Ministry was told to keep me out, says Egyptian scholar


Source: The Jakarta Post, Jakarta (November 27, 2007)

Liberal Egyptian Koranic scholar Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd said Monday the Indonesian government had treated him “impolitely” when the Religious Affairs Ministry pressured him to cancel his appearance at an Islamic seminar in Malang, East Java, scheduled for Tuesday.

Abu Zayd told The Jakarta Post that based on an SMS he received he suspected that the Religious Affairs Ministry had acted under pressure.

“It said in the SMS that the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has decided … and their decision was taken literally by the (religious affairs) minister,” he said.

Abu Zayd added that the SMS informed him in “very aggressive” language that he should not attend the international Islamic seminar.

“And I decided to do something about this, to announce my resentment … counter back,” he said.

“I expect an official letter from the responsible person,” said Abu Zayd.

He added that the incident also caused him to worry about the condition of Islam in Indonesia.

Abu Zayd said he believed the Religious Affairs Ministry was under pressure because the suggestion he cancel came only in the last few days, and he had received no notification before coming to the country.

He said if the government had not wanted him to come from the beginning, they would have objected when the seminar organizers first proposed he attend.

Abu Zayd warned that Indonesians had to be very careful of any “interference” from the government that would hinder intellectual debates and activities.

“And they (Indonesians) should warn the government about being manipulated by certain groups, whether they are the Ulema Council or others,” he said.

Abu Zayd had planned to speak at an international Islamic seminar in Malang, which opened today, before receiving the SMS from the Religious Affairs Ministry.

Earlier reports said he also had to cancel his attendance at the Annual Conference on Islamic Studies in Riau that ended Saturday, following objections from the Riau chapter of the MUI.

According to a press release from the MUI’s Riau chapter, posted on, “In Indonesia, blasphemers of the Koran at state Islamic universities nearly always refer to Abu Zayd”.

The press release also said, “As written by the research and development agency of the Religious Affairs Ministry, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd bounces around the idea that the Koran is not a divine revelation from Allah to Prophet Muhammad, but a cultural product only…”

Due to the incident, Abu Zayd said, he had decided to fly back to the Netherlands within the next couple of days, but that he would return soon.

He lives in exile in the Netherlands, where he moved after the Egyptian government persecuted him for his views on the Koran as a religious, mythical and literary work. He is well known among Indonesian Islamic thinkers as a leading liberal theologist and for his famous work on Koranic hermeneutic exegeses.

In the Netherlands, Abu Zayd serves as a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Leiden. (wda)


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