S'porean remanded for letting Buddhists use Muslims' prayer hall

MALAYSIA - The Singaporean who allowed Buddhist tourists to use a Muslim prayer hall in his Johor resort was remanded on Tuesday until Friday.

Resort owner Syed Ahmad Alkaff is the latest to land in trouble for allegedly insulting Islam, after he let the tourists from Singapore use a surau in the Tanjung Sutera resort in Sedili Besar cape, an hour's drive from Johor Baru.

The 45-year-old is expected to be charged in civil court for actions insulting to a religion, and faces up to two years' jail and a fine if convicted.

The controversy erupted last Saturday after an 85-second video was posted on YouTube showing 14 people kneeling and chanting in the surau before a Buddhist painting.

The undated clip, superimposed with the text "Surau tainted by polytheism", has drawn more than 83,000 views and nearly 800 comments, most of them angry.

Local media quoted Johor police chief Mohd Mokhtar Mohd Shariff as saying that a special team is investigating the matter.

It is the latest religious controversy to flare up in Malaysia in recent months.

On July 31, Muslim dog trainer Maznah Muhammad Yusof was arrested over a video of her washing and feeding her dogs in a Hari Raya greeting, which the authorities deemed blasphemous.

In the same month, sex bloggers Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee were also arrested for posting a Ramadan greeting with a picture of them eating pork, which is forbidden in Islam.

Johor Mentri Besar Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin led at least six Muslim groups in saying that those involved in the latest incident were "insensitive" and "action should be taken against the resort", reported The Star.

The Chief High Priest of Malaysian Buddhists, Datuk K. Sri Dhammaratana, has apologised on behalf of the group who used the surau and called on Buddhists to be more mindful of religious sensitivities.

"We would like to apologise to our Muslim brothers and sisters for the actions of a certain Buddhist group from Singapore in having their meditation session at the surau of a resort in Kota Tinggi," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

Mr Syed Ahmad had said earlier that he had let the group use the surau for meditation, not prayers, as other halls were unavailable.

"I have no intention of hurting anyone's feelings. My intention is to show that Islam is universal and tolerant," he had told Malaysia's Berita Harian daily.

Some observers believe the authorities are going too far.

"If you want to show your religion is an understanding and tolerant one, you need to educate people, not punish them," said Universiti Malaysia Sabah social scientist Mohd Hamdan Adnan.

Mr Jagir Singh, head of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism, urged restraint. "We should not sensationalise the issue but deal with it in a sober way, in a sense of good will," he told The Straits Times.


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