Malaysian scholar challenges Prince to promote freedom as Oxford Islamic Centre wins Royal Charter

by Jenny Taylor - 15th May 2012

Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. Photo: Andrew BladesThe Prime Minister of Malaysia Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak will attend a reception in London this evening (Tuesday) to mark the granting of the first Royal Charter to an Islamic education establishment in England.

HRH the Prince of Wales, Patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, will host the event at St James’ Palace in the presence of Muslim dignitaries who have contributed towards the foundation.

The Centre, which according to the Oxford Times, began life in a wooden hut, has achieved ‘Recognized Independent’ status within the University. 

It promotes multi-disciplinary teaching, research and publication at Oxford related to Muslim culture and civilization, and its fellows teach in a range of faculties across the University.

Dr Farhan Nizami CBE, Director of the Centre says on its website that it will ‘grow in the years ahead and that it has the opportunity to make a unique contribution to greater understanding of the Muslim world, and more positive international dialogue, based on strong academic foundations.’

Malaysian PM NajibAmong the guests at tonight’s event will be the premier of Malaysia, in Britain on an official two-day visit, whose government has ‘been greatly involved in the Centre’ ,according to the Borneo Post.

This is the same government, however, that has blocked imports of the Malay-language Bible from entering the country, and banned the use by non-Muslims of words considered monotheistic and therefore unique to Islam: kitab (book), Nabi (Prophet), iman (Faith) and wahyn (revelation) are contested.

Despite the Catholic Church winning a High Court decision on December 31, 2009 to publish the word ‘Allah’, its weekly paper The Herald has been banned from doing so the past three years pending the Home Ministry’s appeal, according to the Malay Insider news site.

Last year large shipments of the Malay-language Bible for the Bahasa-speaking Bumiputera Christian community were either blocked or confiscated in what commentators in a CNN report described as ‘growing Islamic assertion’.

Under the Internal Security Act of 1982, the Malay Bible (Alkitab) was banned except for ‘possession or use in churches’.

Christians may not print or circulate education materials and CDs of Christian hymns in the Malay language.

Christians claim that the contested words pre-date Islam, and Arab Christians prayed to Allah – which derives from the Hebrew names for God ‘El’ and ‘Elohim’ – centuries before Mohammed.

Now a prominent intellectual in Kuala Lumpur has criticized the Prince’s ‘double standards’.

Dr Ng Kam Weng, Research Director of the Kairos Research Centre in Kuala Lumpur, who said minorities noted the openness of leaders in the West to Islam, added: ‘The Prince should use such an occasion to affirm that the recognition of religious liberty is a global right.’


Defender of Faith: Prince CharlesEnglish monarchs began the practise of conferring charters on institutions and enterprises in 1231, subject to the approval of the Privy Council.  This is a first for an Islamic endeavour.

According to the Oxford Times, the OCIS began life in a wooden hut on land adjacent to St Cross Church.  It moved in the 1980s to rooms above Natwest bank on the corner of George Street and Cornmarket until the purchase of its present site on Marston Road.

The plans sparked controversy in 2002 when an application for the development included a ‘tower and a dome’ in the conservation area.  It went through on the casting vote of the then lady mayor.

Local press record the cost of the development, on land it bought from Magdalen College, as being £60million, with £20million allegedly coming from former King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, and other donations from governments and benefactors in Turkey, Kuwait as well as Malaysia.

Kuwait is the subject of a call by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia ,Sheikh Abd al-Aziz al-Sheikh, for all churches to be destroyed.

Attrition against Christians in Turkey is such that there are thought to be just 4,000 Protestants left.  Unlike other denominations, Protestants, including Anglicans, have no legal recognition and therefore no protection.

Ironically, 2012 marks the 400th anniversary of the translation of the Gospel of Mark into the Malay language.

Between 1880 and 1929, the Singapore branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) expanded its efforts to translate the Bible into Malay.

The most prominent of these was the Protestant missionary William Girdlestone Shellabear of the London Missionary Society who produced the first Malay Bible translation specifically in the Malay dialect of what is now called Peninsular Malaysia.

A Bible Society spokeswoman in Swindon, whose Patron is HM the Queen, refused to comment on the ‘double standards’ issue.  She told Lapido: ‘We don’t want to get involved in a political issue.’


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