Monday, 26 August 2013



Clampdown on Shi'ism in Malaysia a cause for concern
Salim Osman, The Straits Times/ANN, Singapore | Fri, 08/23/2013 9:06 AM | Opinion
Life has not been good for Shi'ite Muslims in Malaysia. Christians, Hindus and Buddhists are free to practise their religions in this Muslim-majority country but the Shi'ite form of Islam has been outlawed.
Last month, the Malaysian home ministry banned their organisation, the Pertubuhan Syiah Malaysia. Several state governments also gazetted a 1996 fatwa (ruling by an Islamic council) of the National Fatwa Council declaring Shi'ism as deviant and, hence, haram or forbidden. Offenders charged under the Syariah Criminal Offences Act for defying the fatwa face a fine up to 3,000 ringgit (US$904) or a jail term of two years.
The ban and the gazetting of the fatwa mean that Shi'ites are restricted from practising their faith, and prohibited from propagating it to Malay Muslims in Malaysia, who follow the faith's Sunni version.
This is surprising. Even Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism is dominant, has not banned Shi'ism. Shi'ites there even perform the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, the two holy cities exclusive to Muslims.
But there are reasons for the hardening stance towards Shi'ism in Malaysia. First, there is alarm over Malays who converted after being enamoured of Shi'ism and the 1979 Iranian revolution. The home ministry said the small community has grown in a decade to an estimated 250,000 in 10 active groups. This development has divided the Malay community, which has traditionally subscribed to the Shafie school of the Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah.
Malay representative United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) leaders view the matter with concern because a divided Malay community implies a weakening of the political position of the Malays, who half a century earlier were united under Sunni Islam.
Sunni Islam is now seen as threatened by the presence of Malay Shi'ites, who are swelling a Shi'ite community that was previously dominated by Indian Muslims from the Dawoodi Bohras, the Ismailis, and the Jaafaris or the Ithna Ashariyya school of thought - the official faith of Shi'ite-dominated Iran.
There is also a fear that large Shi'ite numbers in a largely Sunni society could lead to sectarian conflict, similar to that in Pakistan. Hence, it is a security concern.
The historic seeds of distrust were sown when the group that later became the Shi'ites disputed the succession of Prophet Muhammad after his death in AD632. Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law and cousin, they said, was the rightful successor as caliph of Islam. They refused to recognise the three companions of the Prophet who became caliphs before Ali became the fourth caliph in AD656.
After 14 centuries, the Shi'ites still lament the usurpation of Ali's rights as caliph and mourn the death of his son Hussein - killed by the forces of Caliph Yazid in AD680 - as if the two events occurred just yesterday. Hence their vilification of the Prophet's three companions and two of his wives.
The Sunnis hit back by labelling Shi'ites as infidels; theological differences involve prayers as well as other rituals and beliefs.
The animosity between the two strands continues despite efforts at rapprochement. Both Sunni Islam and Shi'ism were accepted as two branches of Islamic orthodoxy by Al-Azhar cleric Mahmud Shaltut in Cairo in 1959 and the conference of clerics in Amman, Jordan, in November 2004.
Significantly, the Jordan conference issued the Amman Message that recognised four schools in Sunni Islam and two Shi'ite schools, namely the Zaydi and the Jaafari, as Islamic schools of jurisprudence. Malaysia was one of the 2004 signatories.
Politics is yet another reason for Malaysia's hardening stance towards the Shi'ites. A small Shi'ite community has emerged in several Kedah districts, upsetting Umno as the Shi'ites support the Islamic Parti Islam SeMalaysia (or Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, PAS).
Word has spread that PAS has been infiltrated by Shi'ites, and that even some top leaders have become believers. Hence, the current witch hunt in PAS. But PAS and its Kelantan state government are opposed to the anti-Shi'ite campaign.
After Kedah's Umno state government announced plans to gazette the 1996 fatwa declaring Shi'ites as deviant, other state governments, excluding Kelantan, announced similar moves. For several weeks last month, UMNO-linked Malay-language newspapers raised the spectre of a Shi'ite threat to Islam and Muslims, with articles suggesting Shi'ite proselytisation among Sunni Muslims, widespread conversions and controversial Shi'ite practices, escalating Malay hatred towards the group.
Global politics has also played a part in whipping up anti-Shi'ite sentiment. This includes Syria's civil war and the sectarian violence in Iraq.
Although the roots of the Syrian turmoil are complex, with the involvement of foreign powers and Islamists siding with the rebels, it is being perceived as primarily a Sunni-Shi'ite conflict. In other words, a struggle by the Sunni majority against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is regarded in Malaysia as a Shi'ite dictator oppressing Sunnis when in fact, he is an Alawite, an offshoot strand of Shi'ism.
Assad is backed by Iran, a Shi'ite power, and Lebanon's Shi'ite militia Hizbollah, in a conflict that has killed thousands of Sunnis. This has incensed Sunni clerics in the Arab world and Gulf states to the point where anti- Shi'ite rhetoric is whipped up against Iran and Hizbollah. Such rhetoric resonates in Malaysia where one of the Sunni clerics, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, has a large following. He is also revered by Muslims worldwide.
In a May 31 sermon, the Qatar- based Egyptian cleric called on Muslims to wage jihad against Shi'ites and Hizbollah in Syria. He also regretted the many years he had spent on attempts at Sunni- Shi'ite rapprochement, adding that Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi clerics were right to consider Shi'ites as infidels. His words are largely responsible for the upsurge in Shi'ite bashing in Malaysia.
Malaysia may feel that its clampdown on Shi'ism is justified on religious and security grounds.
But by doing so, it downplays the concerns of civil society groups regarding human rights violations and freedom of religion. The ban and the related fatwa hit non-Malay Shi'ites who lived in peace until last month, when the nation started demonising Shi'ites and Shi'ism.
They, and the Malay Shi'ites, will feel victimised as individuals whose only crime is having a different vision of the world and spirituality. As Malaysians, they feel they deserve to be protected and their interests served.
Iran Warns US of Dire Consequences if Red Line Crossed on Syria

Deputy Chairman of Iranian Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri warned the United States on Sunday of ‘dire consequences’ if red line crossed on Syria over claims of chemical attacks. 
 Iran Warns US of Dire Consequences if Red Line Crossed on Syria
(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - Deputy Chairman of Iranian Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri warned the United States on Sunday of ‘dire consequences’ if red line crossed on Syria over claims of chemical attacks. 

"If the United States crosses this red line, there will be harsh consequences for the White House," Jazayeri was quoted as saying.
A year ago US President Barack Obama warned the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line" and have "enormous consequences". On Sunday, his Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the US military was ready to take action against Syria.
"President Obama has asked the Defense Department to prepare options for all contingencies. We have done that," Hagel told reporters in Malaysia. "Again, we are prepared to exercise whatever option, if he decides to employ one of those options," he said, a day after Obama held a rare meeting his top aides and brass to discuss Syria.
But the Iranian military leader warned Washington, its Western allies and Israel against playing with "fire". "The terrorist war underway in Syria was planned by the United States and reactionary countries in the region against the resistance front (against Israel)," Fars news agency quoted Jazayeri as saying.
"Despite this, the government and people of Syria have achieved huge successes. "Those who add fire to the oil will not escape the vengeance of the people," added Jazayeri.

China urges caution on Syria chemical Weapon allegations

China has called for a "cautious" approach to the Syrian chemical weapons issue, urging an independent investigation by the UN experts into allegations of the gas attack near Damascus. 

 China urges caution on Syria chemical Weapon allegations
(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - "All parties should handle the chemical weapons issue cautiously to avoid interfering in the overall direction of solving the Syria issue through political settlement," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry's website on Monday. 

Meanwhile, a team of UN experts started its investigation into the alleged chemical attack in Damascus suburbs from Monday. 

Beijing backs the UN investigation to "find out the truth as soon as possible," the statement added. 

"China has paid high attention to the reports that chemical weapons have been used in Syria," Wang said, adding, "China's view is that we will firmly oppose anyone who uses chemical weapons."

On August 21, the head of the so-called opposition Syrian National Coalition, George Sabra, claimed that 1,300 people were killed in a government chemical attack on militant strongholds in Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar. 

The Syrian government, however, has vehemently rejected the allegation, saying the foreign-backed militants had carried out the attack. 

Last week, China said the UN team of inspectors should be ‘objective’ and ‘fully consult’ with the government of President Bashar al-Assad in their investigation. 

Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011. The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the outbreak of the violence.

President Assad: Failure Awaits US If it Attacks Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad considered Western claims his government used chemical weapons were an "insult to common sense" and warned the United States it faced failure if it attacked, in an interview with a Russian newspaper published Monday. 

 President Assad: Failure Awaits US If it Attacks Syria
(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad considered Western claims his government used chemical weapons were an "insult to common sense" and warned the United States it faced failure if it attacked, in an interview with a Russian newspaper published Monday. 
Assad told pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia in an extensive interview that Syria would never be a "puppet" of the West and said Washington had never succeeded in reaching its political aims through war.
"The comments (accusing the regime of using chemical weapons) made by politicians in the West and other countries are an insult to common sense... It is nonsense," Assad said.
Assad accused the United States of first making the accusations that his government used chemical weapons in an attack outside Damascus, and only later starting to look for proof.
He said the frontline in the area where the incident took place was not clear and the Syrian regime would have risked killing its own army forces if it used chemical weapons. "This contradicts elementary logic," Assad said. "Such accusations are completely political and the reason for them is a number of victories by the government forces against the terrorists."
The president said it is "not us but our enemies who are using chemical weapons." With calls mounting for military action against Syria, Assad warned Western states to stop interfering in the affairs of other countries and instead "listen to the opinion of the people". "If someone is dreaming of making Syria a puppet of the West, then this will not happen. 
"We are an independent state, we will fight against terrorism and we will build relations with whom we want for the good of the Syrian people." He warned the United States against attacking Syria and argued Washington's previous military campaigns in recent years had always fallen short of their aims. 
"The United States faces failure just like in all the previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to our days," he said. "America has taken part in many wars but could not once achieve its political goals for which the wars were started. Yes, it is true, the great powers can wage wars but can they win them?" he asked.

Assad said he is in touch with Russian President Vladimir Putin "from time to time", not by telephone, but by intermediaries visiting respective capitals. Asked about Russia's hugely controversial contract to deliver Damascus with S-300 missile systems, Assad said that "all contracts agreed with Russia are being fulfilled." "Russia is supplying Syria with what is needed to protect Syria and its people," he said.

While hailing Russia’s stance, Assad said Qatar was a "sponsor of terrorists" while Turkey "trains and provides corridors for them". Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, was a country "which only has money and someone who has just money cannot create a civilized society," Assad said. 
Asked about the chances of organizing the so-called Geneva-2 peace conference backed by Russia and the United States, Assad replied: "We cannot start a political dialogue until the support from abroad for terrorism is halted."

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