KUALA LUMPUR: One of several raids in recent days by Selangor Islamic authorities on private Shia Muslim events in the state appears to have ruffled diplomatic feathers, with pressure growing on Tehran to protest what is seen as a violation of religious rights of its citizens in Malaysia.
FMT understands that the raid was carried out in Ampang on Sept 4 at the house of an Iranian national, two days before a similar raid at a Shia religious centre in Gombak led to the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) arresting 23 men, women and children for breaking state enactments banning Shia practices.
Sources close to diplomatic circles told FMT that the incident in Ampang threatens to cast a shadow over a planned visit to Iran next month by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is viewed positively in Iran for his public statements condemning Western powers and Washington, the traditional enemy of the Islamic republic.
Queries to the Iranian embassy in Kuala Lumpur were not returned, an indication that the country was treading carefully so as not to be accused of interfering in domestic affairs.
The raids are part of an annual crackdown against Shia Muslim adherents in conjunction with the 10 Muharram mourning ceremonies, also called Ashura.
Shia Muslims worldwide mark the week leading to Ashura, which falls on Sept 9 this year, with events to commemorate the death anniversary of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, a central figure in Shia Islam.
Religious authorities in Malaysia have over the years been enforcing a fatwa declaring Shia teachings as “deviant”, with raiding parties mostly targetting local Shias.
But a spokesman for the tiny Shia community in Malaysia said authorities have in recent years been emboldened to act against foreign Muslims who follow Shia Islam, the second largest branch of Islam which is predominantly followed in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon and several parts of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan.
“This is the second anti-Shia raid in two years involving foreigners, and is a violation of their right to practise their faiths,” said the spokesman, requesting anonymity for fear of being monitored by Islamic authorities.
In the raid on Sept 4, it is learnt that authorities detained an Iranian woman who is believed to have hosted the private function. She was later served a summons for questioning by Jais on Sept 19, accused of “being in contempt of religious authorities”.
FMT also understands that she was released from detention following intervention by a senior Iranian embassy official.
In 2017, authorities arrested scores of Iraqi students in Serdang, Selangor, who were at a Muharram 10 celebration; they were released following intervention from the Iraqi embassy.
The arrests drew protests from Baghdad, which said it “would not tolerate the Malaysian authorities’ detention of (Iraqi) students”, and warned Putrajaya that the action was damaging bilateral relations.
Foreign Shia Muslims in Malaysia are increasingly being prevented from practising their beliefs, despite an assurance in 2013 by the then-minister in charge of Islamic affairs that Shia followers would be allowed to practise their beliefs as long as they do not propagate to others.
The minister, Jamil Khir Baharom, was reported to have said: “We never harass Shia followers, but it’s just that they are banned from spreading the ideology.”