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Malaysia – Varsities supposed to broaden minds, critics say after Ramli Ibrahim talk debacle

Sean Augustin FREE MALAYSIA TODAY, Mon June 7, 2021

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia has cancelled a talk by classical dancer Ramli Ibrahim so as not to ‘offend any party’. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: An academic and an educationist have criticised Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) for cancelling a talk by classical dancer Ramli Ibrahim, saying universities are meant to help students broaden their minds.

On Saturday, UTM confirmed it had cancelled Ramli’s talk on how dance transcended race on the advice of its Islamic centre, as the university did not want to “offend any party”.

Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi of UCSI University wondered who exactly UTM had assumed the talk would offend.


He said Hindus would be appreciative that a person of a different culture and religion treasured their art. And this would go a long way when it comes to nation-building. Malays, on the other hand, would have no qualms seeing that according to history, they were either Hindus or Buddhists, prior to Islam’s arrival to Malayan shores.

“So how can it offend the Malays?”

Tajuddin, who has been outspoken on race relations, said if a university was going to dictate what constituted knowledge based on a set of values and religious or political doctrine, it “should be downgraded” to a training centre.

“If we reject or invalidate knowledge because it originates from a different culture or thought by those of a different religion, then I’m afraid we won’t progress very far.”

He said that if an Islamic centre, as in the case of UTM, was going to take a “moralistic” stand on the matter, it would be difficult to expand knowledge, especially in a multicultural society.

“In the end, a university has to decide whether it wants to breed ignorance or champion enlightenment,” he said. Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) founder Noor Azimah Rahim said universities needed to reflect on why youths pursue higher education, adding it was not just to obtain a degree, but much more.

The university, she said, was also a place to broaden one’s horizons in understanding, appreciating and accepting each other’s religions, cultures, arts and political leanings, and eventually to develop a world view of life.

“The UTM Islamic Centre, in forbidding Ramli Ibrahim to showcase his talent, goes against the grain of living the life of an undergraduate,” she said.

“Allow youths to make up their own minds to appreciate culture and the arts.”

Noor Azimah said Muslim students would not be swayed by a virtual talk on Hindu dance transcending race to abandon Islam to become a Hindu.

And whether or not a spectator will be offended by a mere dance talk is for them to decide. “If they believe that they will be offended by it then they can choose not to listen in on the dance talk.”

She said people should not allow themselves to be intimidated or bullied by institutionalised religion, adding that Islam like all religions urges one to think, reason and decide what is best for oneself and not blindly follow the herd mentality. Meanwhile, Sheriff Kassim, who is part of the G25 group of former top civil servants, said the debacle showed that “Talibanisation” was rearing its ugly head in the country’s university campuses.

The former finance ministry secretary-general said universities should take a liberal view that students must be exposed to all ancient and modern philosophies, religious and social studies, economic and political systems, musical and drama performances so as to open their minds about the multicultural character of Malaysian life.

“The sooner our universities free themselves from the thought control of the religious fundamentalist, the better it is for our education system so that it can be at par with education overseas.”

Sheriff said he found it strange that while Malay parents were proud to see their children go abroad to study, politicians and educators at home had a different view.

“They don’t care that local universities are regressing to become mere degree mills and centres for thought control,” he said.


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