Tuesday, April 13, 2010

'Small fry' remark sparks uproar

Apr 13, 2010

Non-Muslim religious leaders irked by DPM Muhyiddin's comment

HULU SELANGOR: A remark by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin that a planned inter-faith panel consisted of only 'small fry' and was legally toothless has upset non-Muslim religious leaders.

'They are just small fry, (with) a small role played within the Prime Minister's Department,' he was quoted as saying.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism has said it will boycott the Cabinet-endorsed committee if Tan Sri Muhyiddin does not clarify his remark.

The comment, reported by local news portals, appeared to be an attempt to allay the concerns expressed by right-wing Malay groups, such as Perkasa, that the move to set up the panel would affect the position of Islam as the country's official religion.

The Cabinet agreed recently to form an inter-faith panel to resolve disputes over religious issues following a spate of vandalism attacks against places of worship throughout the country earlier this year.

The panel, headed by former Kota Baru MP Ilani Isahak, included representatives from the Islamic Development Department, Institute of Islamic Understanding and the consultative council.

Speaking to reporters after attending an Education Ministry event, Mr Muhyiddin, who is also the Education Minister, said: 'It (the inter-faith panel) is just an avenue to allow space for better understanding between religions in this country.'

He also shot down allegations by Malay rights group Perkasa that the establishment of the panel was a 'subliminal attempt' by 'certain quarters' to place Islam on the same footing as other religions. He said the body was not a commission and it had no powers to influence policies, reported Malaysiakini news portal.

Reacting to Mr Muhyiddin's remarks, the consultative council's president, the Reverend Thomas Philips, said its members would not attend the panel's meeting scheduled for today if there was no explanation for the 'offensive' remark.

'We need clarification. We want clarification before the meeting before we proceed. So until there is a clarification, then there will be no meeting. We feel that if we are 'small fry' or have no influence, then there is no point to the committee,' he was quoted as saying by the Malaysian Insider news website yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Perak Fatwa Committee, led by influential state mufti Harussani Zakaria, also announced its objection to the panel, saying other religions could not be placed on equal footing with Islam, the Malaysian Insider reported.

The idea for an inter-faith panel was first mooted in the early 1980s but was abandoned following objections from Muslim groups such as the Islamic Development Department, better known by its Malay acronym Jakim.

Perkasa has demanded that the government place the new panel under the national Islamic Affairs Department, saying it should come under the guidance of the Islamic Affairs Minister, Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom, and not Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, who is currently a Minister in the Prime Minister's Department.

[My first thought was this was ill-advised (if at all advised) comment by a top politician, but the problem is more deeply rooted. M'sia is becoming a de facto islamic state even if officially it is a secular state. As long as UMNO plays the religion card, or pins their political success on religion, issues and attitudes like these will persist and undermine M'sia's progress. The country cannot progress as One Malaysia when it is One plus some small frys.]

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