KUALA LUMPUR, July 12 — Prominent Muslim scholar Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin has said that royalty is not above reproach and must be held accountable to the public for their actions, sparking an immediate firestorm on Twitter after he posted a remark linking it to recent criticism of the royal house here.
The former mufti of Perlis, who is currently a visiting fellow at Oxford University, had praised the British for keeping checks on their royal family’s spending and ensuring they were accountable to taxpayers, saying it was critical to prevent abuses.
In an essay titled “Mereka Paling Mencegah Kezaliman Raja (They Most Prohibit The Tyranny of Kings)”, he pointed out that even though the British royal family had contributed to history, “but today they are not left to act unquestioned”.
He had penned it after reading a Daily Mirror report published on July 3 highlighting the British royal family’s travel bill which soared to £6.1 million (RM30.5 million) last year.
As is his style, Mohd Asri (picture) drew parallels from the British experience to the Islamic world and contrasted freedom granted British society to criticise their Rulers to Muslim tyrants who “punished” their subjects for questioning their acts.
“See in the Muslim world when the aristocracy rake in all the riches from oil, timber, gas, land and public property without anyone being allowed to question it. In fact, those who do are punished,” he wrote.
In his essay, he named as examples of tyrants those who supported the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan despot slain last year, Egypt’s dethroned President Hosni Mubarak recently sentenced to life in jail for killing hundreds of protestors at Tahrir Square, and embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Though he was mum on Malaysia, Mohd Asri courted controversy after his implied criticism of recent events here in a Twitter post on Monday.
“Melayu salah baca sejarahnya; Jebat sbnarnya tdk derhaka tp Sultan Melaka yg celaka. Mnzalimi rakyat tp mndakwa brdaulat (Malays read history wrong; Jebat did not defy the accursed Sultan of Malacca. Oppressed the people while claiming to be their sovereign),” he said on his Twitter account @realDrMAZA.
The popular Muslim preacher drew immediate fire for his remarks from certain quarters, notably Umno supporters, with his Jebat remark as the Malay mythological figure has long been portrayed as a traitor of the highest order — akin to the Western world’s Judas Iscariot — for daring to challenge the Ruler whom he believed had slain his best friend and hero, Hang Tuah.
Mohd Asri’s subsequent tweet on Tuesday, on the latest incident of supernatural researcher Syed Abdullah Hussein Al-Attas — better known by his blog moniker “Uncle Seekers” — being investigated by the police for sedition for allegedly insulting the Sultan of Johor, was the closest he posted directly linking his criticism of unchecked power.
“Uncle seeker hendaklah dibawa ke mahkamah dan dibicara dgn adil segala dalwaannya. Rakyat ingin melihat keadilan ditegakkan (Uncle Seekers must be taken to court and tried fairly on all charges. The people want to see justice upheld),” the don said.
The Uncle Seekers incident came on the heels of another popular Muslim preacher and PAS lawmaker, Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin, who was also recently investigated for sedition after his implied criticism of the Johor Sultan who paid a record RM520,000 for the WWW1 vanity car number plate last May.
Umno man Tun Faisal Ismail Aziz, who heads the party’s Unit Media Baru (UMB) cybertroops, immediately posted a stinging retort to Mohd Asri on his Twitter account.
“Blogger Pas mengamuk akibat dengar ceramah yang halalkan pemimpin diguling dengan mata pedang? (PAS blogger gone amok as a result of hearing talks allowing leaders to be toppled at sword point?)” he tweeted on his account @tunfaisal.
Tun Faisal’s volley was returned double by Mohd Asri, who has been courted by Umno’s political rival, PAS, to join its ranks. However, the Muslim scholar has remained non-partisan.
“Bala bagi UMNO jika org spt @tunfaisal ini menduduki kepimpinan (Bad luck for Umno if people like this @tunfaisal were in its leadership).
“Rakyat tdk membenci UMNO ttp mmbenci perangai sstengah org/pemimpin UMNO. Mrklah yg mnyuburkn kbencian ramai pd parti trsebut. (The people do not hate Umno but hate the attitude of some Umno people/leaders. They are fertilising the people’s hate for the party),” Mohd Asri tweeted in reply.
Civil society leaders and opposition lawmakers have long criticised the government for using the Sedition Act 1948 as a political tool and threat to curb dissent at the first instance, even when legitimate.
But Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced last night his administration’s plan to repeal the 64-year-old law and replace it with a new one he called the National Harmony Act, in the latest bid to bolster his reform image ahead of critical national polls due next April, which could see a regime change in Malaysia for the first time since its independence in 1957.
“With this new Act, we would be better equipped to manage our national fault lines,” he was reported by The Star as saying.