Police: Religious depts not tough enough against extremism

Ayob-Khan-Mydin-Pitchay

PETALING JAYA: Police have told state religious departments to be more aggressive in monitoring Islamist preachers to ensure they do not promote radical ideologies that could inspire terrorist acts.

Bukit Aman’s anti-terrorism chief, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, said a lack of enforcement by religious authorities had given room to foreign and local preachers to engage with the public unmonitored. Some of them were spreading teachings that were not in line with mainstream Sunni beliefs, he added.

“We have noticed that some of these teachings lean towards extremism although the contents do not directly tell the listeners to cause harm to fellow Muslims,” he said.

He gave the example of preachers who would not directly tell their audiences that some Ahli Sunnah Wa al-Jamaah (SWJ) teachings were blasphemous but would call them “bid’ah (innovative)” instead.

Some of these preachers’ followers, being aware of prophetic traditions that condemn innovation in religion, might conclude that it would be permissible to kill the so-called innovators among SWJ adherents, Ayob said.

He said his department’s role did not include monitoring preachers, but added that it nevertheless had a list of suspects.

“If the teachings are against true Islamic teachings, we will advise the religious departments on the preachers and it is up to them to take further action,” he said. “By right, the preachers should get permission from the state religious department, but apparently many do not.”

He said the department’s current list included some preachers hailing from West Asian and African countries.

Ayob spoke of a Singaporean preacher, 64-year-old Rasul Dahri, who was arrested for the third time last year. He had been active in the Klang Valley and Johor for a few years although the National Fatwa Council, as well as the Penang Religious Department, had banned seven of his books.

He also spoke of terror suspect Mas Selamat Kastari of Singapore, whom Malaysian police arrested in April 2009, more than a year after he escaped from detention in his home country. He said Mas followed Rasul Dahri’s classes in Johor between between 1987 and 1989 before deciding to join Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Citing other examples, Ayob said JI leaders Abu Bakar Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar managed to sneak into Malaysia in 1985 because of lack of monitoring by religious departments.

“This resulted in the recruitment of almost 300 Malaysians and citizens of other Asean countries as JI members.”

Ayob said the Johor religious department was one of the strictest in the country when it came to enforcing the law. “It is very stern and would not allow preachers without credentials and approval to teach in the state.”

He also commended the religious departments of Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Perak, Terengganu, Pahang, Sabah and Sarawak for strictness of enforcement.

A counter-terrorism expert from Universiti Malaya said yesterday that religious departments should work harder to filter the activities of preachers in the country to curtail the spread of “salafi jihadi” ideologies.

Balakrishnan RK Suppaiah acknowledged that countering the extremist ideology was difficult, but he said Malaysia could do it because it had the “right foundation” and a good police force.

“People will question you for monitoring places of worship,” he said. “But we have to do it because we are a moderate country where religion is concerned.”