Let Shia Muslims practise faith in private, says Penang mufti

Penang mufti Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor.

PETALING JAYA: The mufti of Penang appears to have broken ranks with Islamic authorities in the wake of a recent series of crackdowns on Shia Muslims, saying followers should be allowed the freedom to practise their beliefs.

But Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor also agrees that Shia Muslims should carry out their rituals in private, saying doing so in the open among the predominantly Sunni Muslims could undermine Muslim unity.

“The Shias should be allowed the freedom to follow their teachings without the involvement of the public.

“If adherents of other religions are allowed to practise their faiths in private, why are the Shias excluded? We must be consistent, not selective,” he told FMT.

His comments follow a series of raids on private Shia Muslim functions as adherents observed the Ashura, the death anniversary of Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad and a central figure in Shia Islam.

Islamic authorities in Selangor and Johor have arrested dozens of Shia Muslim followers, including foreigners, in what has been labelled by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission as a violation of constitutional rights.

Wan Salim however advised Shia Muslims to keep their beliefs to themselves and not to propagate them to other Muslims.

He said the issue poses a dilemma for the Malaysian government.

“On one hand, the government has to respect the school of thought followed by the majority Muslims in Malaysia. On the other hand, it also has to ensure good ties with Iran and other predominantly Shia Muslim countries.

“So it would be unwise if such ties are soured by the actions of a handful of Shia Muslims,” he said.

Wan Salim also said it was the right of state religious authorities to take necessary action against Shia Muslims in protecting the interests of Muslims at large.

“This includes arresting individuals and groups who could cause confusion in the Muslim community in the respective states,” he said, noting that the arrests were made based on the decision by the National Fatwa Consultation Committee in 1996 prohibiting the spread of any teachings other than those of Sunni Islam.

He said there should be a balance between ensuring the constitutional right of religious freedom and the status of Islam as the federal religion.

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

Shia, which has 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 “deviant”, with sermons in Selangor frequently condemning its followers as heretics.