On behalf of the four writers accused of insulting Islam by the PUM and seven other organisations, I would like to submit to you a copy of our joint letter to the Conference of Rulers and its attachments and also the joint press statement signed by 26 NGOs and 29 prominent individuals objecting to the PUM effort to silence and criminalise differences of opinion in Islam.
We hope the National Council on Islamic Religious Affairs chaired by YAB will take into consideration our reply to the unfounded charges against us. We would also like to draw YAB’s attention to the continued attacks against us in the roadshows mounted by the PUM and its supporters at mosques, at ceramahs, and this new event called “Makan Malam Bersama Ulama”. To us, the inflamed speeches made at these events accusing us of insulting Islam and insulting the Prophet (saw) constitute incitement to hatred and violence.
Recently the Harakahdaily.com website launched an opinion poll asking its readers to decide what action should be taken against us. One of the actions suggested by the website was “Perangi mereka habis-habisan” which drew 65.37 percent support from the respondents as opposed to 24.41 percent who supported dialogue. The fact that the organisers chose a violent action as an option against those they accused of “menghina Nabi” is designed to further whip up Muslim sentiment against us.
One of our major concerns has been the growing culture of intimidation and fear in this country, as a result of the politicisation of religion, especially Islam. For the past two decades Malaysian society has witnessed the rise of hate campaigns as a result of the use of Islam by opposition movements against the Government. The practice of takfir (accusing other Muslims of being kafir, munafik or enemies of Islam) has now become commonplace.
The PUM attacks on us take place at a time when such hate-mongering has become the norm. As a result of the controversy generated some of those attacked have been subjected to hate mail, abuse and threats of death and rape. Our personal safety is threatened. Should the situation escalate, there is the very real fear that this may even lead to violence and confrontation.
To us the action launched by PUM and backed strongly by a Kedah-based NGO called TERAS Pengupayaan Melayu, led by Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid, is politically motivated to serve the political interest of certain opposition parties in preparation for the next general election. They seem determined to pursue this matter and win Malay support for them against a Government that they accuse of supporting people who insult the ulama.
We hope the Government and UMNO will have the resolve, and the courage of conviction and knowledge to face this challenge. This is a battle that is being waged in all Muslim societies, one between extremist and reformist forces within Islam in defining what Islam, whose Islam is the right Islam. The voice of moderation and reason in Islam must prevail if Muslim countries should ever hope to join the ranks of developed nation status and for our religion and communities to be respected and valued worldwide. Already we can take comfort from the fact that such a large number of progressive Malay-Muslims have come out in support of us and our work as a result of this controversy.
We appreciate the strong, clear and courageous position that YAB has taken on this issue and YAB’s reply in Parliament on 2 April 2002. It is a position that comes with political costs, but we feel strongly that this is a temporary cost that UMNO and the Government must be ready to bear for the long term goal of ensuring that Islam remains relevant to our day and age and is able to provide answers to the challenges of changing times and circumstances. Should we falter at this stage, it would merely be seen as a victory for those who wish to narrow the space of Islamic intellectual discourse in the country, and a major step backwards for the cause of progressive Islam in Malaysia.
We trust YAB’s wisdom and judgement to guide the National Council on Islamic Religious Affairs to make a decision that will serve the best interest of our multi-ethnic and multi-religious country that is at the forefront of development and modernisation in the world today.
We thank you for your attention.
18 March 2002
o.b: Dr Farish Noor
Dr Kassim Ahmad
Dr Patricia Martinez