In September 2017, I gave a public lecture in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, championing freedom of consience. I said religion must be based on free choice and “it should not be policed.”
The next day, the Malaysian “religion police,” or Jawi, arrested and interrogated me for “teaching Islam without permission from the state.”
Thanks to some behind-the-scenes diplomacy, Jawi soon released me. But based on their report, the Malaysian Home Ministry banned my book, Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, along with its Malay-language edition, Islam Tanpa Keekstreman: Berhujah Untuk Kebebasan.
The publisher of the book, the Islamic Renaissance Front, which had hosted me in Malaysia for that eventful lecture in 2017, took the case all the way to the nation’s High Court. However, in April 2019, the High Court upheld the ban, suggesting, “the contents of the book are likely to be prejudicial to public order and interest and likely to alarm public opinion.”
With all due respect to the Malaysian authorities, I find this authoritarianism ridiculous. The most shocking idea in my book that can “alarm public opinion” is that Islam should not be coerced. Or, as the Qur’an says, “There should be no compulsion in religion…” (2:256) If there is something alarming in this whole scene, it is the very banning of such reasoned arguments on crucial matters about the practice of Islam in the modern world.
But neither I nor the Malaysian authorities should have a final word on any of this. It must be up to Malay Muslims who are interested in the topic and who have the right to make up their mind.
Therefore, with the generous permission of the Islamic Renaissance Front, I have decided to share the Malay edition of my book, Islam without Extremes, here on the Cato Institute website. All Malaysians - and of course everybody else - are welcome to download Islam Tanpa Keekstreman: Berhujah Untuk Kebebasan and read it for themselves: