Islamic conservatism that insists on mono-culturism spreading to Malaysia, says banned Indonesian scholar

A screenshot of Ulil Abshar Abdalla’s Twitter feed.
A screenshot of Ulil Abshar Abdalla’s Twitter feed.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 12 — Banned from entering Malaysia, controversial Indonesian scholar Dr Ulil Abshar Abdalla said today he was "sad", but warned that Islamic conservatism trending in his home country was spreading and spelled bad news for Muslims in the region.

The founder of the Indonesian Liberal Islam Network took to Twitter this morning in response to news that he would not be allowed into Malaysia until he was deemed to no longer be a danger to the country's brand of Islam.

"I am sad that this ban happens in time when Muslim society needs more dialogue to stem radicalism in their midst," the 47-year-old said in one post on his Twitter account, @ulil.

"As in Indonesia, trend of Islamic conservatism seems to be increasing in Malaysia. And this is not good news for Muslim in Nusantara," he added in another, using the Malay word for Southeast Asia.

Uli is seen to be a "liberal" Islamic scholar and has been condemned as a heretic by some Indonesian clerics for his progressive views.

He has spoken out against the religious edicts issued by Indonesia's top Islamic council of clerics, including a prohibition for Muslims to offer Christmas greetings to Christians, and his defence of the rights of Ahmadi Muslims.

A fatwa calling for his death was even issued by an Indonesian Muslim group, Forum Ulama Umat Islam, in 2003, over an article he had authored, titled "Menyegarkan Kembali Pemahaman Islam" (Rejuvenating the Islamic Understanding) and published a year ealier in Indonesian magazine Kompas.

Uli was scheduled to speak at a conference here Wednesday about fighting the growing threat of the Islamic State (IS) — a militant religious movement based in Syria that has been luring Muslims in Malaysia and Indonesia to join its cause to create a global caliphate — organised by local Muslim group, Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF).

But he tweeted today that he will no longer be making attending due to the ban, which he said was prompted by a complaint filed by Persatuan Ulama Malaysia (PIM).

"What may this ban tell us? It tells that conservative groups won't allow voices of difference to challenge them.

"What conservative groups want to do is to impose a mono-culture of conformism on Muslim society," Uli said in a series of posts on Twitter.

But the associate researcher at Indonesia's Freedom Institute also said that while the authorities could physically keep him out of Malaysia, the ban was futile in keeping out ideas.

"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."

Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi cited Uli as a threat to Malaysia's brand of Islam because he "deviates from the teachings of Sunni the Wajama'ah" and has directed the Immigration Department to refuse the Indonesian entry into Malaysia, state news agency Bernama reported yesterday.

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