Banning books the first step in building a tunnel vision of beliefs

Banning books the first step in building a tunnel vision of beliefs
By Zan Azlee

FAISAL Tehrani was once a celebrated Malaysian writer and novelist whose books won national awards and received critical praise and commercial success. He is also a respected academician and educator at one of Malaysia’s top universities.

Two years ago, however, four of his books were banned and he was celebrated no more. Malaysia’s Home Ministry acted so extremely due to fears his books contain information that leads Muslims astray or makes them question their faith.

Books, such as Karbala, Tiga Kali Seminggu (Three Times a Week) and Sebongkah Batu di Kuala Berang (A Block of Stone in Kuala Berang), were stripped from the shelves for containing Syiah-related teachings.

Authorities claimed the Syiah elements of the books go against the mainstream Sunni version of Islam commonly practised by Muslims in Malaysia.

Following implementation of the ban, which took effect on April 1, 2015, anyone who is caught printing, selling, importing or in possession of the books can be jailed for not more than three years or fined not exceeding RM20,000 (USD4,500), or both.

Last week, Faisal went to court to appeal to have the ban lifted. The court of appeal has yet to come to a decision and the fight against censorship and banning of books in Malaysia continues.

Faisal’s books aren’t the only ones banned in Malaysia as state censorship continues to prevail in the country. More recently, books such as The Teachings of the Quran by HU Weitbrecht, Bahaullah and The New Era: An Introduction to the Baha’i Faith by JE Esslemont, and Kassim Ahmad’s Jalan Yang Lurus: Kita Harus Meneroka Jalan Ini (The Straight Path: We Should Explore This Path) have also suffered the same fate.

Books and writings should never be banned. They provide a way to spread different ideas, allowing us to discuss, debate and create discourse to learn and better understand people and the world we live in.

Ideas that challenge and contradict other faiths have even more reason not to be banned. The diverse views allow people of different beliefs to come together and accept each other, without trying to persuade or influence others.

Being a Muslim, I believe the more I learn about other faiths, the more I have the opportunity to learn about my own. And of course, this involves questioning so I can understand better.

Islam teaches its followers to always read, as it says in Surah Al-Alaq of the Quran:

“Read! Read in the name of your Lord who has created (all that exists). He has created man from a clod. Read! And your Lord is the most generous. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen. He has taught man that which he knew not.”

By reading, we get to expose ourselves to everything the world has to offer, be it right or wrong. So, it is a noble action indeed for people to read to gain knowledge and broaden their understanding.

It really shouldn’t matter if there are conflicting ideas and thoughts. This allows us to come up with counter-arguments and have an exchange, or discourse, which in turn provides us with the privilege of good comparative religious understanding.

The Prophet Muhammad himself said:

“Whoever conceals knowledge would be muzzled on the Day of Resurrection with a muzzle of fire.”

Banning books would clearly be considered concealing different ideas and thoughts. And when different ideas are concealed, all that is achieved is a single tunnel vision of our belief.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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