The lecture by Karen Armstrong was not as impressive as I expected it to be. I enjoyed it nonetheless. The lecture was titled The Role of Religion in the 21st Century but the content was positively about the commonalities shared by the world’s major religions.

I reached the Mandarin Oriental Hotel early and managed to catch free breakfast at the hotel. If I had not spent too much time at the lobby, I would probably have sat somewhere closer to the front. Alas, I sat somewhere in the middle, right beside what seemed to be a fan of Armstrong. We got into a small chat and I learned through her that Armstrong’s A History of God is banned in Malaysia.

By Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved.

Apart from Armstrong herself, former PM Mahathir Mohamed was there. So too was his daughter Marina Mahathir. When the former PM was introduced to the audience, there was a tremendous ovation for him, even louder than what Armstrong had received. That showed how popular he still is and how much respect he commands among the public.

Through the lecture, it is clear that Armstrong is apologetic to the idea of religion. While at it, she mentioned several religious versions of the non-aggression axiom. I of course hold the axiom due to its morality, not because I am told to do so.

One particularly interesting point she shared is about the condition during the birth of major religions. She stated that religions were born out of revulsion of violence or immorality of that time. I am unsure about the truth of such general statement but after thousands of years, I feel that that revulsion itself has become the violence that those religions abhor in the first place.

Despite being apologetic, she did criticize the religious conservatives or fundamentalists, saying it is amazing how the opinion of the deities always coincide with theirs. That remark drew laughter from the crowd.

There was the Q&A session after that. A person came to the microphone and called for the government to undo the ban on Armstrong’s book. The crowd immediately gave the person a resounding round of applause. Armstrong completely agreed with the person and continued to say something to the effect that when freedom is suppressed, the human spirit sours and so too religion with it. The call for freedom is all the more impressive because this event was organized by the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, an arm of the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Syed Hamid Albar, the Malaysian Foreign Minister, was there, sitting by the former PM’s side. Furthermore, since the restriction on the book began in 2005, the remark is a direct comment against the Abdullah administration.[1]

The whole lecture finally ended around noon. As I was leaving, I unwittingly came into the former PM’s path. While I do not agree with many of his policies, I still regard him as a respectable leader and to shake his hand is an honor which I grabbed without hesitation.

By Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved.

There was a small lunch after that and I noticed Haris Ibrahim there speaking to somebody. Azmi Sharom, one of the speakers at the recent DAP forum, was there too.

After all that, I visited Kinokuniya, finally bought Rumi’s Masnavi that I first encountered, briefly, years ago and later, sadly got elected as the treasurer of a special interest group within the Malaysian Nature Society.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] erratum — the original factually incorrect sentence before correction: Furthermore, since the book was first published in 1994, I would assume the ban came in during the Mahathir administration. Therefore, it was a direct comment.

3 Responses to “[1262] Of Karen Armstrong’s lecture in Kuala Lumpur”

  1. on 16 Jun 2007 at 23:48 bibliobibuli

    “the history of god” was only banned in 2005! the religious department twisting the arm of the kdn and answerable to no-one?

  2. on 17 Jun 2007 at 15:45 Hafiz Noor Shams

    thanks for the correction sharon.

  3. […] tendency to ban the most innocent of all books such as Anthony Burgess’ Malayan Trilogy and Karen Amstrong’s A History of God, is that The God Delusion escapes censorship. The escape, of course, is absolutely find by […]

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