By TAY TIAN YAN
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily
It was an incident that has largely escaped public attention here. Its significance, nevertheless, is a whole lot larger than the subdued coverage it has been accorded on the local media.
Last month, the religious department raided the Borders outlet in MidValley, confiscating the book by liberal religious writer Irshad Manji while charging the store manager Nik Raina.
Manji's book Allah, Liberty and Love was confiscated because it did not comply with the religious teachings, and the store manager was charged because she was involved in distributing and retailing the book.
The incident drew much bigger attention abroad than it did here. For one thing, not many in Malaysia are familiar with the writer although she is internationally acclaimed.
The young Indian Muslim Canadian writer was born in Uganda at a time when President Idi Amin was notoriously hostile to Asians and people of Indian descent were repatriated in droves. Manji's family had to leave for Canada.
Canada's multicultural environment allowed the young Manji to receive Western education while still leaning about the Islamic faith. However, her curiosity and rebellious spirit prompted her to look at her own religion from brand new perspectives.
She started from history, pursuing the Arabian culture and Islam with some prominence. She was later hired by the NYU to be a lecturer and head of its research program.
Manji is particularly interested in Southeast Asian Islam. She opines that the regional Islamic faith typified by Indonesia has evolved its own unique characteristics.
During a recent lecture tour of Southeast Asia, she launched her new book Allah, Liberty and Love.
Her itinerary in Malaysia was of particular interest to many. She was supposed to give a public speech upon her arrival in Kuala Lumpur, but given the mounting pressure from conservative religious groups, the public speech was reduced in nature to that of a private dialogue while her book was banned by the government.
The religious environment in Malaysia appeared to have been way more conservative than Manji had anticipated.
I am somewhat attracted by the book, but am unable to acquire it anywhere in this country. I watched her book launch on YouTube, where she described the book as one that talks about the enduring spirit of Islam and that Islam could be very liberal too.
The conservative have accused her of promoting inter-religious marriages and homosexuality.
Unhappy with the raid, Borders and its owner Berjaya Books sought judicial review in the court after the incident, which the High Court has approved and has set an early September date for hearing.
For the first time in Malaysia's judicial history a bookstore has stood up to challenge a decision by the government. JAWI, the home minister and the minister in the PM's department have been named defendants in the case.
Normally the public are hushed where religious issues are concerned; few have the guts to challenge the authorities.
The legal action taken by Borders not only serves to protect its employee, but also safeguard the self esteem of the bookstore.
Manji's views on religion pose a challenge on the conservative society, but where dissemination of knowledge is concerned, banning a book is blocking an access to the world of knowledge, denying the public of the opportunity to learn, communicate and interact.
Who in an open and democratic society has the right to decide which types of books its people should read, and who can pass down a verdict on whether something is right or wrong?
Liberal intelligentsia should lend its support to Borders in hope of opening up the borders of knowledge.