Is it appropriate for a serving mufti to give opinions freely about politics and make sweeping statements on minority groups that have contributed significantly to the development of their own communities and that of others for more than half a century?
By and large, the minority groups have not accused the Malays of being “racist” despite some discriminatory policies in the name of affirmative action.
So to cite one small incident of them questioning khat for Bahasa Melayu lessons is petty.
On the issue of Dr Zakir Naik, there is already a strong agreement that he has abused his permanent resident privileges by questioning the loyalty of Chinese and Indian Malaysians.
But Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin displayed a poor acceptance of Indian leaders like P Waytha Moorthy, P Ramasamy and M Kula Segaran when he advised them to leave Malaysia if they lose a debate with Naik.
It was an inappropriate statement on his part as they are Malaysians with roots in this country whereas he is not.
Furthermore, there is no such thing as a religious debate. Religion is based on personal faith and calls for mutual acceptance and tolerance.
The mufti of Perlis seemed to speak like a member of a race, or of a religion-based party, when he made references to the importance of Malay dominance in controlling the minorities. He cited the disagreement of these groups in the khat controversy and their condemnations of Naik as examples.
Asri also said Malaysia needed someone like Saddam Hussein, so that a gangster can rein in other gangsters in this country. He did not mention who these gangsters are.
He could have meant any Pakatan Harapan (PH) leader, or someone from the Dong Zong education group which he is so against.
Asri seemed to encourage the idea of a leader like Saddam, a dictator who did not respect the rule of law and basic morality.
Have we forgotten how Saddam used chemical weapons to kill more than 5,000 Kurdish civilians in Halabja? Would Asri truly recommend someone like that as a leader par excellence for the Muslims as well as for the Malays?
Suhakam, in its recent report, concluded that the authorities could be behind the disappearance of certain individuals. Is this the kind of dictatorship Asri wants for our country?
Asri’s statements can be seen fuelling racial and religious sentiments in this country. The authorities have stopped Naik from speaking, but Asri seems to have replaced him in making racial remarks.
The public would welcome any open debate on governance and politics. It is a mark of PH’s success if dissenting voices are heard not only within the Cabinet but also in society. But Asri said allowing too much freedom of speech is hurting the interests of Islam.
Civil society respects Asri as a Muslim scholar. If he wishes to debate with the people of Malaysia about his concerns on political matters, we welcome him. But he must not wear the mantle of the mufti when engaging in such debates.
Asri should vacate the position of mufti so that he is free to air his views in any form of media or open forum. As an associate professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, he would bring a valuable addition to the discourse on Islam.
But as mufti, he should refrain from passing sweeping judgments on minorities and making unverified claims on how the country is managed.
Islamic authorities should act with wisdom and guidance in this time of great crisis.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.