Johor resort's surau may face demolition for hosting Buddhist worship

A view of one building in Tanjung Sutera Resort. — Picture courtesy of tripadvisor
A view of one building in Tanjung Sutera Resort. — Picture courtesy of tripadvisor

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 13 — The Johor religious authorities may decide to demolish Tanjung Sutera Resort's surau as it had been used by non-Muslims to host their religious activities, a state Islamic leader said today.

Citing the Quran, Johor Islamic Religious Council (MAINJ) advisor Datuk Nooh Gadut explained that if such a sacred place had knowingly been used for activities outside the Islamic faith, it should be taken down.

“The most sacred places on Earth are mosques and surau. Accordingly, they  are not allowed to be used to carry out religious activities other than for Islam and if a surau is found to have hosted other religious activities, it can be demolished based on surah At-Taubah verse 107 (in the Quran),” he was quoted saying on Bernama Online.

Nooh added, however, that the demolition could not be ordered immediately as the surau in question is still considered evidence in the ongoing probe on allegations that Buddhist tourists used the venue for their worship.

According to Bernama, the RM60,000 surau is now being guarded by the police and the People's Volunteers Corps (Rela).

The national news agency also reported Nooh as saying that his team will take over the probe from the cops once they have completed their investigations, in keeping with procedures under section 7A of Johor's Syariah Criminal Enactment 1997.

The Johor Fatwa Committee is expected to meet next week to deliberate the case and will likely issue its decision within a month, Bernama wrote.

The Johor Sultan has also reportedly waded into the controversy and has ordered a full probe on the incident.

Earlier today, a group representing Malaysian Buddhists apologised for the incident, which has irked followers of Islam, the country's dominant religion.

In a brief statement by the Buddhist Maha Vihara, Chief High Priest of Malaysia Datuk K. Srï Dhammaratana expressed his group’s regret while urging followers of the religion to be mindful of others in their worship.

“We would like to apologise to our Muslim brothers and sisters for the actions of a certain Buddhist group from Singapore in having their meditation session at the surau of a resort in Kota Tinggi.

“I advise Buddhists in Malaysia and Singapore to respect the religious sensitivities of other religionists while carrying out our own religious obligations and responsibilities,” Dhammaratana said today.

Yesterday, media reports surfaced of a video uploaded to YouTube last week allegedly showing a surau in the Johor resort being used by Buddhist tourists for prayers.

This later led to the arrest and remand of the resort manager under section 295 of the Penal Code, which comes under the heading of “injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class”.

The 85-second-long video titled “Surau dijadikan tokong???” (A surau turned into a temple?) begins with an external shot of a small building and a close-up of what appears to be a sign in Arabic script over a doorway.

The video’s maker then approaches the building to record what appears to be a prayer session by a dozen white-clad people led by a monk in red and saffron.

Yesterday, Berita Harian reported the resort owner as saying he did not expect the offer to lead to the controversy now.

“I do not think the action of giving permission to believers of other religions to use the surau is wrong. This is because they only wanted to use the surau for meditation.

“I have no intention of hurting anyone’s feelings. My intention is to show that Islam is universal and tolerant,” said the Singapore-born Muslim.