On June 4, 2021, the University of Technology Malaysia (UTM) ordered the cancellation of a discussion on intercultural dance, under the guidance of the university’s Islamic Centre.
The UTM administration claimed that the event required approval from the Islamic Centre; any “cultural and arts” program reportedly requires this at UTM. The university said in a press release that the Centre’s decision “represents the university’s stance, which places great importance on programmes that do not offend any party and balances several aspects including harmony and spirituality.”
The discussion, scheduled for June 5 as part of a series of arts-focused events, was to feature Ramli Ibrahim, a well-known practitioner of classical Indian dance. Ibrahim told Free Malaysia Today that he “wasn’t surprised by the move” and that “the ‘controversy’ of a Malay man performing a Hindu dance had always plagued his career.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about a university cancelling an event based on purported religious grounds. Higher education administrators should promote and protect academic freedom, including by refraining from prohibiting or otherwise interfering with peaceful and responsible academic activity. Cancellations of academic or other campus events on religious or ideological grounds undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.