A meaningful gathering for some

They wanted a million to turn up at the Himpun rally but in the end the 70,000 capacity Stadium Shah Alam was less than a quarter full.

In the end, the only “big shot” from Umno who showed up was former Perlis Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim and Selangor PAS exco Datuk Hassan Ali, who was one of the speakers at the rally anyway. Others like Pasir Mas MP and Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali were spotted. Unlike his usual flamboyant self, he left discreetly without fanfare.


BUSINESS student Raihana Samian took a bus at 10pm from Politeknik Kota Baru to come down to Shah Alam for the Himpun rally.

Hers was one of three busloads of students from the polytechnic that came to rally against apostasy.

“I am a moderate Muslim. I pray five times a day, I fast and try to live my life as a good Muslim,” said Raihana.

Small but strong: A segment of the crowd attending the Himpun gathering at Stadium Shah Alam. — AZMAN GHANI / The Star

“I was attracted to come here because of the title of the rally: ‘Himpunan Sejuta Umat: Selamatkan Aqidah (The Gathering of a Million Muslims: Save our Faith)’.”

She said their student union representatives gave out pamphlets about the rally and also organised the trip.

“But I am not sure if I support the rally or not. I want to see what the speakers say first because religion can be politicised and it shouldn’t be,” said the 18-year-old when met a couple of hours before the rally.

Raihana and the other students from her polytechnic arrived in Shah Alam at 6.30am and were hanging around the stadium grounds and the shopping complex nearby to pass the time before the rally started.

Nawal Atikah Mohamad Ishak and Saiyidah Mohd Sanat, however, fully supported the rally and its cause.

They also boarded an overnight bus from their university to attend.

“I am so excited. This is the first time I am attending such a gathering. I don’t need to wait and see as I support the message Himpun is conveying because there is clearly an attempt by Christians to draw Muslims towards their faith.

“This is not done blatantly but through a subtle and soft approach where they make Christianity attractive and appealing to the Muslims without the Muslims themselves realising it,” said Nawal Atikah, a third-year student in communications engineering at Universiti Malaysia Perlis.

At university, she shares a house with two Chinese non-Muslim students.

“We get along well and respect each other. We are not allowed to cook in the house so there is no problem with meals.

“I am not sure what their religion is but if they are Christians and put up a cross in their room by their bed, I wouldn’t have a problem with that because it’s their personal right and space as long as they don’t impinge on my right to practise my faith.”

Her coursemate Saiyidah said Islam should not just be lip service.

“I feel our rights should not be sidelined. Right now, the voices speaking out on Islam are coming from those only in power. Those without power seem to have no voice. I want someone to speak for us all.”

Islam is not about women staying in the kitchen or in the background, said Saiyidah.

She feels that if true Islam was practised, then Muslim women would not face problems with regards to divorce or getting maintenance for their child from the father because all Muslims, men included, would behave in a just and fair manner and bear their responsibility.

“I came because I am looking for answers and I hope I will find some here today,” she said.

The Himpun rally was organised by a group of Muslim NGOs in response to claims that the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) had tried to proselytise Muslims by inviting them to a Thanksgiving dinner on Aug 3.

Officials from the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) raided the church while the dinner was going on, took down the names of the Muslims there and made them go for religious counselling.

At all times these Muslims denied that the church was preaching or trying to convert them. The church too denied it was doing such a thing.

When Jais came out with its report on the raid, the ruler of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, said there was evidence of proselytisation by non-Muslims at the DUMC function but that it was insufficient for legal action.

The Himpun rally was organised by Muslim NGOs to show their firm stand against apostasy and to put a stop to any attempt to proselytise Muslims.

They wanted a million to turn up and were confident that at least 100,000 would show.

They had a Facebook page and support from the Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia. The newspaper had frontpaged the rally yesterday with the headline “Unite to Defend Islam” and urged Muslims to attend.

In the stadium, supporters put up posters in Malay saying “Do not Jeopardise the Status of Muslims”, “No Compromise in Defending the Faith” and “Say No to Apostasy”, among others.

Expecting a massive crowd, a number of restaurants and enterprising young people took the opportunity to set up stalls selling nasi lemak, nasi ayam, noodles, drinks, burgers, and snacks in the stadium grounds.

But in the end, only about 5,000 people showed up.

The rally was supposed to start at 2pm but it only got under way an hour-and-a-half later when it was evident that the much anticipated crowds were not going to show.

It was declared as apolitical so Malay-based political parties like Umno and PAS said their members could attend in their personal capacity if they wished to so long as they did not wear any party T-shirts or attire that had their party logo, flags, stickers or banners.

In the end, the only “big shot” from Umno who showed up was former Perlis Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim and Selangor PAS exco Datuk Hassan Ali, who was one of the speakers at the rally anyway.

Others like Pasir Mas MP and Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali were spotted. Unlike his usual flamboyant self, he left discreetly without fanfare.

A number of speakers including Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria spoke about the challenges confronting Muslims here, such as apostasy and proselytisation which they say is on the increase.

UiTM’s former vice-chancellor Tan Sri Ibrahim Abu Shah said attempts to proselytise Muslims are being done because the Malays are no longer united even though their religion is being threatened.

A number of speakers also emphasised that the rally is not against non-Muslims or being confrontational towards other races but it is about Muslims coming together to protect their faith.

Himpun also adopted a 10-point declaration.

One of the main points is to demand that the government have firm preventive laws to safeguard the sanctity of Islam and draft a new special law against apostasy and proselytisation.

It said this was needed in view of the government’s efforts to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Even though the rally started late, it ended on time at 6pm.

At the press conference, the Himpun co-chairperson Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid said he saw the rally as a “huge success” because it discussed important matters in a calm, peaceful and disciplined manner.

“We are not doing this with any feeling of animosity. We are not intruding or violating or transgressing the rights of non-Muslims.

“We just want to remind non-Muslims that our rights can’t be violated and have to be respected.”

On the poor turnout, he said, Himpun was not disappointed at the numbers.

“When we say a million, some of the NGOs had vowed that they would come with 100,000 (total).

“They came with this number and we are fine with it. We are not complaining nor are concerned about it because the number may be small but the spirit is the same,” he said.

He added that the declaration would be sent to the Keeper of the Royal Seal and the Malay Rulers.

Himpun would then take their message down to the states and districts.

“Yes, there will be a roadshow. Whether there’s a road or not, the show will be there,” he said.