Demonising ‘touch a dog’ organiser shames Islam, say Muslim moderates

The death threats, accusations of apostasy and vilification of Syed Azmi Alhabshi by fellow Muslims for organising last Sunday’s dog-petting event have shamed Islam and are the antithesis of the teachings of the religion, say activists.

Social activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, aggrieved that Islam was being “hijacked” by those spreading discord and violence, said these people were turning an “educating event into something evil”.

“I am sad that a faith that should be associated with good values, such as education, kindness, compassion and beauty, is being hijacked by a few who are instead associating it with hate, lies and violence,” she said.

“He is being vilified by those who refuse to see the good in what he did and are instead inventing bad things which did not happen.”

Sisters in Islam programme manager Suri Kempe took a harsher stand on the matter, saying the threats to Syed Azmi’s life and circulating his mobile number online, bordered on criminal intimidation.

She urged the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to look into the abuses against Syed Azmi.

“The kind of vitriolic and violent responses to this event by Muslims are abhorrent, shameful and antithetical to Islam,” Suri told The Malaysian Insider.

“It is ironic that such violent and abusive behaviour is done in the name of ‘defending Islam’.

“As Muslims, we need to ask ourselves why such violent exhortations are considered acceptable and yet an altruistic endeavour to illuminate the minds of Malaysians and dispel fear is condemned,” said Suri.

Syed Azmi, who organised the ‘I want to touch a dog’ event, which was meant to educate the public on Islam’s stance on dogs, came under fire from other Muslims who were furious over his audacity at holding the event.

The event on Sunday in Bandar Utama proved to be popular with about 1,000 people participating and learning compassion for dogs as well as Islam’s views on canines.

However, many Malays – clerics and ordinary citizens alike – took offence at photos of Muslims petting and holding the dogs and circulated his mobile number online, while on WhatsApp, messages claiming he is a Christian in disguise have spread like wildfire.

The threats, most of them posted as comments on a Facebook post by Ustaz Mohd Kazim Elias, who condemned the event, are numerous and filled with hate.

In his Facebook post, the ustaz had accused the programme of being a subtle attempt to introduce “liberal” and “pluralistic” ideas among Muslims, adding that it would give way to campaigns on touching and eating pigs.

A WhatsApp message purportedly from the Putrajaya Religious Council said Syed Azmi was a Christian who wanted to spread Shia teachings and has been disguising as an ustaz for a year.

Suri said that the accusations hurled at Syed Azmi that he was allegedly a “kafir” not only prejudiced the maintenance of harmony and unity as enshrined in the law but also went against the Quranic injunction to avoid “takfir”, or accusing someone of being kafir.

“It is also ironic that Muslims don’t see the circulation of unverified information about Syed Azmi as fitnah – that he is attempting to spread a new religion – especially when such accusations could lead to endangering his life,” she added.

Activist Anas Zubedy said the religious authorities should stop treating Syed Azmi and those who shared similar views like criminals, and instead engage with them to make Islam relevant in modern society.

“I hope the religious authorities, especially Jakim (Malaysian Islamic Development Department) can see that Syed Azmi had good intentions,” he said.

“The Quran tells us to avoid excessive assumptions towards another. There are even those who threaten to take his life and are calling him a murtad. I hope Jakim will advise these overzealous Muslims accordingly.”

Marina, who is the daughter of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, called on Syed Azmi to remain calm in the face of criticism and condemnation.

“He should know that there are many of us who support him because we know his intentions were noble. I believe that God loves those who are kind and compassionate and he is certainly one of those.” – October 23, 2014.

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