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No ban, but Al-Arqam book seized

Book cover of Rahsia Arqam
PETALING JAYA, 18 Dec 2008: Copies of a book examining the Al-Arqam sect were confiscated by Home Ministry officials on four different occasions, beginning May 2006. Yet, until today, the status of the book remains unclear.

According to PTS Publications general manager Fauzul Na’im Ishak, whose company publishes the title, there has been no official decision by the government to ban the book.

“Nothing. It’s left hanging,” Fauzul told The Nut Graph.

Rahsia Arqam was first taken from Popular Bookstore’s Centre Point, Kota Kinabalu branch on 24 May 2006. This seizure was part of an inspection conducted by officials from the Home Ministry’s Sabah branch, who later raided Bumikitsa bookstore and confiscated more copies.

Copies of the title were also seized from Popular Bookstore, Cheras by the Home Ministry branch in the Federal Territory.

The latest seizure of Rahsia Arqam was from Pustaka Saujana bookstore, Temerloh, by officials from the Home Ministry’s Pahang branch. It was part of an inspection conducted on 26 May 2008. Three copies were taken.

On all four occasions, Rahsia Arqam was confiscated on the grounds that its contents were suspected of being in violation of Section 7 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984, which concerns undesirable publications. Copies were confiscated for study purposes.

Section 18(b) of PPPA allows for any authorised official to temporarily seize books deemed unacceptable, even if a title has not yet been banned by the ministry.

Fauzul said PTS had to contact individual state branches directly for more information regarding the book’s status.

“I called officers in Home Ministry headquarters, but they did not know [about the seizures],” Fauzul said. He speculated that the manner in which Rahsia Arqam was confiscated was due to lack of co-ordination between Home Ministry branches.

Fauzul believed that the seizures have damaged the book’s reputation — and, therefore, its sales.

“It is still halal,” he asserted. Without a decision by the Home Minister, Rahsia Arqam is technically not contraband.

“In this case, because they [the officials] see the word ‘Arqam’, they take it, without looking at what it actually says,” Fauzul said.

“Now people have a negative perception,” he continued. “Bookstores are afraid of selling it.”

The title’s availability is now limited and PTS is not planning another print run.

Fauzul believed that a fairer way of investigating such matters would be for ministry officials to contact publishers directly. “We can provide clarification, and explain the book’s contents.”

According to Fauzul, Rahsia Arqam, which was first published in 2005, was intended to provide an objective perspective of the banned Islamic sect. “It is very academic,” he affirmed.

The book’s author, Ann Wan Seng, is secretary-general of the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association, and was a former lecturer at Universiti Malaya’s Department of Anthropology and Sociology.

In a parallel incident, copies of Dr Farish Noor’s From Majapahit to Putrajaya were seized from leading Kuala Lumpur bookstore Kinokuniya in August 2008. Ostensibly taken for a clear violation, its contents are currently under study by Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (Jakim).

Home Ministry Selangor acting director, Zainal Osman, told The Nut Graph that his branch typically carried out inspections three times a week. “We go to all sorts of places where books are sold,” he explained.

If a title was suspected of containing unacceptable content, a limited number of copies (usually three or four) would be confiscated for study.

“However, if there is a clear violation, we will confiscate [the entire stock],” Zainal said.

Zainal clarified that inspections were sporadic because of staff and resource constraints, and are carried out by individual Home Ministry branches autonomously.

“If it is routine work, not a hot issue, we don’t notify Putrajaya,” he said.

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