Malaysia built on pluralism and liberalism, says US Muslim scholar

Muslim academic and Carnegie Scholar Ebrahim Moosa delivers a speech on pluralism at a talk organised by the Penang Institute at the Wawasan Open University in Penang, December 9, 2014. — Picture by K.E. Ooi
Muslim academic and Carnegie Scholar Ebrahim Moosa delivers a speech on pluralism at a talk organised by the Penang Institute at the Wawasan Open University in Penang, December 9, 2014. — Picture by K.E. Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Dec 9 — Malaysia’s constitutional guarantee of religious freedom and recognition of its multicultural society implies that the country already accepts pluralism and liberalism, leading Muslim academic and Carnegie Scholar Ebrahim Moosa said today.

Commenting on Islamic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom’s contention that liberalism and pluralism are among the most prevalent forms of insult to Islam, Moosa said this position would necessitate a complete rewriting of the country’s supreme law.

“If we want to get away from liberalism, we need to tear up the Malaysian constitution and begin knocking down the foundations of what the society is about,” he said after delivering a speech on “Developing a philosophy of pluralism” here.

Earlier today, national news agency Bernama quoted Jamil Khir as saying that state Islamic Religious Councils and the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) have determined that pluralism and liberalism were the most notable sources of insults against Islam.

Moosa said he was unclear how the minister or the Islamic authorities were defining the two ideologies in order to see insults in them, adding that the government’s interpretations were clearly different from what he understood the two concepts to mean.

He also suggested that Malaysia’s founding fathers had inherited a liberal bent from their British education as well as the foundation of order from the country’s former colonisers, and said government officials should reacquaint themselves with this information.

“These people need to re-familiarise themselves with Malaysian History 101 and the foundation of the country before we can have a grown up conversation on pluralism and liberalism,” he said.

Moosa was delivering a speech on pluralism at a talk organised by the Penang Institute at the Wawasan Open University today.

Often vaguely defined or completely undefined, liberalism and pluralism have become the catchphrase used by Islamic authorities to target ideologies, organisations and individuals that departed from the sanctioned religious narrative.

Malaysia’s religious authorities have long derided liberalism and pluralism, with Friday sermons nationwide claiming a conspiracy by “enemies of Islam” to manipulate Muslims through ideas like secularism, socialism, feminism and positivism, in addition to the two.

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