia's religious bureaucrats on the pretext of defending the sanctity of Islam has been challenged by a Muslim non-governmental organisation, decrying such an act as un-Islamic and against the Muslim tradition of intellectual freedom.
"For if that was the case, then Islam would not have had its Golden Ages, which saw centuries of science, art and discovery flourish.
"Indeed, the freedom to think, express and to risk original ideas defined the many Muslim civilisations that prospered across the Islamic world, from Baghdad to Spain in the West and India, China and the Nusantara in the East," said Islamic Renaissance Front, a youth empowerment group which has often collided on matters of Islam with UMNO-linked NGOs.
Its director Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa warned that acts of book banning would only fuel the misconception among some that Islam does not tolerate freedom.
Describing the intellectual culture of the Islamic past as "cosmopolitan", Farouk pointed out that the Muslim world during that time had become an intellectual melting pot, producing scholars and scientists whose contributions to modern science were undisputed.
"Indeed, the thriving culture of science and exploration eventually produced the likes of Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina who undertook in-depth exploration of Greek philosophy while the West was still in its dark ages," he added.
He said rational discourse had been the order of the day, such as the method adapted by 12-century Muslim thinker Imam al-Ghazali in his revivalist works.
He stressed that technological accomplishments during the Abbasid caliphate of the 8th century, for example, were not new discoveries but "born in conversation with knowledge inherited from Greek, Roman, Persian, Chinese and Indian civilisations".
"It was during this era that the Muslim world became the intellectual centre for learning, during which the famous House of Wisdom or Baitul Hikmah was established. Muslims and non-Muslims worked together, hand-in-hand, to translate and gather all the possible knowledge that was within reach to them at the time into Arabic," he stressed.
In an apparent reference to recent campaign by Islamic department officials and some local groups against the Shi'ite school of Islamic thought, Farouk reminded the absence of such sectarianism among scholars of that time.
"Al-Farabi was Turkish, Ibn Sina and Al-Ghazali were Persians. Ibn Sina in fact was believed to be a Shi'ite. The openness to ideas was accompanied by a remarkable openness to other ethnicities and sects," said the medical doctor who teaches at Monash University.
Farouk contrasted this past thinking among Muslim scholars to the present authorities who prefer forced conformity among Muslim public, saying the latter were devoid of genuine Islamic knowledge and came to power only due to "random reasons".
Despite these current trends, however, Farouk believes that not all is lost, suggesting that negative practice among Muslim bureaucrats was only recent and not as entrenched.
"Things can be otherwise because Muslims have not always been like this," he opined.
Originally published in Harakah Daily: http://en.harakah.net.my/index.php/berita-utama/5235-bureaucrats-doing-disservice-to-islam-through-book-banning-sectarianism.html