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Religion 101: Oh No, Darwin Been Banned in Malaysia


(Book on Darwin is banned in Malaysia. What is the criteria to ban a book? What constitutes a great endangerment of public harmony? It gets rather ugly when a book is banned just because it goes against one’s personal values and beliefs. Cartoon source:

Still, saying that the implementation of hudud will not impact the non-Muslims? Well, think again.

This little revelation hardly made front page but it had left me with mixed feelings:-

According to the Home Ministry’s website, there are a total of 1,532 banned publications, with the most recent publication to face the government’s wrath being, inexplicably, a comic entitled Ultraman: The Ultra Power.

While the very act of banning books cannot possibly be justified, there is another trend that makes even less sense. There appears to be certain books that are banned only in the Malay language, while there are no restrictions whatsoever on their English versions.

One such example is the seminal book, The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, which is available for sale at many bookstores in Malaysia. However, its Malay translation, Asal-usul Spesies, is listed as a banned book under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1982.

Charles Darwin’s famous book is not the only publication to suffer such a fate. One other example is Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History, which is freely available at bookstores and university libraries in Malaysia, while Sepintas Sejarah Islam, the Malay translation, is also listed as a banned book.

In the last Parliamentary session, I submitted a question on The Origin of Species, enquiring why the Malay translation of the book is banned while the English version is allowed.

According to the written reply by the Home Minister (see attachments), the book is banned because it “endangers public harmony.” Explaining further, the Minister also states that the “translated book depicts a view of the origin and creation of species that goes against Islamic teachings and is in contravention of the Islamic Materials Censorship Guidelines as well as the beliefs of the Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah….”

Meanwhile, the English version is allowed because the Home Ministry has “not received any complaints regarding the existence of any infringements of Islamic aspects…” according to the very same guidelines by Jakim.

The explanation by the Home Minister not only makes absolutely no sense, it is also a veritable insult to the intelligence of Malaysians. How can the same book be considered a public danger and against Islamic teachings in one language, but perfectly acceptable in another?

Worse, is the Home Minister also effectively telling Malaysians that knowledge is reserved only for those who are English-literate? Is a Malaysian who can only speak and read in Malay considered not mature enough to make informed decisions? As most people who fall into the latter category are Malays, the question then arises whether there is a deliberate policy to keep Malays ignorant.

Not only is such discrimination abominable, it is also ineffective because books and knowledge can be easily accessed and obtained on the Internet.
Therefore, I call upon the Home Minister to lift restrictions on the sale and distribution of all publications, and to immediately end the intellectual persecution of Malaysians.

Zairil Khir Johari
Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera
DAP Assistant National Publicity Secretary


Banning a book like from Darwin because it upsets a certain section of the people is nothing new in this country. And we are not alone on this.

But the thing is, is Darwin’s book banned on very valid reasons or we ban a book because we don’t understand the subject matter and do not know how to react to it positively? The fact that translated book that has nothing to do with religion is banned in Malaysia on the excuse of religion shows how far we are in terms of critical thinking and how much we are exposed to the real world affairs.

If that is the case, it sets a dangerous precedent and what happens if other religion resorts to the same measures. Hindus don’t eat beef so should they call for a total ban of cow meat into the country? That would be silly, right?

Now, before anyone comes along and say that why the non-Muslims are worried about this as the English version is readily made available, think on the long term impact of simply banning Science related books just because it goes against the teaching of Islam

Do you still remember this?

Parent’s Action Group for English (PAGE) is not giving up on its campaign to get the authorities to allow science and mathematics to be taught in English (PPSMI). Its president, Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, said the lingua franca of science is English, which is also the language of the internet.

“The government cannot expect students to switch to English (in international fields) effortlessly after learning maths and science in Malay for so long. “Students should start learning science and maths at kindergartens so that they won’t be faced with the problem of language transition to English later,” she said.


Mind you, this affects both Muslim and non-Muslim students. The shortcomings of teaching science and mathematics in Bahasa Malaysia instead of English have been numerous, from the lack of teachers able to read and speak proper English (some people simply fear the language and take no initiative to learn) to the lack of reading & technical materials in Bahasa Malaysia (once again, it goes back to non-having enough competent people to translate the existing books) and it has come to a point where even the Old Man was restless:-

“The Government is focusing too much on Bahasa Malaysia. The Malays, however, are not experts in science and technology. This kind of knowledge comes from the West and the information is mostly in English,” he added.

Noting that the Government had instead followed the advice of National Laureate Datuk A. Samad Said by reverting to teaching both subjects in the national language, Dr Mahathir said this would only hamper the country’s development.

“He (Samad) only knows about Bahasa Malaysia. He is not a Science man. I am a Science man and I can still speak in Malay,” he pointed out, adding, “This is why I keep talking about it.”


Thus, putting the science books (even though translated) under the scrutiny of the religious people will only make things worse. Don’t they know that water and oil will never mix? Same goes for science and religion. In the end, does anyone really cares if the country would be a loser at the end of the day?

As I had said earlier, this leaves me with mixed feelings. I don’t know whether to be angry or feel pity for the fact that one of the more famed books in Darwin’s study of evolution gets banned just because it does not “conform” to Islamic teachings and it endangers public harmony. What constitutes endanger public harmony anyway? I know a couple of things that also endanger public harmony but nothing had happened.

To some of us, the theory of evolution by Darwin may just be a scientific study but it is also not a myth too. After all, one cannot dismiss the fact that all living creatures and plants in this world are subjected to the process of evolution one way or another.

It was the same case when Galileo came out to tell that the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way around. Despite proof, the religious extremists were only interested in Galileo’s blood (well, not really but he was kept under house arrest nonetheless).

At the end of the day, the mainstream science will never conform with religion – there will be some give & take here and there but no one from either side of the view will come and admit that the other view is absolutely right.

This is one reason why you should not mix religion and politics together – you will end up getting dumb decisions. Today they ban the translated The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin but tomorrow, who knows, they may just ban all other translated science books.

And once that is done, still unsatisfied, they will even then ban the English books. And there is no prize for guessing who would be the biggest losers at the end of the day. What then the students would be using for cross reference?

So don’t be surprised, one way we will wake up and realized that the “science” books allowed and available are those written by a small-time preacher from a small village deep in Taliban lands and it will anything but science.

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