Muhyiddin (left) shaking hands with supporters at Sungai Buaya yesterday. - Bernama pic
By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani
KUALA LUMPUR, April 13 – Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz defended Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s “small fry” remark when describing the Cabinet’s inter-faith panel, saying the deputy prime minister was protecting it from religious groups rather than reducing its role.
Muhyiddin had caused an uproar with his statement yesterday prompting an umbrella body for non-Muslim faiths to threaten a boycott of the inter-faith committee until he explains his remarks.
The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department explained that the “small fry” statement must be seen in the context of Mufti of Perak’s objection to the committee. Malay right-wing group Perkasa had also made similar objections.
“I think we should look at DPM’s reply in the context of the objection from the Mufti of Perak because Mufti of Perak objected. What the DPM is trying to say is that don’t make it into a big deal. That is all,” Nazri told The Malaysian Insider last night.
The Perak Fatwa Committee led by influential state mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria yesterday announced its objection to the committee, dealing a further blow to prime minister’s Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s efforts to repair inter-religious ties.
It is to be headed by former Kota Bharu MP Datuk Ilani Isahak and will comprise religious leaders — the panel will discuss various issues and provide advice to the Cabinet via Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon.
Harussani had said other religions could not be placed on equal footing with Islam, which he explained had a higher position by Allah’s side.
“We have to address the objection of the Mufti of Perak. So we have to look at the DPM’s comment at the context of telling the Mufti of Perak that it is not such a big deal. It is only a committee for the beginning so if anything happens, we will try to solve it here first then we will bring to the cabinet,” Nazri added.
Muhyiddin’s had explained the inter-faith committee set up by the Cabinet consisted only of “small-fry,” as he sought t calm fears expressed by right-wing Malay groups that it would threaten the sanctity of Islam.
The lack of any legal powers in the committee, said Muhyiddin, meant it will not have any influence over the nation’s official religion.
Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) president Reverend Dr Thomas Philips told The Malaysian Insider last night they will boycott the inter-faith panel if Muhyiddin does not provide an explanation for his “small-fry” remark.
Nazri stressed that the inter-faith committee will not collapse even if certain groups decide to boycott it, adding the Cabinet had agreed to form the committee and would not retract it due to the objections.
“Don’t be too sensitive about this. I know what the DPM is trying to say. He was trying to say in the context of the objection of the Mufti.
“The cabinet has made the decision and its decision will prevail. Only the cabinet can repeal the decision, not the inter-faith committee, not the Mufti of Perak, not anybody. They (MCCBCHST) boycotting will not affect the committee,” he said.
The idea for an inter-faith panel was first mooted in the early 1980s but was shot down after objections from Muslim groups such as the Islamic Development Department, better known by its Malay acronym Jakim.
According to sources, the objection was because an inter-faith council would place Islam, the nation’s official religion, on equal footing with the other religions.
The Malay rights group Perkasa made the same objections on Sunday, demanding the Najib administration place the new inter-faith panel under Jakim or it would reject the entity in its current form.
Perkasa says it would tolerate the committee only if it fell under the guidance of Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom, the Islamic Affairs Minister under the Prime Minister’s Department and not Koh.
But Nazri believed that committee should remain independent and not be placed under Jakim.
“It should be independent because if it is under Jakim then it is a recognition already from the Islamic authority that this committee should belong to them. At the moment is has nothing to do with them.
“It is just a committee to look into issues which could be avoided at the preliminary stage. Don’t be too sensitive that is all. Look at the positive side at the DPM’s statement,” he said.
He also reiterated that relevant parties should not be “too sensitive” to Muhyiddin’s comment.
“Everybody don’t be too sensitive, the DPM was only trying to defend the committee to ensure that this small step can be defended. He was only in the context of the objection of the mufti,” he said.