Johor Sultan orders full probe into use of surau by Buddhists

Alya Ilhami Ahmad Iran, 17 months, looks on as she joins her family to perform Eid al-Fitr prayers at a mosque in Kota Baru on August 8, 2013. — Reuters pic
Alya Ilhami Ahmad Iran, 17 months, looks on as she joins her family to perform Eid al-Fitr prayers at a mosque in Kota Baru on August 8, 2013. — Reuters pic

PETALING JAYA, Aug 14 — The Sultan of Johor has instructed the state’s religious authorities to carry out an in-depth probe into the alleged use of a Muslim prayer room there by Buddhists last week, Sinar Harian reported on its website today.

The newspaper reported that Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar made the order yesterday following a meeting with Johor Islamic Religious Council (MAIJ).

“In this matter, His Majesty is aware and concerned and ordered that the relevant authorities carry out a comprehensive investigation accurately based on facts,” MAIJ advisor Datuk Nooh Gadut said after meeting that was also attended by council chairman Abdul Mutalib Abdul Rahim.

“The MAIJ enforcement will act according to Islamic enactments, and other agencies will inspect any breaches that have happened, including the police, so that this matter would be investigated according to existing laws,” Nooh added.

The state ruler has also ordered a circular to ensure that Muslim prayer places in hotels are built according to the correct process.

“His Majesty ordered the Johor Islamic Religious Department to issue a circular to all district kadis (Islamic judges) so that all hotel and resort operators will comply with the procedure to build surau and mosques.

“A circular will be issued in the shortest time and I don’t deny that we have overlooked in this matter because the number of resorts are too many,” Nooh was quoted saying.

On Monday, Bernama reported Johor Mufti Datuk Mohd Tahrir Samsudin as saying that the surau was not built in the right direction.

“Based on monitoring and surveying of the surau, we find there is doubt in terms of its design. It does not face the Kaabah (in Mecca, as required) but faces outside of Masjidil Haram,” he was quoted saying.

Mohd Tahrir had made that comment when visiting the surau and said the state fatwa committee will probe the matter under section 7 (a) of the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment 1997 for “insulting Islam or causing Islam to be looked down upon”.

The prayer room in the resort became the centre of a controversy on Monday after an online video showing its use by Buddhist worshippers made headlines.

The resort owner was arrested the same day after police reports were lodged over the incident that purportedly happened in the surau within the resort’s grounds last week. He was later remanded until Friday for police investigations.

The 45-year-old man with a permanent resident status in Malaysia is being probed 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”.

In a Monday report, Berita Harian quoted 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.

Yesterday, the Buddhist Maha Vihara — a group representing Malaysian Buddhists — apologised over the prayer session in the surau.

In a brief statement, 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.

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