Isma chief calls Perlis Mufti’s zakat move ‘cheap publicity’

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid
Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, March 11 — The leader of a conservative Islamist group has branded Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin’s move to give zakat (alms) to non-Muslims in Perlis as “cheap publicity”.

Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) president Abdullah Zaik Abd Rahman said the announcement by the Perlis mufti was “a non-issue”, pointing out that the distribution of zakat funds to people showing interest in Islam was public knowledge.

“The laws Islam permits it… the zakat authorities may use their wisdom on how to do it.

“If it is helps draw the non-Muslims closer to Islam then they are encouraged to do so,” he told Malay Mail Online.

“But this is a non-issue and it shouldn’t be used to get cheap publicity,” he added.

Yesterday, Asri posted pictures of a letter indicating the Perlis Fatwa Council’s decision to allow the state’s Islamic Department (MAIPs) to disburse zakat money to non-Muslims for the purpose of “harmonising” their perception towards Islam.

Abdullah Zaik called Asri’s action as “unnecessary”.

“You should be doing it because of Allah,” he said.

He also chided MAIPs and said the agency’s job was to focus on executing policies beneficial to Islam, “and not look for cheap publicity”.

Isma deputy president Aminuddin Yahaya, on the other hand, said while the policy may be in line with Islamic teachings, priority for zakat distribution should still be given to poor Muslims.

“Conceptually there is no problem with it so as long as they have intentions to embrace Islam,” he said.

“But the reality is there are still plenty of poor and impoverished Muslims that that need help. Priority should be given to the poor,” he added.

Initially, the media reported that the Perlis Fatwa Council had approved for MAIPs to begin disbursing zakat money to the poor minorities in the state.

However, Asri later clarified that the new fatwa will not only cover the poor but to anyone for the “purpose of harmonising their perception towards Islam”.

The money, he explained, will be given to any individual in cases where MAIPs deemed it possible to bring them closer to Islam.

Groups such as Malaysian Consultative Council of Islam Organisations (Mapim) praised the decision, but said they would leave it to the religious bodies to decide if the practice should be restored.

“From my understanding this was already practiced by the Prophet. It was intended to soften the heart of its enemies and make them view Islam without prejudice and make them understand Islam better.

“But on efforts to revive this practice I leave it to the wisdom of the religious authorities,” said Zaid Kamaruddin, deputy president of Muslim non-governmental organisation Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia (Ikram).

The public initially responded to the media reports on Asri’s announcement positively.

But many later criticised the policy as a covert attempt to convert non-Muslims.