Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 20 Dec 2019

Any member of the Syiah community in Malaysia must be filled with hope to see the Iranian President on the same stage as the Malaysian Prime Minister whose keynote address stressed unity and tolerance as opposed to discrimination and oppression in the Muslim world. He said that the Muslim world also had to deal with fratricidal wars, civil wars, failed governments and many other catastrophes that have plagued the Muslim ummah and Islam without any serious effort being made to end or reduce them and to rehabilitate the religion.

Iran is of course a stronghold of the Shi’a Muslim faith and nearly 90% of Iranian Muslims are Shi’a and the rest are Sunni, a complete reversal of the situation in Malaysia. Only a few months ago, Islamic scholars held a forum here to raise concern about Malaysia fast becoming an intolerant Muslim nation in the wake of the ongoing persecution against the minority Syiah Muslims in the country.

In 1996, the fatwa Committee of the National Council of Islamic Affairs, Malaysia decided that Muslims in Malaysia should only practice the teachings of Islam based on the followers of Ahli Sunnah Wal-Jamaah. The propagation of any other doctrine such as Syiah was prohibited. Between 1998 and 2013, 11 states in Malaysia issued fatwas to enforce this 1996 decision. Since then, several Muslim leaders have addressed the threat of Syiahism to national security and stability of the nation.

Prof Dr Syed Farid Alatas, a professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore, pointed out that Syiah Muslims are banned in Malaysia as they were seen as deviant. On August 31, 2018, more than 50 people believed to be Syiah followers, including women and children, were detained at a building in Jalan Sri Cemerlang, Kota Baru. The operation was conducted by the Kelantan Islamic Affairs and Religious Department (Jaheaik) and police. In September 2019, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) also raided several private functions by Syiah Muslims as their teachings are banned in Malaysia. Minister Mujahid justified the raid by saying it was carried out according to the Jais standard operating procedure.

SUARAM has been monitoring the persecution and arrests of Syiah practitioners in Malaysia for many years now. Religious minorities including Syiahs are perceived as ‘deviants’ and remain under threat of arrest and detention without trial even though our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

In the case of the enforced disappearance of Amri Che Mat, SUHAKAM’s Public Inquiry of 3 April 2019 found that on 8 March 2014, Amri Che Mat had been arrested together with 113 others at a Syiah gathering in Ijok, Perak. His subsequent “enforced disappearance” on 24 November 2016 was carried out by “agents of the state, namely, the Special Branch, Bukit Aman, Kuala Lumpur…”

We certainly hope the KL Summit will discuss this question of freedom of religion in Muslim countries for the syiah minority and the Iranian President, in particular, should expect a sensible response to this question from his Malaysian hosts.

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