KUALA LUMPUR, October 26 — Events like the “I Want To Touch A Dog” programme has no real benefit and only serves to encourage Muslims in Malaysia to challenge and question the credibility of religious authorities, the head of the country’s federal religious authority has said.
Datuk Othman Mustapha, who is director-general of the federal Islamic Development Department (Jakim), said that the campaign organised by budding Muslim activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi would also cause a widening rift between Muslims.
“Their ‘success’ has only been to pit Muslims against one another and to encourage people to question the credibility of the religious authorities tasked with managing Muslims in this country,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with Mingguan Malaysia, the Sunday edition of Malay broadsheet Utusan Malaysia.
Othman argued that there was no need for such an event to be promoted as Malaysians already knew and understood the position of dogs in Islam.
“Will this understanding not lead to a more terrible consequence where they (Muslims) will keep dogs in their house and in the end expose themselves to the dog’s excrement and saliva, which will affect them because it will be exposed to their utensils, clothes and appliances?” the Jakim official asked.
In the same interview, Othman also classified secularism and liberalism as “threats” because some Muslims here were supporting and propagating such ideas.
“Their confusion is caused by their misunderstanding about important concepts in Islam,” he claimed.
Meanwhile, Berita Harian reported Kelantan mufti Datuk Mohamad Shukri Mohamad commenting on the same issue, saying that Syed Azmi’s event is a part of a strategy to divide Muslims.
“There is of course a meaning behind this, besides the fact that enemies of Islam are taking advantage of those who little knowledge of their faith who attended the event,” he was quoted as saying.
Yesterday, Syed Azmi apologised for any discomfort sparked by his event last week that allowed some Muslims to touch dogs for the first time, insisting that he did not have any intention to make Muslims stray from their faith.
Speaking to the media for the first time since being reportedly bombarded by intense criticism and even death threats, Syed Azmi maintained that the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event was merely aimed at helping society overcome their fear towards dogs.
Syed Azmi explained that the event was also meant to show the public how to help dogs in suffering, and teach them the religious rules and limits of Muslim interaction with the creatures.
He stressed that the event was not meant to encourage Muslims to rear dogs as pets.
Syed Azmi said he had also hoped to help the public learn to respect dogs as one of God’s creations, noting that the creatures are often maligned and abused.
Syed Azmi clarified that the organisers had met religious authorities prior to the event and were given guidelines on the Islamic way to handle dogs by the Selangor Mufti Department.
The event was approved by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais), which later claimed that the event had deviated from its original intentions — where some participants had purportedly hugged and kissed the dogs.
But Syed Azmi also acknowledged the weaknesses of the event as he thanked the public for their feedback and comments.
The “I Want to Touch a Dog” event at the Central Park in Bandar Utama, Selangor last Sunday drew nearly 200 volunteers and dog owners and gave Malay-Muslims the opportunity to pet canines, an animal that many in the community regard as culturally taboo.
According to organisers, they had only prepared 500 flyers on the correct Islamic teachings on handling dogs, as they had not expected the crowd to balloon to the size of 1000 persons.
The Selangor chapter of right-wing group Perkasa also lamented the ease with which “gullible” Malay Muslims joined the event, arguing that there may have been a hidden agenda to persuade Muslims to commit acts prohibited by the faith.