Umno 'painting itself as defender of Islam'

Umno 'painting itself as defender of Islam'

Malaysia's two biggest political parties are crossing swords over the divisive issue of Sunni versus Shi'ite Islam as they ratchet up a decades-long rivalry to be the party that better represents the Malay-Muslim majority.

The issue became a highlight at the just-ended annual assembly of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) when a vice-president, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, accused the deputy president of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) of secretly being a Shi'ite, a sensational claim on live TV in staunchly Sunni Malaysia.

"Don't try to hide any more," said Datuk Seri Zahid, even as he called on PAS to support Umno in making Malaysia a Sunni country.

It didn't end there. On Thursday, the Home Ministry's secretary-general, Datuk Seri Abdul Rahim Mohamad Radzi, called a news conference to issue 10 points that he claimed proved that PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu is a follower of Shi'ism.

Among other things, he said, Mr Mohamad had attended religious classes taught by two Shi'ite leaders in Perak and that he visited a Shi'ite mosque in southern Thailand.

Mr Mohamad has denied he is Shi'ite and said he may sue Mr Zahid.

The outcome of the Sunni-Shi'ite fight could determine whether Umno retains its grip on the Malay vote or whether Malays continue to drift to the three-party opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance to which PAS belongs.

Umno is Malaysia's biggest political organisation with 3.4 million members, while PAS is the second biggest with one million members.

Malaysia's Islamic authorities ban the preaching of Shi'ism to local Muslims, calling it a deviation from the Sunni school, followed by the majority. Some clerics here deem anyone who does not follow the Sunni school as being astray.

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