THE police have been dealing with a crisis of perception in their fight against the scourge of Islamic State (IS) militants. Its announcement that the June 28 Movida nightclub bombing in Puchong was the work of IS was greeted with a massive dose of public scepticism.
People questioned why militants would pick a nondescript out-of-town target rather than a busy nightclub in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, or even Bangsar, that could inflict maximum damage.
Back in January, when police apprehended a suspected militant armed with a Rambo knife at an LRT station, people asked if it was an overreaction; after all, it is not uncommon for guys to carry a knife.
Speaking at “The Daesh (IS) Threat” seminar in Kuala Lumpur recently, Bukit Aman’s Special Branch Counter-Terrorism Division head Senior Asst Comm Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said: “The public laughed at us.
“They said: Apa punya counter-terrorism ini? Orang ada pisau Rambo pun tangkap? Mana ada bukti?’ (You call this counter-terrorism? That guy was arrested because he had a Rambo knife? What proof do they have that he is a militant?)”
Sarcastically, he remarked that if people wanted proof, police could wait until the suspect got on board the train and stabbed passengers.
“Then it would be like what happened in France (on July 26) where two IS militants slit the throat of a priest in church!
“Or London, where two extremists beheaded a soldier in broad daylight (May 22, 2013).
“Or do you want us be proactive and stop them when we get intelligence – before they carry out terror attacks?” he asked.
SAC Ayob Khan said there are people who would always dispute whatever the police did and whomever they detained.
“They think the IS threat here is just some story concocted to divert attention from the 1MDB issue and the conflict between the Prime Minister and Tun Dr Mahathir.
“Our job has nothing to do with politics. We leave politics to politicians. Our job is to safeguard the country’s security. So when we say the threat of IS is real, it is,” he said.
He viewed with concern how some Muslims in the country have started to label other Muslims as “apostates” and the police as “Syiah”, which is a line of thinking often used by IS to justify that the spilling of their blood is halal.
“This is very serious and dangerous,” he said.
And that kind of dangerous thinking has infiltrated Malaysian Muslim society to an extent that it is now hard to tell who is an IS militant or supporter.
“They are impossible to profile because they come from diverse backgrounds. We arrested a professor with a PhD, an imam from a mosque, civil servants, private sector employees, housewives, youths, converts, an aircraft engineer, a guest relations officer (GRO), and even policemen and soldiers!
“Who would have thought someone learned like an academic or an imam who supposedly understands Islam would join IS?
“When we arrested the GRO, she pleaded with us to let her continue servicing clients so that she could save enough money to go on a jihad in Syria for IS! Is that even logical?
“In her head, jihad trumps everything. So you can steal, murder, go against your family, your country, commit all sorts of sins as long as it is for their so-called jihad.
“We have soldiers and policemen who have joined IS. This is particularly dangerous because they have access to weapons,” said SAC Ayob Khan.
(Jihad is a term used by Muslims to describe a “spiritual struggle” but the term has been distorted by militants to describe fighting to champion the cause of Islam, ie jihad qital.)
SAC Ayob Khan said IS militants, supporters and sympathisers have one thing in common – they are influenced by the writings of Ibn Tamiyyah.
(Ibn Tamiyyah is a 14th century ultra conservative scholar who preached that it is incumbent upon Muslims to fight those who do not follow syariah law, including fellow Muslims.)
Saudi Arabia, which practises a conservative form of Islam commonly referred to as “Wahhabi” (seen by practitioners as a branch of Sunni Islam), where women are not allowed to drive or move about unaccompanied, draws much of its thinking from the teachings of Ibn Tamiyyah.
The problem is that IS militants often quote Ibn Tamiyyah to justify their brutal killings (including burning the Jordanian pilot alive in a cage) and beheadings.
The IS online magazine Dabiq too often cites Ibn Tamiyyah as their reference.
For SAC Ayob Khan, it is a red flag that when police arrest suspected IS militants in the country, they find the suspects own many books by and on Ibn Tamiyyah, including his infamous fatwa which justifies killing others.
“This way of thinking is starting to flourish in Malaysia. We find people labelling some of our (Muslim) practices here like visiting and reciting a doa (prayer) at the grave of a loved one, tahlil, zikir, reading the yasin on Friday, celebrating the Holy Prophet’s birthday (Maulidur Rasul), as deviant practices and syirik (the sin of worshipping something other than Allah),” he said.
He said some IS supporters arrested described the ulamak in the country as ‘ulamak syaitan’ (satanic ulamak) and viewed their practices like the zikir, tahlil, Maulidur Rasul etc as bid’ah (a departure from Islam because the Holy Prophet did not do that during his time).
SAC Ayob Khan said this thinking is dangerous because people would then have no qualms slaughtering other Muslims, as they would deem the act as protecting the “purity” of their faith.
He said many join IS because they think it is a shortcut to heaven.
“They have committed lots of sins like having sex out of wedlock, stealing, drinking alcohol and they believe all these sins will be wiped clean if they mati syahid (die as a martyr),” he said.
So for these people, he said if they kill themselves through suicide bombing or get killed, they think they become martyrs.
And if they murder people, for them, it is jihad to defend the religion.
“These are the facts. The root cause is ideology.
“The police can only catch militants and terrorists. But unless we tackle the root cause, the threat and violence will never end,” he said.
SAC Ayob Khan said countries like Egypt and Jordan have already banned Ibn Tamiyyah’s books, because these are being used by IS and extremists to fuel violence and commit heinous violence.
He pointed out that Malaysian militants had brought children over to Syria and Iraq to train in the IS training camps and these young ones were being indoctrinated with extremist thinking at such an early age.
“We would be the first ones they would slaughter once they return,” he said.
SAC Ayob Khan said the work of the police is only to catch those who fall on the wrong side of the law.
“We are not the authority on religion. We leave it to the Islamic departments to monitor what is happening and tackle the issue of ideology and to stop the manipulation of religion,” he said.
SAC Ayob Khan pointed out that the National Fatwa Council and Jakim had made it clear that it is the Shafie school of Islam that is practised in the country and there should be no attempt to bring in any strain of thinking, alien to Malaysia.
(Shafie is one of four schools of thought among Sunni Muslims. The other three are Hanbali, Hanafi and Maliki.)
He said nine attempted IS-inspired attacks in Malaysia had been thwarted, while one (Movida) succeeded.
“The police are doing all we can to keep the country safe,” he added.
He warned people from bringing in extremist thinking which could divide Muslims in the country and cause tensions which lead to violence.
“We follow the Shafie mazhab. And we should stick to that. And don’t bring in the conflict of different schools of thought like what we see happening in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan where there are bombings every day.
“The Sunni go to pray and the Syiah bomb that mosque. And when the Syiah are praying, the Salafist explode a bomb at their mosque... it is tit for tat and it will never end. Don’t ever bring this into Malaysia.
“And stop the labelling. Don’t label other Muslims as deviants or apostates,” he said.
Next Sunday: Wahhabi, Salafist and the battle of ideology & Deputy Minister Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki speaks on extremism.
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