Muslims can’t leave Islam: Dr Mahathir

Clara Chooi, The Malaysian Insider

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad joined Muslim conservatives today in dismissing the view that there is no compulsion in Islam, telling those professing the faith not to get too “carried away by western ideals”.

“We are Muslims. We do not change our religion,” the influential former prime minister told a press conference this afternoon.

“Others … their beliefs perhaps permit them (to convert). We should not be too taken by western thoughts.”

Dr Mahathir said that such freedom, if allowed, could lead to racially-charged arguments, even among those in the same religion.

“If we’re free to do this and that, in the end, we start to produce films that ridicule other religions and then we fight among us.

“So do not be too carried away by western ideals. A man can marry a man, a woman can marry a woman… and the family is destroyed,” he said.

Dr Mahathir was asked to wade into the controversy surrounding remarks made by PKR’s Lembah Pantai MP, Nurul Izzah Anwar, who recently expressed her support for freedom of religion for all Malaysians, including Malays, in a forum last Saturday.

Her remarks drew widespread backlash among conservative Muslim groups and Umno hardliners, who accused the PKR vice president of supporting “apostasy”.

But Nurul Izzah has denied this and yesterday said she would take legal action against Umno-owned dailies Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian for allegedly twisting her statement.

The PKR leader has, however, found support from popular Islamic scholar Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, who said in an article in Sinar Harian today that there is no compulsion in Islam.

“After hearing her explanation, I understand what she meant. The ‘no compulsion’ is from the aspect of practice in the religion of Islam.

“If truly there were compulsion, this country’s government would certainly take action against a Muslim individual, for example a Muslim woman who does not wear the tudung (headscarf),” he told the Malay daily.

The Univesiti Sains Malaysia (USM) lecturer told the newspaper he had written an article two years ago titled “Iman Tidak Boleh Dipaksa (Faith Cannot be Forced)”, and added that the content was “the same” as what Nurul Izzah had stated.

“Malays cannot be forced and [they] believe voluntarily. But, through preaching, a person can be brought back to the faith,” he was quoted as saying.

Race and religion issues are inseparable in Malaysia, where the Malays — who make up 60 per cent of the 28 million population — are constitutionally defined to also be Muslims.

The country’s supreme law states that Islam is the religion of the federation but also provides for other religions to be practised freely.

In Parliament today, a deputy minister Datuk Dr Mashitah Ibrahim said legal action may be taken against Nurul Izzah for purportedly insulting Islam.

“There are no such provisions for now, but it can be included under provisions on insulting Islam or causing Islam to be insulted.

“Anyone who orally or in written form mocks or causes Islam to be degraded, can be imposed with a penalty of not more than RM3,000 or jail of not more than two years, or both,” the deputy minister in charge of Islamic affairs said.