What about intra-faith iftar? Academic questions Jais’ snub of non-Sunnis

Academic Syed Farid Alatas says if Muslims can have dialogues with non-Muslims, they should also be able to do so with fellow Muslims with different views.

PETALING JAYA: While a series of interfaith iftar events this Ramadan has attempted to forge closer ties between Muslims and non-Muslims, there have not been similar efforts to bring together divergent groups within the Muslim community itself, says an academic.

Singapore-based Malaysian academic Syed Farid Alatas said more intra-Muslim discussions and dialogues should be held in Malaysia, where he said there is currently a lack of appreciation for Islamic diversity.

He said Muslim leaders in Malaysia still suffer from sectarian biases which only serve to divide the community.

“Islam in Malaysia has become narrowly and exclusively defined, such that there is intolerance towards groups that do not follow the Sunni schools,” Syed Farid, professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore, told FMT.

The Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais), when asked about the matter recently, said it would only have dialogues with Muslims of the Sunni school.

Islamic authorities in Malaysia have long considered non-Sunni Muslims as either deviant or outside the fold of Islam.

Authorities have in the past arrested Shia and Ahmadiah Muslims for participating in private religious functions.

State fatwas have declared Shias as deviant, while members of the Ahmadiah community are not regarded as Muslims.

Farid said leaving out minority Muslim groups showed a level of ignorance on Muslim diversity.

“Iftar is not about discussing theological differences but just sitting together while breaking the fast.

“If we can do it with the Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews, why can’t we do it with groups who are non-Sunni Muslims?” asked Faris.

He said major Sunni scholars worldwide are unanimous that Shias are Muslims.

He said even among the Ahmadiah, many accept the fundamental principles of Islam and should therefore be considered Muslims.

“It is important for Muslims to be educated about the history of the different sects within Islam and the great diversity in beliefs that characterise Islam.”