On YouTube, yet another religious row stirs

(MM) – Malaysians are again picking up their well-worn pitchforks after a video surfaced on YouTube yesterday allegedly showing a Muslim prayer room in Johor being used by Buddhist tourists for worship.

The 85-second-long video titled “Surau dijadikan tokong???” (A surau turned into a temple?) begins with an external shot of a small building and a close-up of what appears to be a sign in Arabic script over a doorway.

The video’s maker then approaches the building to record what appears to be a prayer session by a dozen white-clad people led by a monk in red and saffron. At the front of the room, the video briefly displays a Buddhist poster below a plaque with Arabic script.

According to reports by several local dailies today, the surau (prayer room) is located within the grounds of Tanjung Sutera Resort, but the resort’s manager has clarified that the tourists were allowed to use the Muslim prayer hall as the other locations were unavailable due to over-booking.

Still, the angry responses are pouring in.

Johor Islamic Religious Council (MAIJ) adviser Datuk Noh Gadut said the group of tourists should be banned from Malaysia, accusing them of violating the sanctity of a Muslim place of worship.

“We should be stricter by using existing laws including blacklisting that group from re-entering the country.

“That incident should not have happened. They have to understand Malaysia’s laws because that action does not only mengguris perasaan (hurtful), but also insults Islam,” he was quoted as saying by Berita Harian.

The Johor Religious Department will also probe the incident before action is taken, the Malay-language daily reported.

Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria also weighed in, saying that the resort management was at fault for allowing the incident to happen.

But Tanjung Sutera Resort manager Syed Ahmed Alkaff explained that permission was given to the tourists as the resort had no knowledge that they would be using it for worship.

“We gave them permission to use the surau because the other halls were already full.

“They told us only for meditation, not worship,” he was quoted as saying by Malay-language daily Kosmo.

Berita Harian also reported the resort manager 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 with permanent resident status in Malaysia.

Kota Tinggi district police chief Supt Mohd Nor Rasid confirmed that the police will investigate reports lodged over the matter.

The incident is the latest case of local Muslim outrage over what the group perceives to be insults to Islam.

Last month, bloggers Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee were charged with sedition, among others, after they posted a photograph of themselves eating “bak kut teh” (a pork broth), together with a Ramadan greeting on Facebook.

Days after that, a Muslim dog trainer, Maznah Mohd Yusof, was also arrested and probed under the Sedition Act over a video she made three years ago in which she is featured celebrating Aidilfitri with her three pet dogs.