Malaysia: a fatwa against protests


A protestor attends an anti-government rally while wearing Bersih 3.0 mask near the historical Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur on April 28, 2012. Thousands of protesters gathered in the Malaysian capital to demand electoral reforms, defying a lockdown of central Kuala Lumpur that left it a maze of razor wire and barricades.



Does joining a potentially unruly rally violate Islamic principles?

Yes, according to scholars from one of Malaysia's leading Islamic bodies, The National Fatwa Council.

The council's chairman has ruled that "no one is exempted and cannot support any efforts that can cause harm, anxiety or unrest among Muslims to the point of the community being split" according to several outlets including the Malaysia Star and AFP. He specifically mentioned "rioting, causing disturbance and damaging public property" as violations of the Islamic code.

Recurring anti-corruption and election reform rallies in Muslim-majority Malaysia -- which are inevitably shut down with water cannons and tear gas -- are the trigger for this fatwa.

It's possible that the average law-abiding Malay Muslim will shrug off this edict. Keep in mind that this is the same council that forbids foreign exchange trading and yoga.

But the message is clear: decent Muslims shouldn't challenge the ruling party through street protests. That the message comes from a state-aligned council is impossible to ignore.

This declaration challenges the Arab Spring narrative, which casts the protester as hero. In a recent GlobalPost piece, I wrote about the Middle East uprisings' influence on Berish, the Malaysian street movement.

But this fatwa falls in line with the Malaysian ruling party's line, communicated through its state news agency: protesters, in emulating demonstrations in Egypt, are a force for destruction and malevolence.