Following the detainment of 200 Shi‘a Muslims at the end of December 2010 in Malaysia, the Centre for Islamic Shi‘a Studies condemns this action by the Malaysian authorities.
Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, every Muharram (the first month in the Islamic calendar). This is a known fact and staple religious practice not just amongst Shi‘a Muslims but the wider Muslim community as well.
However, it was reported on Monday 21st December, which was also the month of Muharram, that Malaysian officials raided a house in the Gombak district in central Selangor state last week and arrested many Shi‘as of all backgrounds. It was the largest swoop of “outlawed” groups in recent months, the department director, Muhammad Khusrin Munawi, told state media. Government authorities in Malaysia consider only the Sunni school of thought.
Shi‘a community leader Kamil Zuhairi Abdul Aziz has submitted a protest letter to the national human rights commission (Suhakam) after the raid by state religious officers. He said, “The officers broke into and damaged our prayer hall which is private property and where we were having special prayers for the Prophet’s grandchildren.” He added, “If other communities like Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs and others have their right to worship and practise under the constitution then why not us? We were condemned, criticised, slandered and threatened in local media just because we practise what had been preached by our ancestors who were Shi‘ites and have lived in Malaysia for centuries.”
Estimates are that about 40,000 Shi‘a Muslims in Malaysia but most practised their faith behind closed doors for fear of being stigmatised and targeted by the authorities.
The Centre for Islamic Shi‘a studies strongly advises Malaysian authorities to reconsider their stance, especially because it breaches the right to religious practice and conscience, a principle enshrined in international law and human rights legislation. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly provides for freedom of religious practice in Article 18 and elsewhere. As such, we urge the Malaysian government to respect all minority rights and the freedom to worship, regardless of religious denomination.