Hardline Islamic leaders seeking to punish Shia Muslims might “destroy the country”, former minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said yesterday as state religious authorities move to enforce laws that forbid the teachings of denominations other than the mainstream Sunni.
In a series of scathing posts on Twitter, Zaid lashed out at the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) for its crackdown of followers of the Shia school of jurisprudence that the former de facto law minister compared to the intra-faith conflict raging among the Arab nations.
“Are the Syiah Muslim? Obviously they are otherwise Jakim would not be interested in them,” he said in a posting on his Twitter handle @zaidibrahim.
“So if you are Muslim but not of the variety accepted by Jakim you get punished… If this is not stupidity what is?” he added.
Shia â€• also spelled as Syiah locally â€• is Islam’s second largest denomination after Sunni, the latter of which is widely practised in Malaysia and is the only one recognised by JAKIM.
The National Fatwa Council had issued an edict on May 5, 1996 banning the belief on the grounds that it would split Muslims in the country.
But the issue resurfaced in public discourse recently after Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir pushed for an anti-Shia fatwa to be gazetted in the state to curb the spread of the Shia belief in the country.
The Home Ministry’s secretary-general Datuk Seri Abdul Rahim Mohamad Radzi was reported by Malay daily Utusan Malaysia as saying today that 10 states had gazetted anti-Shia laws that went against the Sunnah Wal Jamaah jurisprudence.
According to Abdul Rahim, Pahang, Kelantan, Sabah dan Sarawak were in the process gazetting the anti-Shia legislation.
The senior officer also said there were some 250,000 Shia followers in the country and added that the home ministry was keeping a close eye on them for possible militant activity.
In his latest Twitter tirade, the founder of Malaysia’s largest law firm, Zaid Ibrahim & Co â€• which he has since sold off â€• continued to hit out at the country’s leading Islamic authority for trying to drive a wedge among Muslims.
“Just because the Arabs partake in Syiah-Sunni warfare doesnt mean we have to follow. Do we want those killings in this great country?” he asked.
The politician-turned-businessman urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to step in and take charge of the growing religious split within Islam in the country.
“No point having good technocrats to steer the economy and same time empower bellicose religious leaders to destroy the country,” Zaid said, referring to the sixth prime minister’s efforts to transform Malaysia from an emerging market into a high-income nation by 2020.
The 62-year-old Kelantan-born told Najib that the latter had three major hurdles to overcome to turn Malaysia into a first-world nation: corruption, right-wing Malay political groups as represented by Perkasa and the Umno-owned newspaper Utusan Malaysia among them.
But tackling religious aggression would likely be the PM’s hardest challenge.
He urged Najib to reform the religious body by appointing an internationally-recognised Islamic scholar to head JAKIM, saying the leading Islamic authority should focus on reconciliation efforts instead of instigating a greater schism between Muslims of different denominations.
“Jakim’s vast resources should bring peace not war to Muslims. Be smart and not be bellicose. PM need to put a real ulama to head Jakim,” he tweeted.
He added: “A real ulama is someone who cares for humanity first. He serves God by helping and caring for God’s creations. He is a man of peace.”
Najib had pitched for a Global Movement of Moderates to counter rising religious extremism worldwide at the United Nations General Assembly three years ago, which was backed by several nations including Britain.
However the idea is seen to be slow in taking off on home ground.