More foreigners arrested in fresh raids on private Shia functions in Johor, Selangor

Religious officers enter a house in Kempas, Johor, where Shia Muslims were observing a private function to mark Ashura.

PETALING JAYA: Police in Johor and Selangor raided private functions by Shia Muslims last night, arresting foreigners in a continuing crackdown against followers of the second largest Islamic branch deemed deviant by Islamic authorities.

It is believed that at least two dozens of officers from the Johor Islamic Affairs Department (JAINJ) arrived slightly before 11pm accompanied by police, at a private function in Kempas, where adherents were attending a ceremony to mark Ashura, the death anniversary of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet who is a central figure in Shia Islam.

“The police and JAINJ officers came with Black Maria trucks, and at least six patrol cars,” a witness told FMT.

FMT understands that eight people were arrested, including one Yemeni and two Singaporeans. They are yet to be released as of press time this morning.

It is believed that they are being investigated under Section 9 of the Johor Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment for violating the order of the sultan, mufti as well as fatwa, which carries a RM3,000 fine and one-year jail sentence.

In Bandar Sunway, Selangor Islamic authorities raided a private function attended by Pakistani Muslims to mark Ashura, in a continuing a crackdown against Shia Muslims backed by Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari. Several arrests were made, adding to the 23 arrested on Sept 6 in a Jais raid at a Shia centre in Gombak.

The latest arrests mark a move from a past policy to allow foreigners follow Shia Muslim practices in private, an assurance given in 2013 by then-minister in charge of Islamic affairs, Jamil Khir Baharom.

A truckload of detainees including women and children outside a Shia Muslim centre in Gombak, Selangor on Sept 6, 2019.

“We never harass Shia followers, but it’s just that they are banned from spreading the ideology,” Jamil said.

Earlier, FMT reported that the Iranian embassy in Kuala Lumpur was forced to intervene after an Iranian woman was detained when her house in Ampang was raided by Selangor Islamic Department (JAIS) officers during a private ceremony to mark Ashura.

Queries to the embassy were not returned, an indication that Tehran prefers to lie low ahead of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s visit to Iran, which needs all the support it can get from governments against its arch enemy Washington.

In contrast, the Iraqi foreign ministry had in 2017 condemned Malaysian authorities for arresting scores of its citizens attending a private Ashura ceremony in Serdang, Selangor. They were released following intervention from the Iraqi embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Religious authorities in Malaysia have over the years been enforcing a fatwa declaring Shia teachings as “deviant”, with raiding parties mostly targetting local Shias.

Shia, with a substantial following in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon and several parts of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan, is the second largest branch of Islam.

But state Islamic authorities have declared its teachings as “deviant”, with sermons in Selangor frequently condemning its followers as heretics.