Jakarta. Authorities in Malaysia have banned liberal Muslim scholar Ulil Abshar Abdalla from a seminar on the grounds that he might spread the teachings of the Ahmadiyah minority sect — of which he is not a follower.
"Figures like Ulil are responsible for spreading [Ahmadiyah teachings] among Islamic institutions in Malaysia. Ahmadiyah teachings are a deviation from [Sunni Islam]," the Malaysian ambassador to Indonesia, Dato' Seri Zahrain Mohamed Hashim, told Detik.com on Tuesday.
Ulil is not a follower of Ahmadiyah — a sect of Islam whose followers believe Muhammad was not the final prophet of God. He does, however, espouse a live-and-let-live approach to the Ahmadiyah, telling his followers that a narrow, small-minded outlook to Islam does little to further tolerance and pluralism. Ulil has, for example, publicly condemned the prosecution of Ahmadiyah Mulisms in Indonesia. This approach does not hold water in Malaysia, the ambassador said.
The Indonesian government in 2008 banned Ahmadiyah proselytization but not the sect itself. Its followers have nevertheless been the victims of sometimes deadly violence in recent years.
Zahrain emphasized to Detik that the 1999 National Fatwa issued in Malaysia allowed only Sunni teachings to be spread in the former British colony.
"According to Malaysian ulema, those who are deviating from Ahlus Sunnah Waljamaah [Sunni teachings] have no right to speak on Islamic issues," he said.
Malaysian ulema filed a request to the local government to prevent Ulil, the founder of the Liberal Islam Network (JIL), from attending a seminar in Malaysia titled "Religious Fundamentalism Threat in This Century." The discussion will be held in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.
"The Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs and the Islamic Body did not allow Ulil to come to Malaysia to attend the round-table session," Zahrain said.
Ulil, who is also a member of the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, Nadhlatul Ulama, and a Democratic Party politician, said that the ban saddened him especially because Muslim societies needed more discussion on radicalism, especially since Indonesia and Malaysia were producing more and more conservatives.
"I am sad that this ban has happened at a time when Muslim society needs more dialogue to stem the radicalism in their midst. As in Indonesia, the trend of Islamic conservatism seems to be increasing in Malaysia. And this is not good news for Muslims in Indonesia," Ulil tweeted.
Ulil has also been banned from events in Riau and Surabaya for similar reasons.
"Persatuan Ulama Malaysia [a large Malaysian Muslim organization] filed a protest against my participation in the event," Ulil wrote. "I am banned now from entering Malaysia."