KANGAR: Some 200 people gathered outside a mosque here this afternoon to protest the mass sacking of 25 imams in the state, in what is set to renew a long drawn tension between traditional Sunni Muslim leaders and Islamic authorities in Perlis who are seen promoting a strict version of Islam called Salafism.
The protesters also carried banners condemning state mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, who had said the imams were sacked due to their old age.
Asri, who defended the imams’ abrupt termination as a normal procedure, had also accused them of indiscipline as well as making political speeches in mosques.
But a spokesman for the protesters today questioned Asri’s claims.
“In other places, imams who are in their 70s and 80s continue to serve. Even our prime minister is 94 years old and is still working,” Zainol Abidin Ahmad told FMT.
Zainol challenged Asri to state the real reason behind the imams’ dismissal, adding that it had to do with the mufti’s disagreement with the practices of Shafi’i Islam, the school of thought followed by majority Malay Muslims in the country.
Some rituals by Shafi’i Sunni Muslims are frowned upon by the Salafists, who claim to be following an “austere” version of Islam.
They include the formal recitation of the doa (invocation) by raising one’s hands, as well as the “doa qunut”, an invocation performed during the Subuh or dawn prayers.
Salafists also prohibit the practice of “zikir”, or the act of singing praises of the names of Allah and the Prophet after the five daily prayers.
“Asri must explain whether they are sacked because they mention the ‘bismillah’ phrase before the recitation of Surah Fatihah, recite the qunut during Subuh prayers, read Surah Ya Sin every Thursday night and the zikir after every prayer,” said Zainol.
He said the protesters were not against the Perlis ruler as the state’s highest Islamic authority, adding that Asri should not hide behind the palace in justifying his actions.
Both Putrajaya and the state government have distanced themselves from the decision to sack the imams, saying it was the prerogative of the Perlis Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (MAIPs) and State Islamic Religious Committee.