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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Low turnout dampens anti-apostasy rally

Barely 5,000 people filled the 100,000-capacity stadium to mark the start of the assembly of a million believers.

SHAH ALAM: It had fiery orators, bold anti-apostasy banners, a nasyid group and even notable political figures. But it didn’t have the anticipated turnout. And with that the much-hyped about Himpunan Sejuta Umat (Himpun) fell flat.

Himpun (gathering of one million believers) was set up to “defend Islam” and reject apostasy among Muslims following the controversial raid on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) on Aug 3.

It claims to have the backing of 200 NGOs representing four million Muslims nationwide.

Yet the 100,000 seats in the Shah Alam Stadium were glaringly empty with barely 5,000 people turning up for the rally.

The secretary-general of the Anti-Apostasy Front, Kamaruzzaman Muhammad, said that the total number of buses is unknown as many were chartered by smaller NGOs.

He, however, added that Generasi Wawasan Generasi Felda reportedly sent 100 buses.

Only two notable names graced the event with their presence – Perkasa chief Ibrahim Ali and PAS Selangor executive councillor, Hasan Ali.
PAS had forbade its members from attending the rally in party gear or carrying party banners but permitted their attendance in the capacity of NGO representatives.

Orderly crowd
Hasan led the closing prayer and clarified that his attendance was in the capacity of a Muslim and not a politician.

While Hasan’s presence was not altogether a surprise considering his support of the raid on DUMC, it is nevertheless likely to thrust PAS into yet another awkward position.

Asked on Hasan’s attendance, PAS secretary-general Mustafa Ali said that he could not comment at this juncture.

“I have yet to get a full report of the Himpun proceeding. Was he (Hasan) invited in his personal capacity as the state executive councillor in charge of religious affairs?” he asked.

Rela and police officials told FMT that about 150 officers were on duty and patrolling the premises. But they were in for an easy time as the crowd was far from unruly.

A majority of the participants were young families and senior citizens. Many left in between speeches because of their fidgety children or to escape an impending evening downpour.

Unlike other rallies, there was no shouting of slogans or roaring during speeches. Nor was there the fanning of anti-Christian sentiments of which Himpun was prematurely accused.

Himpun’s co-organiser, Mohd Yusri Mohamed, had last week insisted that the rally was not anti-Christians amid rumblings of uneasiness that it could spark further racial tensions.

The organisers today kept to their word after learning that a group not associated with Himpun was distributing a booklet entitled “Siapa Bertanggungjawab Kristiankan Melayu Di Selangor” (Who Is Responsible for Christianising Muslims In Selangor?).

Numbers not important

The organisers ordered the booklets confiscated and the distributors reported to the authorities.

“This is a peaceful rally!” thundered the emcee, Ahmad Badrulsani Baharudin. “We will not allow any unauthorised material to tarnish this rally.”

“We don’t want any irresponsible parties destroying the dreams of Muslims who want to band together in Islam.”

The organisers were also unfazed by the weak turnout, with Badrulsani saying that the numbers were not of prime importance.

“What we care about is that our voice is as loud as one million faithful,” he told the crowd.

Many of the younger crowd approached by FMT emphasised that they were not out to start a fight with anyone and only wanted to play a part in strengthening their faith.

Himpun organisers previously said that they had no post-rally plans yet but they today indicated that there would be discussions to take the rally nationwide.