Friday, 13 October 2017

Malaysian Muslim preacher arrested for sedition after criticising Johor Sultan's decree against Muslim-only launderette

He slammed ruler for barring Muslim-only launderette, called Chinese 'unhygienic'
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Bureau Chief In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2017

Muslim preacher Zamihan Mat Zin was arrested yesterday for sedition following a religious lecture in which he criticised a sultan - understood to be the Johor ruler - for barring a Muslim-only launderette, and called Chinese people "unhygienic".

National criminal investigation chief Wan Ahmad Najmuddin Mohd told The Straits Times the former officer with the government's Islamic Development Department, or Jakim, will be remanded today.

"He was arrested at 3.50pm, after he was summoned to have his statement recorded," he said.

The arrest comes after the Conference of Rulers issued a statement on Tuesday condemning moves to set up Muslim-only launderettes as divisive and tainting the reputation of Islam.

In a video of a lecture that has gone viral, the Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah Organisation president said the Muslim-only launderette controversy was sparked because the sultan commented on it.

"There was a sultan who had said Muslim-friendly launderettes are not allowed in his state. It is not right for the sultan to say such things. These launderettes are meant to show that Muslims prioritise cleanliness," he said. "Chinese usually don't wash after they urinate or defecate. What about menstrual blood on their underwear? Or if they had hugged a dog, or spilled alcohol or food containing pork? If they want to enter a laundry, then just go to a normal one."

In an interview with The Star last month, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said he could not accept "this nonsense" after news broke of a Muslim-only launderette in Muar. "This is Johor, which belongs to Bangsa Johor, and it belongs to all races and faiths. This is a progressive, modern and moderate state. This is not a Taleban state and as the head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature," he said.

The Conference of Rulers - made up of Malaysia's nine Malay rulers and the governors of the four states without royalty - backed Sultan Ibrahim, as well as the Crown Prince of Perlis, who also ordered a similar launderette in the northern state to drop its Muslim-only policy.

However, in a statement yesterday, Mr Zamihan denied criticising the Johor Sultan, saying he had not mentioned the ruler's name, nor used "words that were rough, rude or that had seditious elements". He said he was giving media outlets seven days to retract their articles and "wild allegations" before he took legal action for defamation.

Malaysia's sedition law prohibits discourse that sparks hostility towards other races, the rulers or the government.

Johor Sultan orders religious office to cut ties with Jakim
He chides federal religious agency for hiring 'brainless' preacher believed to have criticised him
The Sunday Times, 15 Oct 2017

BATU PAHAT • The Sultan of Johor yesterday ordered the state Islamic religious department (JAIJ) to stop dealing with the Malaysian Islamic Development Department, or Jakim.

This comes after an employee of federal agency Jakim, preacher Zamihan Mat Zin, gave a religious lecture in which he criticised a sultan - understood to be the Johor ruler - for barring a Muslim-only launderette in the state.

In a video uploaded on YouTube, Zamihan said: "There was a sultan who had said Muslim-friendly launderettes are not allowed in his state. It is not right for the sultan to say such things."

The preacher had also said that Chinese people were unhygienic and should patronise "normal" launderettes.

He was arrested last Wednesday for sedition and is out on bail.

According to the New Straits Times, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar also pointed out that Jakim should stop giving its views on religion to Johor.

"Several mufti and Islamic scholars have given their views on the issue of the (Muslim-friendly) launderette in Muar," the sultan said in a speech at Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia yesterday.

"Unfortunately, Zamihan has criticised me and undermined the views of the mufti and scholars. The way he said it was also arrogant, as if he is the only person who is right.

"If it is true that he is a Jakim officer, then I don't know where the department found him because, for me, he is like an empty can and brainless.

"After this, I have directed JAIJ not to waste time dealing with Jakim, and Jakim in turn does not need to give any views to Johor."

In response, Jakim's director-general Tan Sri Othman Mustapha said he and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom will seek an audience with Sultan Ibrahim "as soon as possible" to resolve the issue .

In an interview with The Star last month, Sultan Ibrahim said he could not accept "this nonsense" after news broke of a Muslim-only launderette in Muar, Johor.

"This is Johor, which belongs to Bangsa Johor, and it belongs to all races and faiths. This is a progressive, modern and moderate state. This is not a Taleban state and as the head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature," he said.

According to the Malay Mail Online, Sultan Ibrahim also said in his speech yesterday that such practices would not only result in suspicion among non-Muslims, but would also wrongly portray Muslim life as extreme, intolerant and unjust.

Citing currency notes as an example, he said money was handled by everyone, including those who would be considered ritually unclean in Islam.

"The same money may have been touched by pork butchers, bartenders and may even have come into contact with heavy filth.

"Must the government then come up with Muslim-friendly notes? Think for yourselves, ladies and gentlemen," he said.

Controversial cleric barred from preaching in Selangor
Move follows his lecture that was 'racist, critical of royal institution'
The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2017

KUALA LUMPUR • The Sultan of Selangor has revoked the preaching credentials of controversial cleric Zamihan Mat Zin, in a rare royal intervention that will bar him from speaking on Islam from mosque pulpits and at public functions in the state.

"This action follows a religious lecture by Zamihan that contained words that are racist, ill-mannered and excessively critical of the royal institution," said Mr Hanafisah Jais, secretary of the Royal Court of Selangor, an advisory body to Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.

"The lecture also took place at a royal mosque where such religious lectures should not take place," according to the statement, as reported widely by Malaysian media.

Mr Zamihan said he accepted the ruling and that he never meant to create any problems with the royal families, The Sun Daily quoted him as saying.

"If there is room and opportunity for me to seek an audience with any of the rulers, I would love to."

According to the daily's website, he added: "But if this room and opportunity are not present, then I leave it to God.

"I am not looking for money or glamour, I am just a fighter for the aqidah (faith), a fight that will never end until the judgment day."

While he noted that he respected the ruling, he vowed to continue to speak out about his faith. “I’m just a common rakyat (citizen) who will abide by Tuanku’s decision because it is his right. However, his actions will not ‘deprive’ me of my knowledge and spirit to continue the struggles of my faith," he was quoted saying by Malay news portal Watan-Online.

Mr Zamihan yesterday posted on his Facebook issues that are favourite punching bags for conservative Muslims - asking people to speak out against the gay and lesbian community, a beer party in Johor and a gathering of Ahmadi Muslims in Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Zamihan, a preacher with the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim), a federal government agency, raised a storm when he criticised a sultan in the lecture - understood to be the Johor ruler - for barring a Muslim-only launderette in the state.

The preacher also said ethnic Chinese were unhygienic and should patronise "normal" launderettes. He was arrested last Wednesday for sedition and is out on bail.

The move to revoke Mr Zamihan's accreditation in Selangor is expected to spread to other Malaysian states.

In Malaysia, a person who wants to speak publicly about Islam in each of the 13 states must first obtain permission from its Islamic council, a rule put in place decades ago to prevent the spread of "deviant" teachings.

Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar last week called the preacher "an empty can and brainless".

The issue started when a Muslim man in Muar, Johor, last month put up a sign outside his launderette saying his machines were for Muslims only. The shop owner removed the offending signboard after being rebuked by the Johor Sultan.

Another launderette in northern Perlis state, offering a "Muslims only" business, opened it to everyone after a visit from the Perlis mufti (the state's Islamic chief) and the Perlis crown prince.

Malaysia's nine Malay rulers issued a statement last Tuesday that said they were concerned the country's unity and harmony were being eroded by the onslaught of racially controversial issues.

Still, not everyone is on board with the rulers' pushback.

A former Malaysian chief justice, Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad, 75, said that from a legal viewpoint, the owner of the Johor launderette did not break any law.

Meanwhile, a Malaysian group made up of prominent Malays that is pushing a more moderate view of Islam has filed a judicial review challenging the Home Ministry's move to ban its book.

The book by the Group of 25, Breaking The Silence: Voices Of Moderation Islam In A Constitutional Democracy, was banned in July.

Who runs Islam in Malaysia? Answer is not so clear-cut
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2017

The Sultan of Johor's decree last Saturday that the state Islamic authorities disengage from the national Islamic development agency has raised the question of who calls the shots in Malaysia's growing Islamic bureaucracy.

The widely held belief is that ruling party Umno has, since the 1980s, used state apparatus to push an increasingly formalist view of the religion to ensure support from the country's Muslim majority.

In Malaysia, everyone knows that the Home Ministry is able to ban books, or the use of certain words - such as "Allah" - by non-Muslims.

And it is known that the federal government's Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim), with its RM1 billion (S$320.6 million) annual budget, has the authority to issue halal (permitted by Islam) certificates for businesses.

Jakim also operates free-to-air TV station Alhijrah, which is popular in the homes of many Malay Muslims.

But Jakim has no authority to regulate the Islamic affairs of each state and is merely a body to "promote" the religion.

"Islamic authority lies with the state itself. Jakim has no power or jurisdiction over the various Islamic councils," constitutional lawyer Syahredzan Johan told The Straits Times, referring to each state's top religious body.

Granted, most Malaysian states have been governed by Umno and its allies, or Parti Islam SeMalaysia, since the country's independence 60 years ago. But with Umno's once ironclad grip on power loosened since big electoral setbacks in 2008, Malaysia's nine Malay rulers have been flexing their muscles, in no small part due to their revered position as constitutional heads of Islam in their respective states.

The rulers appoint the Mufti - the highest authority on Islamic law and practices in the state - as well as the heads of the Islamic councils, who "aid and advise" the monarch on the administration of the religion. In the four states where there is no royalty, as well as in the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan, the king takes this role.

But this is where things get more complicated because these bodies sometimes overstep their boundaries. Apart from Islamic councils, there are Islamic departments in each state and the three federal territories collectively.

Unlike Jakim, these departments have powers of enforcement and can punish or charge people with breaking Islamic laws. One controversial instance was the 2014 seizure of Malay and Iban-language Bibles owned by the Bible Society of Malaysia by the Selangor Islamic Department (Jais), and its refusal to return them despite a state government order.

Universiti Malaya law professor Azmi Sharom told ST that this was clear insubordination by Jais, which is part of the state executive.

It was only after the Selangor Sultan intervened that the Bibles were returned. This has led to debate even among experts over whether the Islamic departments are ultimately accountable to the state governments or the monarch.

In the case of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar's statement last Saturday for the Johor State Islamic Department to stop dealings with Jakim, there is doubt whether it would constitute a binding order.

"The sultans need to be consulted before a new Islamic law is passed. But just how far and what kind of powers do they have over state religious authorities? Not so far as to make executive orders like that," Dr Azmi said.

However, syariah lawyer Nizam Bashir disagrees, noting that the Federal Constitution and various state counterparts give the rulers discretion to act on issues of Islam and Malay custom.

He said "the answer is probably that (the Islamic department) comes under the chief minister's office but is wholly answerable to the sultan".

Such is the influence that the rulers hold over their Muslim subjects that the extent of their powers is rarely challenged legally. Politicians, especially, are reluctant to be seen as anti-monarchy, which is perceived to be anti-Islam.

Unique institution of rulers, governors
By Shannon Teoh, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2017

Malaysia's Conference of Rulers is a unique institution that brings together its nine Malay monarchs and the governors of the four states that have no royal family.

Although these rulers play a largely symbolic role in the federation's constitutional monarchy, they do wade into issues of public interest at times, and Malaysians pay attention.

In 2015, they expressed concern over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal involving graft allegations against Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The rulers' statements are not legally binding, and their authority on religious matters is in force only in their states. But as a collective, they wield huge influence over the administration of Islam nationally.

The conference's main task is to elect a Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Malaysia's king, every five years from among the nine rulers. The agong is tasked by the Constitution with safeguarding the special position of the Malays and indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak, and legitimate interests of all other communities. He also appoints the four governors.

The rulers meet three times a year, and as and when at least three members, or the agong, request a conference. Certain provisions of the Federal Constitution - pertaining to the special position of Malays and indigenous peoples - cannot be amended by Parliament alone and must have the approval of the Conference of Rulers.

Rulers' harmony message a boost for Muslim moderates in Malaysia
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2017

Malaysia's monarchs have emboldened progressive Muslims after Tuesday's statement by the Conference of Rulers condemning "divisive" acts in the name of Islam, a religion they said should be "respectful, moderate and inclusive".

With Islamic conservatism on the rise, backed by an aggressive Islamic bureaucracy that outlaws anything it deems deviant, the statement by the conference - which includes nine rulers who are custodians of Islam in their states - is seen as representing those who feel social cohesion in multi-ethnic Malaysia is breaking apart.

"This injunction by the Malay rulers reaffirms the dignity of every Malaysian," said Human Rights Commission chairman Razali Ismail, who called for an end to acts "against the spirit of tolerance" that cause disunity.

Singling out operators of Muslim-only launderettes which made headlines in recent weeks, the rulers said their actions "have gone beyond all acceptable standards of decency, putting at risk the harmony that currently exists within our multi-religious and multi-ethnic society".

"The rulers are of the opinion that the damaging implications of such actions are more severe when they are erroneously associated with or committed in the name of Islam," Keeper of the Ruler's Seal Syed Danial Syed Ahmad said in a statement on behalf of the conference. "As a religion that encourages its followers to be respectful, moderate and inclusive, the reputation of Islam must not ever be tainted by the divisive actions of certain groups or individuals which may lead to rifts among the people."

Cultural expert Eddin Khoo told The Straits Times that the statement was "clearly not just about launderettes, but divisiveness".

"They are reasserting their role as a compass for our democracy and governance," he said of the statement by the rulers, who are widely influential among the Malay Muslim majority, especially in their own states. "They represent a wider consciousness, and so would only make a statement if it appeals to a large public, because these values are embedded among the people, even though these people may have so far been silent."

Aside from the launderette controversies, the past month has seen the authorities ban a slew of books by Muslim intellectuals and translations of the Quran. The Islamic authorities have also ignored civil court orders, while pressure from Muslim hardliners caused beer festivals in the Klang Valley to be cancelled.

ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Wan Saiful Wan Jan said the rulers were right to comment on national harmony, "but they left out the biggest elephant in the room, that is how Malay politicians are sowing distrust against Malaysian Chinese in order to attract votes from the Malays".

"When (ruling party) Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia keep suggesting the dangers of losing Malay political power, the implication is that non-Malays cannot be trusted," he said.

The two parties have pursued increasingly Malay Muslim-centric strategies of late, ahead of an election due in less than a year. After the rulers' statement, Malaysians on social media have questioned the government's silence when faced with intolerance by hardline Muslims.

But analysts say despite the monarchs not specifically chiding the government, their statement could spark a pushback from a previously silent Malay ground.

"It gives confidence to those in margins, who are not sure whether they can be critical. But now that the monarchs have come out, more moderate Malays can stand up and be counted instead of fearing action by the religious authorities," said Rajaratnam School of International Studies' senior fellow Johan Saravanamuttu.

He added that this was already evident within the Islamic bureaucracy, which has been silent in the face of the rulers' statement.

"Instead, the police chief has said the preacher who criticised the Johor Sultan for condemning the Muslim-only launderette may be charged with sedition," Mr Saravanamuttu said.

China Communist Party officials told to avoid religion, superstition
The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2017

BEIJING • China's top newspaper warned Communist Party officials yesterday not to "pray to God and worship Buddha" because communism is about atheism and superstition is at the root of many corrupt officials who fall from grace.

China officially guarantees freedom of religion for major belief systems such as Christianity, Buddhism and Islam, but party members are meant to be atheists and they are especially banned from participating in what China calls superstitious practices such as visiting soothsayers.

The party's official People's Daily said in a commentary that it had been common in the past few years to see officials that were taken down for corruption to have also participated in "feudalistic superstitious activities".

"In fact, some officials often go to monasteries, pray to God and worship Buddha," it said.

"Some officials are obsessed with rubbing shoulders with masters, fraternising with them as brothers and becoming their lackeys and their money-trees."

Chinese people, especially the country's leaders, have a long tradition of putting their faith in soothsaying and geomancy, as they look for answers in times of doubt, need and chaos.

The practice has grown more risky amid a sweeping crackdown on deep-seated corruption launched by President Xi Jinping upon assuming power in late 2012, where dozens of senior officials have been imprisoned.

In one of the most famous recent cases, China's powerful former security chief, Zhou Yongkang, was jailed for life in part due to accusations that he leaked undisclosed state secrets to a fortune teller and healer called Cao Yongzheng, known as the "Xinjiang sage" after the far-western region where he grew up.


Stopping religious exclusivism in Malaysia from taking root
By Norshahril Saat, Published The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2017

The Sultan of Johor, Ibrahim Iskandar, recently condemned a laundrette in Muar for its "Muslim-only" services. He demanded its owner apologise and discontinue the discriminatory practice, which undermines his people's generally tolerant, harmonious and moderate outlook.

This is not the first time the Sultan has voiced his concerns regarding exclusivist attitudes. Previously, he cautioned the Malays not to imitate the Arabs by ignoring their cultural heritage. He had also asked the federal Islamic department Jakim to explain its overblown annual budget of RM1 billion (S$320 million).

Malaysia's Council of Rulers, which is made up of all nine sultans in the country, echoed the Sultan of Johor's unease, urging Malaysians to uphold the country's cherished multicultural, inclusive and tolerant values.

Many applauded the Malay rulers' intervention. To have a group with such royal stature rejecting exclusivism will definitely put the brakes on divisive behaviour of certain religious elites. The rulers are the heads of Islam in their respective states and they have authority over appointments in religious councils and departments. The rulers also determine who becomes the mufti (chief religious scholar) of each state and whether fatwas (religious rulings) can be enforced.

Yet, to develop a more inclusive society, a top-down intervention would not suffice without grassroots support. We do not want Muslims to tolerate non-Muslims (and vice versa) because of their fear of the law, or because their leaders said so, but because they truly understand the essence of upholding diversity and freedom found in Islam. Thus, society should also give the intellectuals and activists the space to develop critical ideas.

Restricting grassroots intellectual inputs means shutting the doors to progress, as society is exposed only to ideas promoted by those in power whom they are familiar with.

Society must be aware that there are groups promoting ideas that are relevant for modern needs. Ideas associated with laws, governance and the economy have to evolve to meet the contemporary context of a multiracial and multi-religious Malaysia. Dichotomising Islamic ideas from non-Islamic ones is no longer the right approach in this modern day and age when Muslims and non-Muslims live alongside one another, abiding by the social contract embodied in the modern-day Constitution.

Unfortunately, such progressive ideas that are relevant to the times we live in are being silenced.

The way that groups promoting alternative views have been treated of late is a cause for concern. The Home Affairs Ministry has banned several books including one by G25, a group initiated by 25 prominent Malays (mostly former senior civil servants).

The banned book, Breaking The Silence - Voices Of Moderation: Islam In A Constitutional Democracy, was characterised as a "threat" to public order, even though the book's contributors include internationally renowned academics, activists and Islamic scholars. The book is mainly arguing for Islam's place in the Malaysian Constitution.

Civil society groups have also been told to toe the line. Women's rights group Sisters in Islam is facing a legal battle to reverse an edict issued by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council declaring the organisation "deviant".

Recently, Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, the head of another organisation with progressive views, the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), was questioned by the Federal Territories Religious Department for organising a talk by Turkish intellectual and writer Mustafa Akyol. The IRF had invited Mr Akyol to speak on freedom of conscience, but it was stopped because he had not attained proper accreditation from the religious authorities in Malaysia.

In the same vein, novelist and academic Mohd Faisal Musa had had many of his books banned, again for promoting ideas which the religious authorities are not comfortable with.

As we laud the Malay rulers' check on the religious elites, it is also important that Malaysian elites allow intellectual discourse to develop from the ground up. This will enrich society with progressive ideas, allowing people to compare these ideas with intellectual developments from the West and the region, and broaden their minds to look beyond books they are familiar with.

For instance, to ascertain whether Islam is in sync with democracy, some political activists refer only to writings of Muslim thinkers from the Middle East, such as Tunisia and Egypt, declaring Western contributions as secular and not in line with Islamic traditions. The need to refer to Muslim scholars in the Middle East for such justification is puzzling, when Muslim thinkers in Indonesia and Malaysia have for decades participated in the electoral process, embracing democracy and considering it in line with Islamic principles. The way the democratic process is operationalised is open for debate, of course. This mode of thinking is certainly the work of an exclusivist mind.

In fact, many revivalist Muslims today believe there is a pristine Islamic system that is far superior to modern-day democracies. Such a dichotomy only feeds into the notion of Islamic and non-Islamic systems, with the more extreme forms taking the form of Islamic caliphate, and the implementation of hudud laws (punitive Islamic laws which include punishments such as amputation, stoning and whipping).

It is also worrying that the push to enhance ACT 355 Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1965) by Parti Islam SeMalaysia and Umno leaders may further deepen the Muslim and non-Muslim divide.

Going forward, Malaysia's political elites should emulate the leadership of their Malay rulers by speaking up against divisive ideas. They must also lead by example by participating in civil politicking, and thwarting the growing resentment between Muslims and non-Muslims in the country.

The writer is a fellow at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute. He is also an adjunct lecturer at the Department of Malay Studies, National University of Singapore.

Don't link any particular religion with extremism, says Shanmugam
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2017

Extremism and divisive practices are problems that are not the sole preserve of any one religion, despite what terrorist groups and their actions might seem to suggest.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam stressed this yesterday, as he pointed out that it is the goal of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to try and sow "deep divisions" and Islamophobia within society.

"We have to get away from the idea of linking any particular religion with extremism," he said at the opening of a two-day international conference on the role of Muslim non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in promoting peace.

He cited deep-seated conflicts in the region - between Catholics and Muslims in the Philippines, and Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar - to illustrate that extremists on all sides abuse religion for nefarious ends.

Mr Shanmugam noted that the "high-profile nature of the attacks in the last few years, linked with terrorists who do it in the name of Islam, has created this mindset among a lot of people of associating Islam with terrorism".

Governments in Asia, Europe and elsewhere must take an active part in dispelling this misconception, at a time when terrorists want to divide Muslims and non-Muslims, he said.

It is also important for NGOs, community leaders and religious leaders to come together, he added, saying conferences like this week's can allow the discussion of "thorny, sensitive issues" that might arise from living in multi-religious societies.

These include scholars saying that Muslims cannot extend Christmas or Deepavali greetings, and the case of a launderette in Malaysia that said only Muslims could use it - which rulers have said is not acceptable.

It would do Muslims and non-Muslims a great service if these issues are considered at such forums, the minister said, adding that a stamp of authority would make sure the ground does not get confused.

"My understanding is that from the very early years, Muslims co-existed peacefully with others in Mecca and many other places," said Mr Shanmugam.

"Sometimes, the majority are Muslims and sometimes they are the minority. They all co-existed peacefully and integrated in a way that contributed to society."

In his 30-minute speech, Mr Shanmugam outlined Singapore's efforts to maintain harmony among people of different faiths, citing how the police take a firm stand against those who insult religious feelings, as well as how ethnic quotas in public housing estates ensure that racial enclaves do not develop.

Singapore took a firm stance on those who offend religious sensitivities, he said, adding: "If you suggest some statement that Muslims are terrorists, or Christians are like this, or Jews are like this, my internal security people will come and talk to you straightaway."

The two-day forum was organised by Jamiyah Singapore and the Morocco-based Islamic, Edu-cational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Speaking before the minister, Dr Mohammad Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, said that according to surveys by his NGO, only 1 per cent of Muslims worldwide can be considered extremists, adding that this was often due to a lack of understanding of Islam.

Mr Shanmugam said this figure was "nothing" compared with the population of Muslims around the world. "Most people are tolerant, most people believe in accommodation, but a small minority today hold the rest of us hostage," he said.

Jamiyah president Mohd Hasbi Abu Bakar said it is "religiously incumbent" on Muslims to tell others that to "resort to violence in the pursuance of one's goals is to cross the 'red line' of Islam".

Mr Mustafa Rasheed, council member of the Muslim Youth Ambassadors for Peace - a Jamiyah initiative to get volunteers to steer their peers away from extremism - said he does just that, by organising dialogues with different religious communities. More Muslims have to follow suit, engage other communities and dispel misconceptions about Muslims, said Mr Mustafa.

"We need to say, 'I am a human being, just like you'. I like the same things, I also get hungry, I also like to have fun," he said.

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