KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 27 — On Saturday, a group of volunteers gave out doughnuts from a truck parked below the Bukit Bintang monorail station here, putting smiles on the faces of hundreds of city-dwellers.
But not everyone was smiling. On Monday, the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) asked the public for more information regarding the event, following complaints that the group was proselytising Shiah teachings.
The absurdity of the situation was not lost on Natasha, a 30-year-old local entrepreneur who led the event and had paid for the Krispy Kreme doughnuts out of her own pocket. (She declined to give her patronym due to the sensitivity of the matter).
“They had never preached anything about Shiah!” Natasha told Malay Mail over the phone.
“All of our volunteers in this particular chapter are Sunnis. We don’t have Shiahs in this chapter, but we do have Christians and Buddhists.”
Natasha is the pro-tem country representative for the newly-formed Malaysian chapter of Who is Hussain, a United Kingdom-based global charity movement with 70 representatives in 26 different countries.
On its website, the group said it has organised over 200 charity events, over 2,000 blood donation drives, fed over 200,000 people, and raised £65,000 in funds since its formation in 2012.
“‘Who is Hussain’ empowers communities around the world to organise charitable events for the common good. We aim to inspire individuals through the timeless example of Hussain ibn Ali, and the universal values he stood for; those of justice, compassion and dignity,” the international group said in a statement to Malay Mail.
It may be this connection to Hussain that worried religious authorities here so much, where only the Sunni denomination is considered official, and within it, only the Shafie school of jurisprudence.
Hussain (also spelled Husayn or Hussein), was a grandson of the revered Prophet Muhammad — the son of his youngest daughter Fatimah and his cousin Ali ibn Abu Talib.
Hussain had refused to pledge allegiance to the Umayyad caliph, Yazid, for his unjustness and he was later assassinated by the latter’s army along with most of his family and companions. He was 55.
His death — or according to Shiahs, martyrdom — solidified the schism between Sunnis and Shiahs, with the former believing Muhammad did not appoint a successor, while the latter believing Ali was the one.
“Whether you're Sunni, Shiah, Ahmadi, or even Salafi, you have to love him. To say that he belongs only to the Shiahs, that is absurd,” Natasha said, referring to the Prophet’s grandson.
Among those who had accused the group of promoting Shiah teachings was convert group Multiracial Reverted Muslims’ (MRM) founder Firdaus Wong Wai Hung, who made the allegation in a Facebook post on Saturday.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Who is Hussain had held its event at the same spot usually frequented by the group’s Street Dakwah volunteers during its evangelical missions. In his post, Firdaus had complained that they had set up camp earlier at the spot before MRM volunteers could.
Who is Hussain has since lodged a police report against Firdaus yesterday, accusing him of slander. According to the police report sighted by Malay Mail, the group said it has become victims of cyberbullying, receiving threats and intimidation following Firdaus’ allegation.
Malay Mail is trying to reach Firdaus and MRM for comment.
Some have also accused the group of giving out free doughnuts to celebrate the Day of Ashura which commemorates Husain’s death. In Malaysia, Malays usually commemorate the day by making a special porridge, whose recipes and looks differ by states.
“We always have an event during [the Muslim month of] Muharram, to remind people what had happened to Hussain and what he stands for. We're not mourning,” Natasha said.
She was referring to part of Shiah customs which include mourning and lamenting the martyrdom. In the most extreme cases, some Shiahs would flagellate themselves.
“Besides, the 22nd was not even Ashura in the first place,” she added. Saturday fell on the 12th of Muharram, two days after the Day of Ashura.
When accusing Who is Hussain of being pro-Shiah, Jawi director-general Mohd Ajib Ismail had invoked a fatwa under the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993, saying any other Islamic teachings than Sunni are “deviant” and spreading them is prohibited.
A representative of the global group clarified to Malay Mail that Who is Hussain is “not about converting people, but merely inspiring them to do more to effect positive change”.
“Hussain teaches us that the best act is to be charitable, without expecting anything in return. What matters therefore is that our activities bring people together and are based on universal and humanitarian values to make a difference in communities.
“The team in Malaysia carried out a sweet and simple gesture: to hand out doughnuts to members of the public as an act of kindness,” the spokesman said.
Expressing disappointment over the response by Malaysian authorities, the spokesman said government ministers across the world have attended its events and commended its work.
“The work of Who is Hussain is too important to be politicised, and Hussain as a personality has been lauded by leaders of all faiths and none,” it added.