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Get tough with IS global terrorism; stop extremist labelling; promote debate on kafir harbi at home

Pahang Mufti Abdul Rahman Osman - Graphic: freemalaysiatoday.com

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It is obvious that many Muslim scholars and leaders do not share the Pahang mufti’s views on kafir harbi;  unfortunately, their views are not covered in the mainstream media, observes Francis Loh.

It is extremely sad that a small group of Muslim extremists succeeded in sullying the holy month of Ramadan and the beauty of their religion Islam (which above all preaches peace and submission to Allah) by resorting to terrorist attacks on innocent people, including fellow Muslims.

Rising global terrorism

I refer to:

– the suicide bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia including one just outside the Prophet’s Mosque in the holy city of Medina;

– the suicide bomb attacks on a shopping complex that killed about 300 people in Baghdad and about 30 people in the smaller town of Balad;

– the suicide bombing of the Ataturk airport in Istanbul by three gunmen that killed an estimated 36 innocent travellers and wounded more than 150 others;

– the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka that killed 20 hostages, mostly foreigners, apparently hacked to death, as well as the attack with homemade bombs and guns as some 300,000 people had gathered for Eid prayers at the Sholaka field in Kishoreganj district;

– and the relatively smaller but extremely eerie case of a grenade blast in our own Malaysia, at the Movida nightspot in Puchong.

We can easily recall the incidents in Paris and in the Brussels airport that occurred last year; and the attacks in Sydney late 2014. Except for the Puchong incident, the IS has claimed that its operatives were responsible for all the above terrorist incidents.

Preventing outside IS operatives from launching attacks

Our political leaders, like Muslim political leaders elsewhere, have rightly condemned these attacks, which they have attributed to radical fringe groups of Muslims. Of course, they do not represent Muslims who, we are reminded, desire peace and live peacefully with people of other faiths throughout the world.

In the case of Malaysian leaders, they have also promised that they will increase the vigilance of the security forces. In addition to tightened security at the airports, security will now be improved in Sentral, the transport hub in Kuala Lumpur.

The deputy prime minister has also identified universities as a site where indoctrination into radical Islamism occurs and which the authorities would monitor more closely.

Somehow, the analysis and the measures to be undertaken underscores that the problem of terrorism is being generated from the outside – from Bangladeshi students who come to study in Malaysian universities to on-line radicalisation and recruitment of Malaysians being undertaken from faraway by IS operatives based abroad.

Seldom, ever, is the problem of radicalisation and recruitment associated with more mundane developments taking place at home and by individuals lurking within the country.

But what about curbing internal extremist attitudes?

According to data captured in the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, conducted in Spring 2015, a worrisome 11 per cent of Malaysian Muslim respondents (4 per cent for Indonesians) actually have a positive impression of Isis.

And whereas 53 per cent of Indonesian Muslims express worry about Muslim extremist groups, only 8 per cent of Malaysian Muslims do. Instead, 31 per cent of Malaysian Muslim respondents are more worried about Christian extremists.

This is why the seemingly mundane matter of hosting the controversial Mumbai-based Islamic preacher Dr Zakir Naik requires the serious discernment of our political, security and religious leaders.

Allegedly, the preacher has links to terrorism dating back to 2012 – and was denied entry to Canada and the UK after he reportedly expressed support for al-Qaeda, an allegation he has denied. Now, it emerges from Bangladeshi authorities, that one of the Dhaka attackers had been inspired by the controversial preacher.

Allowing him to go around Malaysia in April 2016 to preach about Islam and comparative religions – which triggered protests by local Hindu groups who claimed that his talks spewed anti-Hindu hatred – is one thing.

But Zakir Naik was awarded the Tokoh Maal Hijrah for his contributions to Islam in 2013. In his most recent trip, reportedly, the prime minister hosted him at breakfast, while the deputy prime minister, after meeting him, proclaimed him as a “very wise man”. Not to be outdone, Pas uploaded a picture of its president, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, embracing him.

Pahang mufti and kafir harbi

Which brings us to the question of the mufti of Pahang and his labelling of the DAP and all non-Muslims who oppose the implementation of hudud laws in Malaysia as kafir harbi.

From the outset, let me declare that I believe Datuk Seri Dr Abdul Rahman Osman, the mufti of Pahang, when he says, “I have friends who are Chinese and Indians. Why would I want to trigger chaos? …I never intended to call on the Muslims to slay the non-Muslims as I was just making a general statement” (The Star, 30 June 2016).

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A few days earlier, he had declared that it is a sin for Muslims to support the DAP, which he labelled as kafir harbi for their opposition to the implementation of hudud in Malaysia.

In fact, he was not the only one condemning the DAP and those Muslims who cooperated with the party. In the aftermath of the twin by-elections in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar, the wrath of Umno was turned against Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad too.

Utusan Malaysia (23 June 2016), the Umno-owned Malay daily, accused the former prime minister of selling his own principles when he should be emphasising Malay unity to uphold the sanctity of Islam (“sanggup gadai prinsip sendiri, perjuangan untuk mertabatkan Islam melalui perpaduan sepatutnya menjadi keutamaan”).

The daily also highlighted Pas spiritual adviser Haron Din’s scathing attack against Mahathir, who was going against Islam because he had befriended the DAP, “a clear enemy of Islam”, and Amanah!

Former Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Mohamed’s criticism of Dr Mahathir for collaborating with the DAP and Amanah, which could lead to “calamities of epic proportions against the Malay race”, was also highlighted.

In like fashion, Umno Youth called upon the government to stop funding the Perdana Leadership Foundation, which the former prime minister headed (which apparently has been done).

Yes, the criticism was directed at the DAP, its new ally Amanah, and Mahathir. But it was the mufti specifically who used the controversial term kafir harbi.

But claiming that his statement does not contradict Islamic teaching, the Pahang mufti refused to retract his statement. In fact he clarified that he was not referring to the DAP alone but to anyone who opposed Islam.

In this regard, the mufti added that he was referring to the DAP’s ideology, not to specific individuals, and in particular the DAP’s opposition to the implementation of hudud law. He argued the proposed hudud implementation had been taken out of context by the DAP, which has been finding fault with it.

The mufti denied that he was calling for hostility between Muslims and non-Muslims. “It is my right to speak about my religion,” he insisted. In fact, he was widening the net of kafir harbi here (TheSun, 27 and 28 June 2016).

Opposing the private member’s bill is not being anti-Islam

There are two considerations at hand.

First, the whole question of the DAP’s alleged anti-Islam stance had arisen once again because of Hadi’s tabling of the private member’s bill. Officially, the bill is not regarded as one ushering in hudud laws and the Islamic state, but simply as one that seeks to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.

Pas leaders and others had been telling the non-Muslims including the DAP to desist from commenting on the matter because “it did not concern non Muslims”.

For the non-Muslims, however, the bill would pave the way for the passing and implementation of hudud laws – which they therefore opposed. This did not imply they were anti-Islam at all.

In fact, it was not only non-Muslims who expressed concern over the proposed bill. Muslims also objected. These included Dr Mahathir who stated unequivocally that he was opposed to what he termed “Pas’ bill”, which he thought, if implemented, would result in inequality before the law, thus rendering it unIslamic.

Dr Mujahid Yusuf Rawa, Parti Amanah Negara vice president and scholar, has also made the important distinction that opposing the private member’s bill was essentially about opposing a bill about the administration of Islamic matters. It was not tantamount to opposing Islam, as Pas and Umno leaders as well as the mufti of Pahang were claiming.

Second, and more seriously, is the almost casual but in fact dangerous and extremist use of the provocative term kafir harbi to refer to non-Muslims in Malaysia, the DAP included.

This term is also used to refer to non-believers who can be slain for being enemies of Islam. Apparently, this is the term that IS and related extremist groups like Boko Haram and al-Qaeda use to refer to its enemies.

It was for this second reason that he was roundly criticised by Muslims and non-Muslims. They fear that his statement, which was “very, very dangerous”, could spark violence, incite religious hatred, and encourage extremism.

As a learned Muslim leader who is in a position to influence a wide group of people, and in the context of increasing global terrorism sponsored by the IS, the learned mufti should have been more circumspect.

Criticism of mufti by other Muslim leaders and scholars

Muslim leaders who have criticised the mufti include:

  • Perlis Mufti Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin,
  • Mujahid,
  • Amanah strategic director Dr Dzulkefy Ahmad,
  • former professor of constitutional law and DAP member Dr Abdul Aziz Bari,
  • chairman of Institut Darul Ehsan Professor Datuk Dr Siddiq Fadzil,
  • PKR Youth religious bureau chief Wan Ji Wan Hussin,
  • Dr Danial Zainal Abidin of Penang Ikram,
  • Ustaz Dr Maszlee Malik of the International Islamic University,
  • Dr Musa Mohd Nordin of the Muslim Professionals Forum,
  • the Group of 25,
  • Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia chief Badrul Hisham Shaharin (popularly known as Chegubard), and
  • former inspector-general of police Musa Hassan.
  • Even Perkasa leader Ibrahim Ali has rebuked the mufti.
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The multiethnic, multireligious coalition Gerakan Bertindak Malaysia also condemned the mufti’s remarks.

Many non-Muslims also criticised the mufti. Dr Hermen Shastri, speaking on behalf of the Council of Churches Malaysia, voiced alarm over the mufti’s remarks which it regarded as ‘seditious’. It urged government leaders to speak out against it.

For DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang, the Pahang mufti’s statement “poses a greater threat” than that of a Malaysian Islamic State militant who recently threatened police personnel in Bukit Aman in a propaganda video.

Several of the mufti’s critics have called upon the police to initiate criminal investigations against him. At least three police reports, including one by Wan Ji, has been lodged against the mufti.

No Global Movement of Moderates at home?

One would expect the prime minister to act speedily and decisively too. After all, he had gone to Oxford University and to the United Nations to boast about how his government and his country is one that is moderate and where all citizens have their rights guaranteed.

Remember how he launched his Global Movement of Moderates? Remember also how he acted so speedily to remove his former deputy and the former attorney general and to transfer recalcitrant officers hither and thither over the 1MDB fiasco. And how speedily the MACC has decided to arrest Lim Guan Eng? And how the attorney general’s office has moved to charge the Penang chief minister?

Shame on the prime minister for not addressing this issue! Worse, it appears that this talk about moderation is simply aimed at the outside world.

In its statement on 29 June 2016, the Prime Minister’s Office essentially supported the mufti by stressing that the mufti had simply offered his opinion and not issued a fatwa. It further stressed that the mufti had simply stated that the kafir harbi group should be resisted, but not necessarily with violence.

It then put the blame for the controversy on others: “This issue has become a controversy due to the attempt by certain quarters to twist the statement by using the term ‘fight’ instead of ‘oppose’” (‘diperangi’ instead of ‘ditentang’).

Ironically, the Prime Minister’s Office statement admits that it is incorrect to refer to non-Muslims in Malaysia as kafir harbi as they are citizens of this country, are protected by the country’s laws and are not at war with the government. “… rakyat Malaysia yang bukan Islam tidak boleh dikategorikan sebagai kafir harbi selagi mereka mempunyai kerakyatan yang sah dan dilindungi oleh undang-undang Negara dan tidak memerangi pemerintah” (The Star, 30 June 2016).

Then came the inspector general of police, who agreed that using the term kafir harbi was inappropriate and promised to investigate the matter as several police reports had been lodged. But he also warned that public discussion of the sensitive topic could lead to public mischief and incitement of ethno-religious antagonisms.

The police chief’s investigation should be focused upon the person – and a public official at that – who was potentially creating the mischief.

It is the responsibility of learned Muslims like the mufti of Pahang to provide the necessary leadership to show those Islamophobes that Muslims, the world over and in Malaysia, do not condone violence.

Yes, the mufti has declared that he is diametrically opposed to the terrorists associated with the IS. And we believe him again.

But it behoves him to show that those who advocate violence are but a misguided minority fringe. He has a responsibility to lead by example, to use the right terms, and to always spread the message of peace and compassion which is intrinsic to Islam.

A healthy debate

Fortunately, quite a few Muslim leaders and scholars felt it was important and necessary to clear the haziness that the mufti had created. And what ensued has been a healthy debate about the term and related matters.

Speaking for myself, hearing the term kafir harbi for the first time, I found this debate most enlightening, rather than threatening, as the inspector general of police opined. It was also an opportunity for the beauty of Islam to be stressed, especially since so much violence was perpetrated by the fringe Muslim terrorists during the holy month of Ramadan.

In several of the exchanges, there is reference to how kafir harbi initially referred to those infidels who had committed treason against the Islamic nation of Madinah, set up during Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) time.

It appears that in earlier periods before the onset of modern and independent nation states, countries were categorised as Dar al-Islam (countries where a Muslim government rules and the Holy Law of Islam prevails), Dar al-‘Ahd (non-Islamic countries which co-operate with Islamic countries), and Dar al-Harb (anti-Islamic countries).

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Some of our Muslim scholars continue to use this formulation to categorise modern nation-states, namely, Dar al-Islam (countries where a Muslim government rules including Malaysia), Dar al-‘Ahd (non-Islamic countries which cooperate with Muslim countries and which are recognised by the United Nations), and Dar al-Harb (Zionist countries).

In his Facebook post, Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri clarified that “kafir harbi refers to non-Muslims who reject Islam, have no agreement with Islamic countries, and are living in a Zionist controlled state. So non-Muslims who are citizens bound by laws in Islamic countries cannot be called kafir harbi”.

Rather, the Perlis mufti said, non-Muslims living in Islamic countries like Malaysia were called ahl-zimmah. He continued, “In the modern context, non-Muslims who are citizens of Islamic countries are called dhimmi, meaning one whose rights are protected or taken care of” (The Star 27 June 2016).

But as clarified by Dr Maszlee Malik and Dr Musa Mohd Nordin of the Muslim Professionals Forum, the term harbi as defined by Muslim jurists implies that the person or group can be legitimately killed by Muslims due to their infidelity and aggression towards the Islamic state or community.

Taking after the famous Islamic scholar Syeikh Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, they take the position that “this classification of non-Muslim residents in the Islamic state into harbi and dhimmi is a historical issue that emerged during the classical period… States were not built on political identity as presently, but were kingdoms and empires that resorted to religious and tribalistic identity as their legitimacy”.

Accordingly, “the new reality of nation-state framework and socio-politics had to be addressed differently and appropriately”.

They also cite how “in 1839 the Ottoman ruler Sultan Abdul Majid… had proclaimed the principle of equality between Muslims and the Christians which virtually erased the classical legal status of the dhimmi”.

In their statement, they also cite another Islamic scholar Dr Fathi Osman, who said, “I do not think Muslims have any legal problem with regards to full equality with non-Muslims in rights and obligations. What emerged as the status of ‘dhimmi’… was historically developed rather than built in the permanent laws of the Qur’an and Sunnah.”

It is on account of these historical circumstances that many contemporary scholars like Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi have opined that “the categories of harbi and kafir dhimmi are no longer relevant and applicable within the socio-political structure of the modern world today”.

“Instead, under the framework of constitutional modern state that has been acknowledged by most Muslim prominent scholars (except by al-Qaeda, Isis, Boko Haram, et al) we should replace those terms with muwatin, which denotes citizens, who are granted equal rights, similar to the majority Muslim population of the contemporary Islamic state.”

It is obvious from the above, that many Muslim scholars and leaders, especially the critics mentioned above, do not share the views of the Pahang mufti.

The pity is that these critical voices are not given the opportunity to be voiced and aired in the mainstream media, which highlight the positions as espoused by the Pahang mufti and the prime minister’s department.

Thanks to the alternative media, these critical perspectives are getting a hearing.

By way of conclusion, you might want to catch this debate ‘Istilah kafir harbi – masih releven atau tidak’ organised by Biro Penyelidikan Ikram that will be held on 16 July 2016, 8.30pm in Dewan DPN, Ibu pejabat Ikram, Jalan Dagang, Sri Kembangan.

Among those speaking are Ustaz Dr Maszlee Malik (UIAM), Ustaz Dr Fathul Bari (Pemuda Umno), Ustaz Hasanuddin Yunus (Amanah), Ustaz Dr Zamihan Al Ghari (Aswaja) and Ustaz Engku Ahmad Fadzil (Iksim).


  1. Pejabat Perdana Menteri, Kenyataan Media, 29 Jun 2016
  2. Maszlee Malik and Musa Mohd Nordin ‘Honour and Dignity for all Mankind’. Press Release by Muslim Professionals Forum, 30 June 2016 www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/bahasa/2016/06/30/kafir-istilah-lapuk-kata-kumpulan-profesional-islam and www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/bahasa2016/07/01/majlis-fatwa-kebangsaan-perlu-perjelas-kafir-harbi/
  3. Mufti’s ‘kafir harbi’ label seditious, says alarmed Council of Churches, in www.malaysiakini.com/news/347090
  4. G25 likens Pahang mufti’s ‘kafir harbi’ claim to IS terror threat, in www.malaysiakini.com/news 347062
  5. Preacher Wan Ji lodges report against Pahang mufti, in www.malaysiakini.com/news 346773
  6. Siddiq Fadzil; Kafir harbi atau Warganegara? Kepelbagaian dalam bingkai Kesatuan, 27 June 2016
  7. Tuduh DAP kafir harbi, Perkasa anggap mufti Pahang melampau, in www.themalaymailonline.com/print/projekmmo/berita/tuduh-dap-kafir-harbi-perkasa-anggap-mufti-pahang-melampau
  8. Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa ‘Kafir Harbi dan Mufti Pahang’, kenyataan akhbar 24 Julai 2016
  9. Dr Maszlee Malik Sarjana tegur mufti, ‘fatwa’ undang pertumpahan darah, in www.malaysiakini.com/news/346461
  10. Dr Danial Zainal Abidin, Ulas Isu DAP Kafir Harbi, in youtu.be/4aUUavjZN-8
  11. Dr Dzulkefy Ahmad, ‘Beyond the kafir harbi’ and ‘kafir dhimmi’ debate’, in www.malaysiakini.com/news/347520
  12. Gerak Bertindak Malaysia, ‘Kenyataan bersama Masyarakat Madani megenai kafir harbi’, 28 Jun 2016
The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Hakimi Abdul Jabar
29 Aug 2016 2.47pm

ISIS, Islamism, Islamist Terrorism and the Deliberate Targeting of Catholic Priests and Catholic Christians

These remorseless, loathsome, despicable and pathetic ISIS Islamist Terrorists and their kind had brutally slain an aged 86 year old Catholic priest in France and yesterday, on Sunday, as Catholics were attending mass, a criminal suicide bomber carrying the ‘ISIS flag’ had attacked another Catholic priest and tried to blow up the packed Catholic place of worship!



Hakimi Abdul Jabar
19 Aug 2016 3.13pm

Dworkin was Right! Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Affect Our Civil Liberties!


Hakimi Abdul Jabar
19 Aug 2016 12.57pm

Undoubtedly, terrorism is a global threat & challenge. ISIS being an Islamist Terror group that is upholding the sharia.

Comprehend the dangers of terrorism & the threats terrorism & counter-terrorism methodologies affect our civil liberties. Read Ronald Dworkin’s articles. He was a visionary! He practically foresaw Khaled el-Masri’s misery ala sodomy & the unlawful detention of Mat Sat Satray & ors!

Terror & the Attack on Civil Liberties
Ronald Dworkin NOVEMBER 6, 2003 ISSUE

It is absurd to calculate human rights according to a cost-benefit analysis
Ronald Dworkin
Wednesday 24 May 2006 00.03 BST

Hakimi Abdul Jabar
5 Aug 2016 1.38pm

The UNSC Resolution 2249 (2015) offers the following salient element that among all terrorist groups constituting a major challenge on a regional or a global scale, ISIS is singled out as a ‘global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security,’ a qualification so far no terrorist group has ever been awarded.

Thus, being a “global and unprecedented” threat to international peace and security ISIS requires primary attention, it is not inconceivable that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group is still committing genocide and other crimes against the Yazidi minority in Iraq, as a statement by the United Nations commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria had stated on last Wednesday, 3rd. August 2016.


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