Five Banned Novels, in Moderate Malaysia

By Mohd Faizal Musa

I started writing at the age of 16 years old and got to publish my first novel at the age of 19. I won many prestigious literary awards in Malaysia. My pen name is Faisal Tehrani. However in 2010, everything flip over. From a poster boy of Malay literature, I become the most marginalized author. What really happened? Thinking I am a Shia adherent, the Shia community that is badly oppressed in my country asked me assistance. Since then I became an accidental human rights defender. I got my human rights training in Geneva, and Dublin. My views change dramatically from being a Cultural Relativist to a Universalist. I switched camp. In 2012, the current Prime Minister launched my novel, Perempuan Nan Bercinta (The Beloved Lady). In 2014, it was banned by Malaysia’s Home Ministry, citing reason “likely to be prejudicial to public order”. In 2015, four more books written by myself were banned. All together five. To illustrate how bad this is, four works by Nadine Gordimer, the recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature were banned under apartheid.


But Malaysia is not under apartheid. In fact, President Obama visiting Malaysia this week believes that Malaysia is a moderate Islamic country. Off course, he does. On 9th September 2006, the Prime Minister stated that his administration is to uphold Article 27 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR 1948). He pronounced this during a human rights conference in conjunction with Malaysian Human Rights Day 2006. What is Article 27 UDHR 1948? It states that: ‘Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. And; everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author’.

It means me, and you; all of us have our right to participate in cultural life. It means me, and you; all of us can craft and create our own artistic products, to enjoy it, to share it and the authorities cannot take away the right from us, and must provide full protection.

The banning is under Section 7(1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. The ban was also in accordance with Section 7(1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. According to subsection 2 of section 8 of the Act, anyone found to have printed, imported, sold and in possession of the banned books in the country, can be jailed not more than three years or fined not exceeding RM20,000, or both.

Generally, a quick surf online will point out that my works are loaded with Shi’ism. The truth is, I supported freedom of religion. I am against ‘institutionalized Islam’ in Malaysia. I am against the idea to impose Sharia law. I am against Wahabization (Salafization) of Malaysia. Thus I am banned for being secular.

The Arabisation and intrusions on a person's personal life are growing in my country. Salafists are working overnight. Fear is in the air. 

The banning of my books is not just about me. It is a betrayal of 1957’s Proclamation of Independence that guarantees the constitution as the supreme law. Books banning in Malaysia is among others symptoms of defeat for the Federal Constitution. Since it is made “to safeguard the fundamental rights and liberties of the people” under “constitutional monarchy based on Parliamentary democracy”. Books banning in Malaysia is among others, a sign of increasing extremism globally, the kind of extremism that stifling and violating the rights of people. It is another kind of terror. Another kind of bombing. I am, another casualty of war.

My 23rd novel, Bagaimana Anyss Naik Ke Langit (How Anyss Flew to Heaven) focus on the suffering of Penan, the indigenous people of Malaysia, in the state of Sarawak.  Although not being banned, yet, bookstores are refusing to sell it. This commercial censorship proves that fear is creeping effectively.

It is so lonely to be ban. Nobody invites you to the poetry readings anymore. Your key books are suddenly not being available on the book shelves. It is so lonely that even latest Human Rights Watch report on freedom of expression in Malaysia entitle ‘Creating a Culture of Fear’ fails to notice my struggle.

But hear me loud. I will not be vanquish. I will be publish. I will fight for my rights, and I do believe literature is the vehicle to voice out the rights of the people. This is a war between Wahabist and the rest of the world. I still have faith in literature, and in this war imposed by these extremists, words and stories have proven to be the real weapon to fight back. For that, I will write more, sorry, no back off. No turning back.

However, the literary elites of the world, have no interest of our rich culture and tradition. We are literary small. Second, will the rest of the world believe me? Internationally Malaysia is considered a moderate Islamic country.  How come, religious establishment of Malaysia is terrorising a novelist? Malaysia is not under apartheid, I am no Nadine Gordimer. So how come five novels are banned?  

And after all, President Obama, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize awardee is back in Malaysia. Will he read my novels?

* Dr Mohd Faizal Musa (Faisal Tehrani) is Research Fellow at the Institute of the Malay World and Civilization, National University of Malaysia. He is a well-known author in Malaysia, with five of his 23 literary works were banned by the Malaysian government.