KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 18 — The powerful Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has denounced the questioning of religious authorities as part of a liberalism movement that seeks to uphold individual interpretations of Islam.

Jakim director-general Datuk Othman Mustapha told Malay daily Berita Harian in an interview published today that such thinking has long been absorbed by Muslims until they have forgotten that the Islamic civilisation used to be founded on Islamic principles.

“Doubting religious authorities is not a new idea,” Othman was quoted saying.

“It’s the manifestation of the ‘religious liberalism’ movement that wants this religion to be interpreted by individuals based on the principle of freedom that they have faith in as the key to development and peace,” he added.


Often vaguely or completely undefined, liberalism and pluralism have become the catch phrases used by Islamic authorities to criticise ideologies, organisations and individuals that depart from the sanctioned religious narrative.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak also reportedly said last November that Putrajaya’s brand of moderation was rooted in Islamic law and did not include liberal or pluralistic ideologies.

“Jakim is not saying that it represents Islam as a whole, but the Islamic faith does have a respected tradition of knowledge,” Othman was quoted today as saying.


“In fact, Jakim always upholds the concept of moderation propounded by the government in every area of Islamic administration in Malaysia,” he added.

Othman also denied allegations that the Friday sermons prepared by Jakim encouraged extremism.

“Such accusations are utterly baseless and it could be because he didn’t understand the objective of Friday sermons,” said Othman, referring to lawyer Eric Paulsen who was recently arrested for sedition after allegedly tweeting that Jakim promoted extremism.

“The procedure of publishing Jakim’s Friday sermons is very diligent as it goes through several layers. We have a writers’ panel, a panel of reviewers and a confirmation panel. After that, the text is finally put forth for approval from Jakim’s highest management before it is published and disseminated,” he added.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom reportedly said last Sunday that the Friday sermons prepared by Jakim have never encouraged extremism or violence, but have promoted goodwill instead.

Last Friday, Paulsen allegedly posted on Twitter a remark that read: “Jakim is promoting extremism every Friday. Govt needs to address that if serious about extremism in Malaysia.”

Paulsen was arrested on Monday night by between 15 and 20 police officers, before being remanded for two days. He has since been released.