Prominent academics and activists are questioning the Perlis mufti’s recent remarks condemning Shia Muslims, saying he should prove his claim that they pose a threat to national security.
They said those arrested for terrorism were not Shia Islam but were supporters of IS, whose doctrine is an offshoot to the Wahhabi ideology followed by Saudi Arabia.
Academic and Muslim scholar Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa said there was only a cosmetic difference between IS and Saudi Arabia.
“Every single research points out that IS, the most vicious terrorists in the name of Islam, sprung up from the doctrine of Wahhabism,” he told FMT.
“IS or known as the Black Daesh, in actuality, sprung up from White Daesh, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said the vocal Muslim critic who heads the Islamic Renaissance Front.
“They slit throats, kill, stone, destroy communities’ common heritage and despise archaeology, women and ‘infidels’. The White Daesh is perhaps better dressed and neater, but they do the same things,” said Farouk.
This comes after Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin defended himself against a suggestion that Perlis religious authorities could have been involved in the disappearance of activist Amri Che Mat, whom he had once been questioned over his Shia leanings.
On Monday, Amri’s wife Norhayati Ariffin had told an ongoing Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) inquiry into her husband’s mysterious disappearance that Asri was part of a team of policemen and religious officers who descended on their house in Kangar.
Asri has since admitted visiting Amri’s house. He later made several statements condemning Shia Muslims as deceitful and accused Shia-majority Iran of working with Western powers to fight Muslims.
“This is not a small issue. I repeat, it could threaten national security,” he had told FMT in an interview on Tuesday, adding that Amri’s activities under his charity Perlis Hope could be part of a movement to turn Malaysia into a “mullah state”.
Farouk questioned Asri’s stand on Iran.
“It is said that IS has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. So to accuse Iran and Shia of promoting terrorism was very displaced from the fact and beyond the pale.”
Farouk said Asri’s investigation into Amri’s belief was an act of intimidation, adding that it was unbecoming of someone who had spoken in defence of human rights.
“He should realise that the first Article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is about freedom of conscience. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
“Now does an act of intimidation and harassment of a person based on his conscience – even if he subscribes to the minority Shia doctrine – in line with the spirit of human rights? And since when is Shia a doctrine that promotes terrorism?” he asked.
Human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen agrees.
He said Malaysians who had been arrested for joining the militant IS and other terrorist activities abroad were not Shia Muslims.
Paulsen, who heads rights group Lawyers for Liberty, said Asri should instead talk about the “elephant in the room”.
“Who are these IS recruits and sympathisers, and why is the idea of joining a caliphate so appealing?” he asked.
Asri has often promoted Salafi Islam, which shares similar Islamic literature with the more aggressive Wahhabi ideology followed in Saudi Arabia.
In the past, he had condemned a statement by top anti-terrorism officer Ayub Khan Mydin Pitchay for saying that the works of 13th-century Salafi scholar Ibn Taymiyyah had influenced Malaysian Muslims to support the IS ideology.
Sociologist Syed Farid Alatas from the National University of Singapore said Asri should back his claims with proof, and explain how Amri’s alleged Shia practices were a threat to national security.
“There may be extremists in certain sects and in certain schools of thought, but not the sects themselves. You cannot blame the whole sect.”
Farid questioned the familiar argument among the authorities that Shia Islam was a threat.
“So far, our security forces have not uncovered any Shia security threats to the nation,” he said.
Islamic authorities in Malaysia regard Shia Muslims as “heretics”, through a 1996 ruling by the National Fatwa Council.
Shia Islam is the second-largest branch of Islam, and is predominant in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain and several parts of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Former Malaysian diplomat Redzuan Kushairi, who is also part of Muslim moderates group G25, said there was a need to look at Sunni-Shia schism in a proper historical perspective.
Redzuan said the Amman Message, a declaration in 2004 by Islamic leaders which was signed among others by prominent Malaysians, was a good effort to end the animosity between Sunnis and Shias.
“In the light of the troubling geopolitics in the Middle East with wars and untold human suffering affecting Muslims, and with the US and Israel being the protagonists in the conflicts, there is greater and urgent need now to revive the spirit and intent of the Amman Message,” Redzuan told FMT.
He said Malaysia should not be a party to demonise Shia Muslims.
“How many of them are in Malaysia and how exactly can they be a threat to Malaysia’s national security?” he asked, adding that Malaysia should be careful not to be dragged into the Middle East’s power play.