In a twist of irony, a public university has decided not to allow a forum on Islam and freedom of expression to be conducted at its venue. According to Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) director Dr Farouk Musa, Universiti Islam Antarabangsa’s (UIA) management did not give a specific reason for backing out of the Feb 16 event.
The forum was supposed to take place at the university's International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (Istac) in Kuala Lumpur.
"I suppose the topic was too hot for them, but cancelling it says loud and clear that they are not for freedom of expression," Farouk said when contacted.
However, he said the forum entitled 'Is Islam A Threat to Freedom of Expression' will go on, thanks to the goodwill of former deputy minister and Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) chief executive officer Saifuddin Abdullah.
The forum, co-organised by IRF and the Penang Institute, will still be hosted on its originally-intended date and time, but at the Global Movement of Moderates office at Wisma Manulife in Damansara Heights.
The forum will be moderated by Farouk, and feature panellists Universiti Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom and renown Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol.
Forum 'academic' in nature
Mustafa's book Islam Without Extremes is internationally acclaimed and his work has been published by leading publications like the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Foreign Affairs.
Expressing disappointment in a separate statement, IRF secretary Rizqi Mukhriz said that Istac had earlier already agreed to host and co-organise the forum, which is “academic” in nature.
“(It) has been promoted for a while now and has received encouraging response from the public. No concrete reason was given for the cancellation despite preparations already under way,” he said.
He added that the university's tagline, 'Garden of knowledge and virtue' does not gel with the cancellation.
“It is as if (the UIA management) is looking down on the ability of society, especially academics and UIA folk, to assess and partake in the sharing of knowledge and information, as well as participate in discourse,” he said.
He noted that this is not the first time UIA had cancelled an academic forum organised by the IRF, at the last minute.
The same happened to an IRF-organised forum last year which was scheduled to include Duke University of North Carolina academic Mohsen Kadivar.
In 2011, UIA sacked constitutional law professor Abdul Aziz Bari for remarks critical of the palace, causing uproar from varsity students and academia.
Meanwhile, when contacted, a UIA spokesperson stated that administrators of the varsity's main campus in Gombak were not informed of the forum.
The forum, Malaysiakini was told, was not listed in its programme calender for the month of February this year.
Calls to the Istac office in Bukit Tunku, however, went unanswered possibly due to the Federal Territory Day replacement public holiday.