Malaysia

Anwar disputes fatwa on rallies

By Anisah Shukry
May 14, 2012

SHAH ALAM, May 14 — Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim flayed the National Fatwa Council for issuing an edict barring Muslims from participating in unproductive and unlawful assemblies, saying that such a move was “disgusting” as it was using religion to “defend cruelty”.

The PKR de facto leader claimed the council relied only on “Umno propaganda” for reading material, which he said contradicted another one made four months ago by Islamic scholar Dr Yusuf Al Qardawi, who hailed Egyptian protesters as freedom fighters intending to bring change and freedom to the north African nation.

“Using religion to defend cruelty — that is the most disgusting thing,” he said in a speech to some 5,000 people at Stadium Malawati here last night.

“Qardawi had already discussed the fatwa before the council had issued theirs. But they are unaware of this because they don’t read such books. They only read Umno propaganda,” Anwar (picture) added.

Last year, thousands of Egyptians occupied Tahrir Square for days to rally for the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak. Despite being peaceful in nature, BBC News reported that official figures show that at least 846 people died and 6,000 more were injured during the 18 days of protests.

“But while Qardawi commended the Egyptian protesters’ efforts, Abdul Shukor (Husin), who leads the council, said ‘rioting, causing disturbances and damaging public property are all forbidden by Islam. This also applies to any intention to topple a duly elected government by organising such demonstrations.

“During the early period of Islam, preaching was done in secret and in private because the Muslims were threatened by the infidels. But eventually, Umar Al Khattab announced to his friends, ‘we must walk out in the open with our friends with pride and courage. We must demonstrate for Islam’,” said Anwar.

“(Demonstrations) have occurred in our history before. But this fact has not yet reached the chairman of the council,” he said.

Yesterday, Perlis Mufti Juanda Jaya defended the fatwa council’s edict last week barring Muslims from participating in “unproductive” and unlawful assemblies, saying it was not specific to the April 28 Bersih rally which ended in violence.

“In fact, the council did not focus on Bersih but all assemblies that bring damage. There is no scripture that bans assemblies to protest absolutely. But it may be haram because of other issues,” Juanda was quoted as saying in the Mingguan Malaysia newspaper.

The fatwa council’s statement, which came a week after chaotic scenes in the city, was criticised by opposition leaders who said it was Umno’s ploy to stifle dissent and that it was police, accused of brutality against demonstrators calling for free and fair elections, who had violated the fatwa.

Tan Sri Abdul Shukor’s statement had come after Datuk Seri Najib Razak asserted that the rally was an attempt to oust the country’s duly elected government, a claim that has been echoed by former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Despite an initially peaceful start to the rally, Bersih’s third since 2007, police took action later that day which some civil society movements and media have condemned as more brutal than those employed during last July’s Bersih gathering.

The April 28 rally, which saw tens of thousands gather at six different locations before heading to Dataran Merdeka, was peaceful until about 2.30pm when Bersih chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan asked the crowd to disperse.

But her announcement was not heard by most of the crowd who continued to linger around the historic square which the court had already ruled as being inaccessible to the public over that particular weekend.