Roundtable Discussion on: Could There Be A Religious Diversity In Illiberal Democracies?
January 15, 2016


Date: Sunday, 24th January 2016
Time: 11AM – 130PM
Venue: Conference Room, The University of Nottingham, Level 2 Chulan Tower, Jalan Conlay, Kuala Lumpur


Malaysia, with her long, complex and sometimes overlapping history with other regions, has always been a host for diverse multi-ethnic and religious communities.

Even to its modern day, Malaysia retains the uniqueness of its diverse composition within the society. And as a nation, we seemed to celebrate democracy as the mechanism to govern our diverse society although the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) placed Malaysia as a flawed democracy.

But again, a deeper observation might produce a different picture. Even after fifty-eight years of Independence and embracing “democracy”, not all religions or religious communities are treated equally in the eyes of the state. For example, a ban on Shi’a Islam is currently enforced in 11 out of the 14 states in Malaysia, originating from a fatwa that was released in 1996. In addition to that, the government’s secret list of sects banned as “deviant” interpretations of Islam reportedly included over 50 groups.

Christians, a religious minority group, are generally perceived as a threat. Seminars were conducted with titles like “Strengthening the faith: the danger of liberalism and pluralism and the threat of Christianity towards Muslim” to create the sense of fear among the larger segment of the population. Friday sermons were also routinely used as a tool to spread this unfounded fear.

These cases forced us to ask and revisit the role of democracy in Malaysia as a mechanism to manage the different interests of each religious community in Malaysia. Does electoral democracy alone suffice to promote harmonious co-existence of such a diverse societies? Can the whole process of election be meaningful if individual liberties – such as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion – are not protected and guaranteed by the powers that be?

In other words, could there be a meaningful, substantial and celebrated religious diversity in “Illiberal democracies”? This roundtable discussion, to be lead by Mustafa Akyol, will examine and scrutinize these issues in detail.



1100-1105:   Welcoming speech by Prof Zaharom Naim

1105-1110:   Speech by moderator Dato’ Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa

1110-1145:   Presentation on “Could There Be Religious Diversity In Illiberal Democracies?” by Mustafa Akyol

1145-1200:   Intervener I: Dr Harlina Halijah Siraj

1200-1215:   Intervener II: Ashton Paiva

1215-1230:   Intervener III: Dr Patricia Martinez

1230-1245:   Intervener IV: Zainah Anwar

1245-1330:   Discussion

1330           :   Lunch


Jointly organized by:

Islamic Renaissance Front, Nottingham University and Penang Institute


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