PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - The man behind "I Want to Touch a Dog" finally broke his silence after a public backlash over the event, saying he was sorry for the furore caused.
Social activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi, 30, who read from a prepared text at a packed press conference yesterday, admitted that there were weaknesses in the programme that was held last Sunday.
He apologised for the trouble and insensitivities that the event had caused.
However, he said it was never meant to encourage people, particularly Muslims, to adopt dogs as pets but merely to give them an idea on how to help dogs if they were in a difficult situation.
"During the event, the participants were also given a detailed explanation on how to handle dogs. Sertu (the Islamic way of purifying after being in contact with dogs) was also taught to the participants," he said.
The programme was meant to be educational and not to promote liberalism as alleged by certain quarters, he said.
He stressed that the Selangor Mufti Department had given guidelines to the event organiser on how to handle the canines.
Syed Azmi left after reading the statement without taking any questions.
His lawyer Syahredzan Johan and co-organiser Norhayati Ismail, who were present at the media conference, explained that Syed Azmi had been concerned about his personal safety.
"We apologise for that. He had received death threats," Syahredzan said.
At one point, Syed Azmi had received 2,000 messages on WhatsApp, as well as threats through phone calls and social media.
"Some have threatened to break his bones and others said they would kill him if they see him on the street," he said, adding that they lodged reports with the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission on Oct 22.
Norhayati denied that the participants were encouraged to touch the dogs for fun but admitted they could not control the participants' behaviour during the event.
"We had even told them that in our mazhab shafie (school of thought), it was haram (forbidden) for Muslims to simply touch dogs," she said.
She said as an organiser, the event had followed the guidelines provided by the Selangor Mufti Department and this was detailed in the fliers distributed to the participants.