Controversy follows ex-mufti

Who are the ‘black hands’ behind the arrest of the charismatic but controversial former Mufti of Perlis?

THERE is little doubt that the controversial religious figure Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin has a following as evidenced by the big group that turned up to support him at the Gombak Syariah Court.

His biggest supporter is Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, the former Perlis Mentri Besar, who is in London. Otherwise he would have been there as well.

Dr Asri, the former Mufti of Perlis, was released on police bond after being detained the night before by the Selangor branch of the religious enforcement unit JAIS.

He was giving a religious lecture in a private home in Gombak at the time.

He is likely to be charged for preaching without a permit but those in the know said that events behind the scenes had been building up to this moment.

Some are even talking about “black hands” trying to fix up the charismatic preacher who had made waves with his unorthodox views on religious issues and matters the past few years.

They blamed the PAS-controlled religious arm in Selangor for the crackdown on Dr Asri.

Others said the “black hands” belong to those who are out to block Dr Asri’s appointment as head of Yadim or Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia, the prestigious Islamic outreach arm of the Government.

Apparently, Dr Asri was to have been appointed as Yadim head on Nov 1, replacing Datuk Nakhaie Ahmad who has held the post since the 1990s.

It is believed the appointment has not proceeded because of opposition from Islamic groups.

There is no evidence connecting the Yadim appointment to Dr Asri’s Sunday night arrest but 17 Islamic NGOs had sent a letter to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the Prime Minister protesting the would-be appointment.

News of the protest leaked out when one of the signatories, the Syariah Lawyers Association, posted the letter on its blog; the posting has since been removed.

“There are no black hands or whatever you may call it. The point is that there are Islamic bodies who are very uncomfortable that Dr Asri may be appointed to Yadim,” said former Abim president Yusri Mohamad who was a signatory to the letter.

Shahidan, who remains one of Asri’s closest associates, has slammed the opposition to Dr Asri as the work of selfish people.

“We carry out dakwah (outreach) work without harming people. We are trying to explain Islam to non-Muslims. What is wrong with that?” he said.

Shahidan also asked Dr Asri to reject any offer from Yadim and in a tit-for-tat move, has asked for a thorough audit of the accounts of Yadim.

The soft-spoken and baby-faced Dr Asri is quite glamorous for an ulama. He is acquainted with a number of entertainment celebrities and has been courted by both Umno and PAS.

Earlier this year, there was talk that he was about to join PAS but, according to Shahidan, Dr Asri consulted Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who advised him to stay politically neutral if he wished to be accepted by the general populace.

He also writes a weekly column called Minda Maza or Thoughts of Maza (Maza being the acronym for Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin) in the influential Mingguan Malaysia.

But Islamic intellectuals complain that his views on religion do not reflect that of “mainstream Muslims or the traditional scholars.”

They pointed out that during the recent fasting month, his column had analysed an obscure text by a medieval scholar on the question of performing a major ablution (mandi wajib) after sexual intercourse in an abnormal situation.

“There are so many pressing issues in Islam and he uses his column to talk about that,” said Yusri.

Critics such as Yusri have accused Dr Asri of promoting a body of thought that is harmful to the unity of Muslims in the country.

“He should be aware that by continuing to promote his particular view on Islam outside of Perlis, he is inviting action on himself,” said Yusri.

But Dr Asri’s ideas resonate among a segment of moderate Muslims and non-Muslims. They see him as a modern and progressive ulama.

His supporters find his views refreshing and in tune with modern Malay society and issues.

Among his champions are groups like Sisters in Islam who are drawn to his unconventional views on social issues and women in Islamic society.

But the storm blowing around Dr Asri has yet to subside for as Yusri promised: “We will continue to oppose his appointment to Yadim.”

Related Stories: Najib puzzled by Asri’s arrest Asri issued with notice to be questioned by Jais laterMPs slam arrest of former Perlis muftiIntrigue over former mufti

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