In Defence of Hannah

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Much to the chagrin of UUM lecturer Kamarul Zaman Yusof, Muslims leaders have come to the defence of Hannah Yeoh over his allegations of her autobiography.

  • “Our own faith and religious conviction doesn’t wither by just merely reading an autobiography with excerpts or parables extracted from other religious books.” – Sisters in Islam
  • “Many of my non-Muslim friends read the book and they never complained.” – Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad on his book that contained a lot of references to Islamic principles 
  • “We need more stories like hers.” – Azrul Mohd Khalib of rights group Bebas on Hannah’s book
  • “Muslims in Malaysia must show some restraint and maturity. They should not accuse Christians of criminal acts, simply when they sing praises of their own religion.” – former Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim 

A Muslim NGO is the latest party to come to Hannah Yeoh’s defence after her autobiography recently stirred controversy, with Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) lecturer Kamarul Zaman Yusof claiming that she was using the book to promote Christianity. He alleged that Yeoh glorified the benefits of Christianity in her autobiography and mixed it with politics.

In response, Yeoh lodged a police report against Kamarul for defamation, as well as against 16 websites and blogs for publishing the defamatory remarks.

Two days later, Kamarul, responded to Yeoh’s police report with his own, claiming that her book is “trying to persuade and incite non-Christians, including Muslims, to convert to Christianity”.

In an email to FMT news portal published on May 24, Sisters in Islam (SIS) said that people should not view the biblical quotes in the book as Yeoh’s attempts to preach her religion, but instead as a mere sharing of her personal journey.

“The insertions of biblical texts and discussion about her connection with her faith displays her trust and conviction towards her religion in helping her strive to serve the public,” SIS said.

SIS also stated that “the arguments presented by Kamarul lack justification of her intent to proselytise and portrays her in a negative lens especially towards the Muslim community.”

They also said that Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution gives the right to all individuals to practise and profess their religion which also includes citizens from other religions.

“Our own faith and religious conviction doesn’t wither by just merely reading an autobiography with excerpts or parables extracted from other religious books,” SIS pointed out.

SIS was not the first to come to the Selangor state speaker’s defence over her book, much to the chagrin of Kamarul, who was also upset that certain quarters questioned his intelligence as a lecturer and painted him as an extremist.

Besides opposition leaders from DAP, Muslim leaders had countered Kamarul’s accusations.

Mujahid Yusof Rawa/Twitter

Parit Buntar MP Mujahid Yusof Rawa decided to get a copy of Hannah’s book. In a Twitter post, he quipped, “Hope I am still a Muslim by tomorrow, better.”

After reading it, he not only remains a devout Muslim but also finds the claim that the book contains elements of proselytisation to be baseless.

PKR Seri Setia assemblyman Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said in a series of tweets that Yeoh’s book merely gave an account on how her faith inspired her, and that it was her right, just as it was his right to relate to people how Islam had motivated him to go into politics, adding that this was not wrong in Islam.

He also pointed out that books he penned, Mendepani Zaman: Melayu untuk abad ke-21 and Coming of Age: A Decade of Essays 2001-2011 contained a lot of references to Islamic principles.

“Many of my non-Muslim friends read the book and they never complained,” Nik Nazmi said.

He also hit back at those who took issue with him for coming to Yeoh’s defence.

Rights group Bebas called Kamarul’s claim of Yeoh attempting to proselytise Muslims “absurd”.

The group’s spokesperson Azrul Mohd Khalib said the arguments put forth by Kamarul “feeds into the paranoia that Muslims, in a Muslim majority country, should forever feel insecure, afraid and suspicious of those of other faiths”.

“Such arguments use fear, bigotry and compulsion instead of learning, understanding and discussion.

“As an academician, he (Kamarul) should know better,” Azrul told FMT.

Azrul said Kamarul’s claim “implied his unfair and erroneous assumption that Muslims in Malaysia are so vulnerable, timid and fragile as to have a personal autobiography affect their own faith”

“Perhaps rather than accusing Yeoh of trying to proselytise and convert others to Christianity, Kamarul should reflect on the depth of his own faith and consider writing about his own struggles, if any,” Azrul said.

He cited Yeoh as an example of an outstanding politician whom Malaysians, especially young women, could look up to and aspire to be.

“The fact that she had decided to put pen to paper about stories of her personal struggles and journey as a person of faith, speaks to me of a person of tremendous courage and strength.

“We need more stories like hers,” Azrul said about Hannah’s book, Becoming Hannah: A Personal Journey.

Former law minister Zaid Ibrahim echoed the same sentiments, saying statements like Kamarul’s can create further tension among Malaysia’s multi-racial society.

Hence, “Muslims in Malaysia must show some restraint and maturity”, he told FMT.

“They should not accuse Christians of criminal acts, simply when they sing praises of their own religion.

“We should only worry when people of other faiths mock and make fun of our religion.”

In a statement released on 18 May, Lim Kit Siang said Kamarul’s “false and malicious” police report against Yeoh raises the question of whether he is “fit and proper to be a lecturer of plural Malaysia’s public universities.

“Hannah Yeoh’s personal journey to be a good Christian so as to be a good Malaysian is a journey Rukunegara wants all Malaysians to take, for all Malaysians to be respectively good Muslims, good Buddhists, good Christians, good Hindus, good Sikhs and good Taoists so as to become good Malaysians,” the DAP veteran said.

Penang’s chief minister Lim Guan Eng also spoke out, asking: “Why is Yeoh persecuted for talking about her faith? Is it wrong for a person who is a non-Muslim to talk about her faith?”

FMT also reported that another DAP politician, Lim Lip Eng, asked: “Will he make a series of police reports in December when he listens to Christmas songs on the radio or on TV?”

The Segambut MP also said Kamarul’s police report against Yeoh “insulted the wisdom” of Malaysians because Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other non-Christians in the country were not inclined to convert to Christianity just by reading her book.

Lim added that apart from the onslaught of ridicule from social media users, Kamarul’s decision has cast a bad light on all local educators as well. He has called for the lecturer to be “sensible” and retract his police report, as well as apologise to Yeoh “unreservedly”.

Yeoh’s book has been openly sold in major bookstores since its launch in 2014, with no restrictions by the authorities.

Kamarul now says the book should only be sold in bookstores that sell Christian religious materials. As for his “proselytising” claim, he said he will not comment further and is leaving it to the police to investigate his report.

Watch this interesting video of writer Mariam Mokhtar and Islamologist Farouk A Peru discussing the Kamarul-Hannah issue, as well as other recent controversial news such as the Sulaiman-David Teo fracas.

Related report: May 16, Hannah Yeoh Lodges Report over “Hypocrite” Article