Saturday 10 November 2012

PAS shields Nurul Izzah from religious freedom storm


KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 10 — PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat has defended PKR ally Nurul Izzah Anwar as she continues to be bombarded over her remarks that Muslim conservatives and Umno hardliners claim to be degrading to Islam and support apostasy.

The influential Islamic scholar has thrown his support behind the PKR vice-president saying her remarks have been played up simply because she is part of the opposition.

“To me, in this issue Izzah is unfortunate because she is the opposition, when she does something small even if her words can be confusing but it is played up,” he was reported saying today by Malay daily Sinar Harian Online.

“Izzah is different from the newspaper... what Izzah said, must it be the same as what the newspaper published? Because that is the first time I have seen such a thing published in the paper and I feel it is not her.”

The Kelantan mentri besar said he was briefed on the situation by PAS National Unity Bureau chairman, Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa who was at the same religious forum as Nurul Izzah, titled “Islamic State: Which version? Whose responsibility?” in Subang Jaya last week.

Nik Abdul Aziz  (picture) is the latest and most senior leader in the Islamist party to weigh in support of the Lembah Pantai MP who has been on the firing end of a fusillade by religious conservatives and Umno hawks over the debate on religious freedom in the run-up to the 13th general elections.

PAS central committee member Dzulkefly Ahmad has offered to seek an audience with the Sultan of Selangor and clarify the first-term PKR lawmaker’s statement, which he said had been distorted in media reports.

“I am confident the Sultan did not get Nurul’s real statement... if not I can face him to tell him.

“I am quite close to the Sultan... I can carry the real statement to the Sultan,” the Kuala Selangor MP told reporters in Parliament earlier this week.

Dzulkefly’s PAS colleague also lent her support to Nurul Izzah, and returned fire at their political foes for mounting premature attacks against the young lawmaker before getting a full account of her side of the controversy.

“This issue has been politicised and was deliberately enlarged,” said Kota Raja MP, Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud.

Nurul Izzah’s remarks at a forum last week drew widespread backlash among conservative Muslim groups and Umno hardliners, who accused the opposition rising star of supporting apostasy.

Umno’s secretary-general Datuk Tengku Adnan Mansor has also criticised the opposition’s rising star in an interview with Malay daily Utusan Malaysia published today, saying, “what’s the difference between choosing religion and changing religion? To me, it is the same but this is what she had applied and I am confident that in the end Malaysians will realise this.”

The veteran politician’s comment backing the conservatives is likely to stir up religious debate and could drive a bigger wedge within the Malay-Muslim community, who form some 60 per cent of the country’s 28 million population and whose vote is crucial to form the next government at the 13th general election due soon.

Umno, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition’s mainstay, has some three million members but the Malay-Muslim vote is split three ways with the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) pact’s Islamist party PAS and its urban-based reform ally, PKR, drawing increasingly greater support.

Race and religious issues are inseparable in Malaysia, where the Malays are constitutionally defined to also be Muslims.

The country’s supreme law states that Islam is the religion of the federation but also provides for other religions to be practised freely.

Nurul Izzah has denied supporting apostasy and accused Utusan Malaysia and its other pro-BN Malay newspaper Berita Harian of allegedly twisting her statement.

An Umno deputy minister has also said the first-term lawmaker for Lembah Pantai could be prosecuted for her remarks purportedly insulting Islam.

“There are no such provisions for now, but it can be included under provisions on insulting Islam or causing Islam to be insulted,” Datuk Dr Mashitah Ibrahim, deputy minister in charge of Islamic affairs, told Parliament last week.

“Anyone who orally or in written form mocks or causes Islam to be degraded, can be imposed with a penalty of not more than RM3,000 or jail of not more than two years, or both.”

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