Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa endured a tough time on BBC’s notoriously exacting talk show Hardtalk.
Grilled by host Zeinab Badawi, Mujahid attempted to present his argument that the Pakatan Harapan administration was advocating Islam as a progressive force.
However, the de facto Islamic affairs minister was tied up in knots when asked about his comment in March calling controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik “inspirational”.
Mujahid also had to take tough questions about the Seafield temple riots and controversial social media posts, Malaysia’s treatment of its small Syiah community as well as the legal position of the Sisters in Islam group.
Asked if religion in Malaysia represented a major barrier to national integration, Mujahid disagreed saying “religion should be the main factor for the growth and prosperity of the nation.”
Zeinab quoted academic Lee Hwok Aun as saying that Malaysians lack the opportunity to develop inter-ethnic friendships because schools lack diversity.
She cited the political manipulation of ethnic tensions and an unwholesome deficit of religious knowledge, particularly among Muslims (about other religions) and went on to ask if it was incumbent on Muslims (as the dominant group) to reach out to others.
Mujahid in his reply cited the importance of Islam as the federal religion but said that the previous (BN) administration had misused religion and race.
“When we came to power, we rejected being a government which used and exploited religion and race for political purposes. So that is why we are now proposing or advocating Islam as a very progressive religion.
“And we have come with a new narrative of Islam in Malaysia with the new government, with what we call the compassionate Islam, that we hope would trigger national unity,” he replied, agreeing that it was quite a challenge for the new administration.
Mujahid, however, was unnerved when pressed on the Zakir issue, particularly his Facebook post on March 13 which detailed his meeting with the fugitive, wanted in India for money laundering charges.
Asked why he had called such a controversial figure “inspirational”, Mujahid said he had repeatedly warned Zakir about his provocative speeches at a meeting held in March this year.
“I have said many times, that Zakir’s approach is not relevant in Malaysia.
“All these words and statements are not suitable in Malaysia, and I have said this many times. I also warned him about his position in Malaysia, that he should be more alert in the sense that Malaysia is a multiracial country.”
“That doesn’t mean that I agree with whatever he’s doing in Malaysia because I have a nation to protect… You can also check my other statements about him,” he said, in distancing himself from Zakir’s remarks.
Mujahid was also asked about the position of Sisters in Islam, which failed in August with a judicial review application against a fatwa by Selangor religious authorities declaring it as “deviant”.
Saying that the fatwa had occurred before his tenure as minister, he highlighted his willingness to engage with the group.
“They were the first to come and see me. I invited them and talked to them to see how they can play a better role in advocating and helping oppressed women.
“I don’t think in my position as minister of religious affairs that I’ve neglected their position,” Mujahid told Hardtalk.
He said Harapan’s promise to deliver freedom of speech has also been abused by people who “have no (self) control over what they post.”
Mujahid added that the Umno-PAS opposition was deliberately misusing race and religion to stir up sentiment against Harapan.
He said the government was looking into Friday sermons that are being used to “attack the government as liberal and not supporting Islamic causes.” – Malaysiakini