Introduction of Freedom of Expression
There has always been significant scope for diversity of opinion and disagreement in Islam, even among pre-modern classical Islamic jurists and scholars. According to contemporary scholar Mohammad Hashim Kamali, even during the formative years of Islams, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s companions “disagreed about matters of interpretation and even…reached an agreement to disagree”.
Thus, Islamic history is filled not only with examples of diverse opinions, but also various ways in which this diversity was expressed, including through oral literature, fiqh rulings and cultural adaptations of Islamic principles. In contemporary Malaysia, however, we find new and intensifying threats to freedom of expression in various spheres – from news outlets, to popular culture, to public gatherings. These threats are particularly strong when they challenge official interpretations of Islam. We find that this violates the very spirit of Islam as articulated by Imam Malik ibn Anas: “Diversity of opinion is Allah’s gift to the ummah.”