A prominent American Muslim scholar invited to speak on Islamic topics in Malaysia this December says he is determined to go ahead with his visit despite last month's arrest of Turkish author Mustafa Akyol by religious authorities in Kuala Lumpur.
However, Nader Hashemi, who heads the Center for Middle East Studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies in the University of Denver, said he first had to convince his wife who feared he would suffer the same fate as Akyol.
"I think I can convince her that accepting your invitation is the right thing to do," he told Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) director Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, in an email sighted by FMT.
"My Islamic ethics demand that I stand up for truth and justice. I hope my visit can contribute in some small way to the realization of these ideals in Malaysia over time."
Hashemi will be speaking on topics in contemporary Muslim discourse such as democracy, sectarianism and liberal values, during a five-day tour hosted by IRF beginning Dec 14.
The visit will take place some three months after a similar lecture tour organised by IRF featuring Akyol ended with his arrest by the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi), who accused him of violating a law requiring speakers on Islam to be approved by the body.
Asked on the possibility of Hashemi being hauled up under the same charge, Farouk said the nature of the lectures is intellectual and not "religious sermons" for which Jawi's credentials are required under the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act.
"The religious authorities and the government of the day should not have a monopoly of intellectual discourses in this country," said Farouk, who was also questioned by Jawi recently for hosting Akyol.
"Not only they failed to differentiate the difference between intellectual discourses and religious sermons, they also seemed to force the people to adhere to their insular and dogmatic interpretation devoid of any intellectual substance," added Farouk who is a senior medical lecturer at Monash University.
Akyol, a New York Times columnist attached to the Wellesley College in Boston, was arrested at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Sep 25 as he prepared to board a flight to Rome. He later revealed that his 18-hour detention ended following pressure from former Turkish president Abdullah Gul as well as the head of a Malaysian state royalty.
Akyol's trip, his fifth to Malaysia, had stirred protests among several conservative Muslim groups over his views on religious freedom.
Days after his trip, the Malaysian government banned Akyol's book "Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case For Liberty", and its Malay edition published by IRF, "Islam Tanpa Keekstreman: Berhujah Untuk Kebebasan", among scores of titles on Islam banned by the Home Ministry, saying they could cause "public alarm" and undermine "public interest".
Hashemi has often promoted the idea of reenergising Muslim political thought through democracy and liberalism, topics that have in the past riled up Muslim groups and Islamic bureacrats in Malaysia.
Hashemi, who has twice visited Malaysia for speaking engagements, is also the author of "Islam, Secularism and Liberal Democracy", the Malay edition of which was published by IRF last year.