Identity, Equality, Unity
Mahathir Mohammad’s strange remarks about Pakistan’s Shias
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Friday (2 December 2011) gave a statement which indicates his personal abhorrence of Shia Muslims, a fact which is also reflected in his formulation of anti-Shia regulations and practices during his 22 years rule as Malaysia’s Prime Minister (1981-2003).
Urging India and Pakistan to peacefully resolve their disputes, Mahathir said something quite problematic about Pakistan’s Shia population, describing them as an internal problem much graver than Pakistan’s external problems with India.
According to a news report:
Mahathir advocated a third party intervention in solving the India-Pakistan “problem”. Stating that there are only three ways to solve a problem, Dr Mahathir said, “its negotiation, arbitration or the court of law.” “There should be a third party solution, a world court of arbitration,” which can solve the 60-year-old dispute between the neighbours, he said.
Noting that Pakistan has a grave internal problem which it needs to tackle first. Mohammad said, “Pakistan has a bigger problem within itself of Shia than one with India. Their problem with Shia and Sunni sect is more than their situation with India.” Source
Mahathir’s statement against Shia Muslims can be adequately understood in the context of the following facts:
In Mahathir’s years as Prime Minister, Malaysia experienced a resurgence of Islam among Malays. Malays became more religious and more conservative. Mahathir responded to the resurgence of Saudi financed Islamism (Wahhabism) by taking an increasingly strident Islamist stand. Mahathir tried to appeal to religious voters by establishing Islamic institutions such as the International Islamic University of Malaysia in order to promote Islamic education under the government’s oversight.
Malaysia, a Southeast Asian country of 28 million people does not allow religious sects that go against “mainstream Islam” (i.e,. Sunni or Salafi Islam), under the influence of its international Saudi-Salafi ideology. Malay Muslims make up about 60 percent of the population, while most of the rest are Buddhists, Hindus or Christians from the ethnic Chinese and Indian communities. (Source).
The Malaysian authorities have strict policies against other Islamic sects including Ahmadiyya Muslims (Source)
The estimated 40,000 to 650,000 Shias in Malaysia are one of several Islamic sects under close watch by governmental religious authorities, which treat Shias, Ahmadis and other minority sects as deviant (from Islam) groups.(Source; Source)
Mahathir is the same person who has previously issues rabid anti-Israel and antisemitic statements reflecting his inclination towards a Saudi-Ikhwan worldview. Incidentally he is also an ideal of Pakistan’s pro-Taliban politician, Imran Khan.
Mahathir’s public remarks about Jews date back as early as 1970 when he wrote in his controversial book The Malay Dilemma: “The Jews for example are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively.” (Source 1, 2). In 1997, during the financial crisis, he attributed the collapse of the Malaysian ringgit to a conspiracy of Jews against a prosperous Muslim state: “The Jews robbed the Palestinians of everything, but in Malaysia they could not do so, hence they do this, depress the ringgit.” Under strong international criticism, he issued a partial retraction, but not in Malay language media sources. (Source).
On 16 October 2003, shortly before he stepped down as prime minister, Mahathir said during a summit for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Putrajaya, that:
“ We [Muslims] are actually very strong, 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million [during the Holocaust]. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them. They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong so they may enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries. And they, this tiny community, have become a world power.(Source)”
He also named Israel as “the enemy allied with most powerful nations.” Israel criticized the remarks and the speech was also condemned by several nations from the Western world. Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that Dr Mahathir had employed “expressions that were gravely offensive, very strongly anti-Semitic and… strongly counter to principles of tolerance, dialogue and understanding’.” [source][source] United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Bush considered the comments “reprehensible and hateful.”[source] The Muslim Public Affairs Council condemned Mahathir’s remarks as “extremely offensive, anti-Semitic comments.”[source]
Malaysia is amongst those Muslim majority countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Nigeria etc) where Shia faith is either considered a non-Islamic deviation from ‘true Islam’ (i.e., Salafi / Sunni Islam) or Shia Muslims are not allowed to freely practice their faith and religious rituals. A 1989 Islamic law and a 1996 fatwa by Malaysia’s top Islamic clerics banned Shiism, declaring it a deviant ideology. Malaysia has a dual-track legal system, with civil courts running in parallel with Islamic courts where Muslim Malays can be tried on religious and moral charges. (Source)
Increasing influenced by Saudi-Ikhwan-Wahhabi ideology, Malaysian government actively promotes false propaganda and hate speech against Shia Muslims. For example, in March 2011, Malaysian government issued a statement terming Shias as a ‘deviant’ sect, who “are barred from promoting their faith to other Muslims but are free to practise it themselves”.
“We don’t prohibit Shia adherents to practise but there are (laws) that don’t allow preaching to adherents of Sunnah Wal Jamaah (Sunnis),” Islamic affairs minister Jamil Khir Baharom told parliament according to state media. Jamil Khir said the government had made ‘various efforts’ to halt the spread of the faith in the country, including issuing fatwas against the sect and the ‘monitoring and control of materials promoting Shia faith.”
Mohammed Khusrin Munawi, a former religious department head in Selangor state who led the 16 December 2010 raid on Shias during Ashura of Muharram, has said that Shia Islam represents a threat because ‘fanatical followers of the sect consider other Muslims infidels’. (Source)
Attack on Muharram Ashura:
In December 2010, more than 200 Muslim Shiites including Iranians, Indonesians and Pakistanis detained in one of the biggest swoops on outlawed Muslim sects in Malaysia may be charged with breaching Islamic laws. Government authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia consider only the Sunni denomination to be legal. Islamic officials raided a shop house in the Gombak district in central Selangor state last week and arrested the group, who were allegedly followers of the outlawed Shia sect, said Nurhamizah Othman, a public relations officer at the Selangor Islamic Religious Department. The department director, Muhammad Khusrin Munawi, told state media that the Shia doctrine is a threat to national security because it permits the killing of Muslims from other sects who are regarded as infidels. (Source)
Some 200 Shias were arrested in December 2010 by religious authorities who accused them of threatening national security in multicultural Malaysia, where most of the 16.5 million Muslims are members of the Sunni sect. The inclusive, multi-ethnic, multicultural nature of Malaysian society was not expansive enough to afford Shia Muslims a night’s peace as they commemorated the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussain. At an Ashura mourning ceremony at the Ali al-Ridha Hussainiyah in Seri Gombak, Selangor where mostly Shia Malays had gathered, state officers from the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) burst in and ordered all attendees detained for having breached Islamic law. It was one of the largest mass arrests on religious grounds in recent Malaysian history. In a nation where Christians, Chinese Buddhists and Indian Hindus can freely and openly worship, the Malaysian government precludes the Shia from doing likewise, deeming them a “deviant” sect. The JAIS director, Datuk Muhammed Khusrin Munawi, stated that Shias pose a threat to national security because the school permits the killing of Muslims from other schools of thought – a belief repeatedly echoed by state media. According to Munawi, the mourners violated the Mufti of Selangor’s fatwa in which he decreed that Shi’ism is antithetical to the teachings of the Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama’ah and the “true Islam.” Munawi went on to say (with a straight face, we assume): “Hajj is not compulsory for them; visiting Imam Hussain’s shrine is sufficient for them to get into heaven; they can combine prayers at any time, Zuhr and Asr together, Maghrib, Isha and Fajr without…conditions like travelling 90 ‘Marhalah’; some of them which are fanatic and believe that we [Sunnis] are not Muslims and our blood it is ‘Halal’ for them; it is a jihad if they could kill Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama’ah…for me, this makes them the most dangerous deviants compared to other deviant teachings.” As Dr. Zainul Abidin remarked, “Malaysia is trying to become a country a la Taliban that only allows one school of thought.” (Source)
During the Ashura commemoration event on 15th December 2010, JAIS (state religious authority in Malaysia) raided the Hauzah ar-Redah in Gombak, State of Selangor and arrested 200 people including the local scholar as well as the visiting scholar from Iran. While all of the attendees at this event seem to now have been released, the two clerics were released on bail and will be appearing at a hearing on 20th January. If found guilty, the punishments may range from ‘six strokes’ to 3 years in prison; those held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) can, in theory, be held indefinitely without charge. (Source)
Birthday of the daughter of the Prophet (May 2011):
In May 2011, Malaysian authorities have broken up a mass gathering of Shia Muslims and detained at least four in the latest discriminatory action against the religious community. Religious Department officers accompanied by at least 20 security forces attacked a gathering which was held to celebrate the birthday anniversary of the daughter of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Fatemeh (PBUH), on Tuesday, AFP said. “We were having lunch… with 200 people, many of whom are non-Muslims, to celebrate the birthday, when our premises were raided,” Wahab Omar, a Shia community leader said. Prominent Malaysian Shia leader Kamil Zuhairi Abdul Aziz and three other followers were arrested by Malaysian security forces. Kamil Zuhairi had previously blamed government officials for systematically violating the basic rights of Shias in the predominantly Sunni Muslim nation. Last December, over 200 Muslim Shias, including Iranian, Indonesian and Pakistani nationals, were arrested at a mourning ceremony for the third Shia Imam and the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Imam Hussein (PBUH), who was martyred in Karbala, Iraq, over 1,300 years ago. Some of those detained were charged in a religious court and are awaiting trial. The arrests come while according to Malaysian law Shia Muslims — who make up more than one third of Muslims population worldwide — are free to practice their religion, even though they are barred from promoting it. ”It was purely a social gathering and yet we continue to be harassed by religious authorities,” Wahab said. (Source)
State-sponsored persecution of Shia Muslims and hate speech
Parliament: Shiites Prohibited From Spreading Teachings To Sunnis
March 09, 2011
KUALA LUMPUR, March 9 (Bernama) – Shiites are prohibited from spreading their teachings to adherents of Sunnah Wal Jamaah (Sunnis) but are free to practice them, Dewan Rakyat heard Wednesday.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom said they are allowed in accordance with provisions in the constitution that gives the right of freedom of religion to people in this country. ”We don’t prohibit Shiite adherents to practice but there are acts in the states’ Islamic law that don’t allow preaching to adherents of Sunnah Wal Jamaah,” he said when replying to a supplementary question from Datuk Ismail Mohamed Said (BN-Kuala Krau).
Ismail wants to know if Shiite is a new teaching or sect and what action had been taken against its adherents.
Jamil said although the Shite teaching had been categorised as deviant by the National Fatwa Council, not all the teachings are contrary to that of Sunnah Wal Jamaah as practiced by Muslims in Malaysia. ”As such, they (Shiites) can’t be detained under the Internal Security (ISA),” he said when replying to a supplementary question from Nasharudin Mat Isa (PAS-Bachok) who wanted to know why the Shiites are not detained under ISA.
To the original question by Ismail, Jamil said various efforts had been taken by the government to check the spread of Shiite in the country. This include issuing of fatwa that prohibits the spread of shiite, public awareness talks and monitoring and control of materials promoting Shiite. He said religious agencies had also stepped up cooperation and taken legal action against those who violate provisions in the state’s syaria law. (Source)
Former state religious department head Mohammed Khusrin Munawi, who led the December 16 raid, said that the faith, if left to grow, could undermine security as “fanatical followers of the sect consider other Muslims infidels”. ”For them, the blood of the followers of other faiths is lawful which means that it is okay to kill (Sunnis),” he told the Utusan Malaysia newspaper. “Shiite doctrine is more dangerous than other deviant teachings (as)… Shiite followers in Iran and India are fighting against other Muslims merely because of different faiths,” he said. (Source)
State religious department head Marzuki Hussin told AFP “the bottom line is that Shiism clashes with Islam in Malaysia and so it cannot be allowed to propagate here as it can cause instability.” ”We are happy to counsel the Shiite community on the practices of Malaysian Sunnis as what they are practising is a violation of our religious laws,” he said. (Source)
The Saudi-Salafi connection
Meanwhile, reports from Malaysia indicate that parallel to a clampdown on Shia Muslims in the country, Saudi-based Wahhabi beliefs are being promoted in the southeast Asian nation. Riyadh has reportedly transferred $80 billion fund to Malaysia for the task.
Shia Muslims account for the majority of the population in Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran and Bahrain, and form significant communities in Afghanistan, Indonesia, India, Lebanon, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. (Source) (Source)
Reaction of Shia Muslims
Shia community leader Kamil Zuhairi Abdul Aziz said that Shias in Malaysia do not preach to other Muslims. “Although we keep a very low profile, live in harmony with Sunnis and non-Muslims and practise our religion within our community, we have been persecuted by the authorities for many decades,” he told AFP. “In fact, we are not the ones who are spreading our faith. By arresting us and making this an issue, the state religious authorities are giving us the publicity and spreading our teachings.”
Chandra Muzaffar, head of rights group JUST, says that religious officials are abusing their power. ”The Shiites are not deviants, they are very much part of the Muslim community and if you deny them, then you are saying that 15 percent of Muslims worldwide are also deviant,” he said. ”They follow almost all the tenets of the majority Sunni sect and the differences are more political and historical so we should engage them through dialogue rather than carry out raids, arrest and prosecute them.” Kamil Zuhairi Abdul Aziz, 45, the Iranian-trained leader of the Hauzah ar-Redha or “Knowledge House” raided by authorities in December, says they are forced to practice their faith quietly. ”We are Muslims just like any other Muslims in the country but we live in fear as we are constantly attacked verbally and are often arrested and detained by authorities,” he told AFP after prayers at the hauzah, the biggest of 40 Shiite community halls throughout the country. ”Shiism came to the shores of Malaysia in the 14th century when Islam arrived here as many of the Arabic, Indian and Persian traders who brought the religion were also Shiites. ”The authorities must recognise that we are not a recent phenomenon and that we should be respected just like any other faith in the country,” he said in the hall filled with religious banners and pictures of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. ”We do not believe in bloodshed or that we are justified in killing anyone but yet these are the lies spread about us.” Community elder Muhammad Hassan, 72, said the last waves of arrests of Shiite followers in Malaysia came in 1997 and 2001. He says his grandchildren are discriminated against in school and higher learning institutions, where religious teachers “criticise Shiites openly although they don’t even understand or are bothered to even study our teachings.”
Kamil, a Shia Muslim who was among those arrested in the December 2010 raid, will answer charges of preventing Islamic officials from carrying out their duties on February 17 ”Our future is very uncertain as we have lived here for centuries but now don’t know for how long we can exist like this on the periphery of society,” he said. “We are treated as outcasts when we actually contribute much to society. We are fellow Muslims — treat us as such.” (Source)
“This is something both shocking and inappropriate,” Ar-Ridha director Mohd Kamilzuhairi Abdul Aziz said of the raid in Taman Sri Gombak and the arrest of four people at the gathering, which was to celebrate the birthday of Fatimah az-Zahra (s.a), daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. He said in a press statement that the gathering had permission from the Selayang Municipal Council, the Home Ministry and the police. Kamilzuhairi was one of the four arrested yesterday and released on bail. They have been told to appear at the Gombak Timor Lower Syariah Court in Kuang on June 7. Selangor Islamic Department (Jais) officers carried out the raid with the assistance of 20 policemen. Kamilzuhairi said the gathering was having lunch. Among the guests were representatives of other religious groups. Speaking to FMT, Kamilzuhairi said Jais accused him of defying a fatwa banning the preaching of Shiism. “I asked Jais: When was I in the business of spreading Shiism? This is not right,” he said. Kamilzuhairi also condemned what he said was an ongoing discrimination against Malaysia’s Shiite community. He said Malaysian Shiites numbered about 100,000. Yesterday’s raid was the second against Shiites since last December, when more than 200 people, including foreign nationals, were arrested at a ceremony to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet. Kamilzuhairi asked why the religious authorities were intent on pitting Sunnis against Shiites when they believed in the same God. “We have our differences, but Allah is the same,” he said. He said Jais’s raid went against the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. (Source) (Source)
In a country where non-Muslims are constitutionally free to practice their faith, the crackdown on an Islamic sect which forms the majority in several other countries, including Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, Azerbiejan and Northern Yemen has raised concerns. “Everyone in the country should have freedom of worship,” Reverend Thomas Philips, head of the country’s largest inter-religious council, told AFP. “But in the Muslim context in Malaysia, they have a different understanding and so it is a very sensitive issue.”
“Malaysia is trying to become a country a la Taliban that only allows one school of thought,” said prominent Muslim scholar Asri Zainul Abidin.”Even though I personally don’t agree with Shia teachings and even frequently criticize and debate with them, I cannot accept the approach of the allegedly democratic Malaysian government in denying the people’s right to practice their faith,” he said. (Source)
According to London Muslims (blog): A Malaysian Sunni Cleric Mohammed Kusrin Munawi told the Utusan paper “for them the blood of the followers is lawful which means that it is ok to kill Sunnis” so in his opinion they are a security threat to Malaysia. LM is no scholar however, Munawi is spreading hate filled nonsense which in itself is dangerous and ironically a threat to Malaysia’s security because it sows discord where currently relative harmony exists. Shia leaders in Malaysia talk of increasing mass arrests, discrimination and abuse of their children in school who are ridiculed by teachers before their Peers. LM urges the silent majority Malay Sunni community to stop a tiny number of extremists treating minorities like outcasts and while different, nevertheless respect the Shia as our brothers and sisters.