THE G25 commends the recent media statement by the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) who emphasised the need to protect religious freedom, in line with the Federal Constitution, after the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) arrested 50 Shiite Muslims over the observation of Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram.
The subject of contention is that Sunnis and Shiite Muslims observe Ashura differently. On this day, Sunni Muslims in Malaysia commemorate Prophet Musa when God drowned the Pharaoh and his people while rescuing Musa and his people from the oppression of the Pharaoh. Muslims are encouraged to fast on the 9th and 10th day of Muharram, according to the tradition propagated by Prophet Muhammad.
Shiites observe Ashura as a day of mourning and sorrow, in commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussain bin Ali, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, in the battle of Karbala.
Looking at the broader perspective, Sunnis and Shiites recognise this day as an important day, and this should be the meeting point for both Sunnis and Shiites.
The Federal Constitution Article 11(1) states that “Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion”.
And article 11(4) states that “Federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam”.
In the case of Shiites, they are recognised as an accepted sect of Islam, and that any form of assembly cannot be misconstrued as propagating religion other than Islam.
The Amman Message is a simple but detailed statement issued in November 2004 in Amman, Jordan, by King Abdullah II of Jordan and senior Islamic Scholars worldwide (200 of the world’s leading Islamic scholars from 50 countries, including the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ayatollah Sistani and Sheikh Qaradawi).
It describes what Islam is and what it is not, and what actions represent it and what actions do not.
The Islamic scholars at the conference issued a ruling on three fundamental issues (which became known as the Three Points of the Amman Message), namely,
(1) They specifically recognised the validity of all eight Mazhabs (legal Schools) of Sunni, Shia (Shia Ja’fari and Shia Zaydi), and Ibadhi Islam; of traditional Islamic Theology (Asharism); of Islamic Mysticism (Sufism); and of true Salafi theology and came to a precise definition of who is a Muslim.
(2) Based upon this definition they forbade takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims.
(3) They stipulated the preconditions for the issuing of fatwas, with the view to preventing the circulation of illegitimate edicts in the name of Islam.
These three points were then unanimously adopted by the Third Extraordinary Session of the Organisation of Islamic Conference at Mecca in December 2005.
Among the signatories to the Amman Message on behalf of Malaysia were Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Dr Abdul Hamid Othman, former Minister in Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic affairs, Professor Dr Kamal Hasan, Rector of International Islamic University, Kuala Lumpur, Professor Dr Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Dean of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, as Perlis Chief Minister, and Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister for Youth and Sports.
The Amman message is an expression of the spirit of religious pluralism that defines the understanding and practice of Islam. Its main objective is that Muslims around the world would be united and free to live without sectarian conflicts and strife.
As long as the practice of religious tradition does not disrupt public order, is not criminal in nature or against the law, the Shiites, as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and honouring the Amman message, should be free to practise their way of Islam.
The authorities should encourage harmonious and intellectual discussions with the Shiite adherents, respecting and allowing for differences of opinions; instead of confronting them and infringing on their freedom to practise Shiism.
G25 would advise JAIS to base its actions on the Amman Message in the interest of unity among Muslims so that we in Malaysia do not get into the kind of sectarian conflicts which are tearing the Middle East countries apart.
JAIS must align itself to the fact that Malaysia is a free democracy which respects the Federal Constitution as the supreme law of the country.