Mass Quran reading in Malaysia to mark sacred date

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian officials are disguising themselves as cooks and waiters to catch Muslims who don’t fast during Ramadan, with a rights group yesterday blasting the “disgraceful act of spying”. Thirty-two enforcement officers from a local council in the Muslim-majority country are going undercover at food outlets as part of the scheme, the New Straits Times newspaper reported.

Muslims are required to fast from dawn until dusk during Islam’s holiest month, unless there are special circumstances such as illness. While Muslims in multi-ethnic Malaysia have traditionally followed a tolerant form of Islam, critics say conservative attitudes have been gaining ground in recent years. The team in Segamat district, in southern Johor state, will be monitoring 185 outlets, with two of the officers selected as they are good at making popular dishes such as spicy fried noodles.

“We have specially selected enforcement officers who are dark skinned for the undercover job,” Mohamad Masni Wakiman, president of the Segamat Municipal Council, was cited as saying by the paper. “They sound convincing when they speak in Indonesian and Pakistani lingo, so that customers will believe they are really hired to cook and serve meals, and take menu orders.”

Many staff at food outlets in Malaysia are migrant workers. If Muslims are seen ordering food during the daytime, the officers will secretly take pictures of them and contact the local religious affairs department for further action, Masni said. Malaysia has a dual-track legal system, with Muslims subject to Islamic laws in certain areas. In Johor, Muslims who skip fasting can be punished with up to six months in jail or a fine of up to 1,000 ringgit ($240), or both.

Sisters in Islam, a group promoting the rights of Muslim women in Malaysia, said that the plan was “shameful and gives the wrong impression of Islam in the eyes of fellow Muslims and people from other faiths. “We strongly demand that all parties cease this disgraceful act of spying.” Over 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million inhabitants are ethnic Malay Muslims and the country is also home to substantial ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, who do not typically follow Islam.

Mass Quran reading
Dressed in robes and chanting in Arabic, scores of Malaysian Muslim children read the Quran aloud in a mosque to mark a special date in the Islamic calendar. About 80 people, mostly Islamic school students, gathered near the town of Bentong to observe Nuzul Quran, when Muslims believe the beginnings of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

The date falls during the holy month of Ramadan, when followers of Islam fast from dawn to dusk. “The word ‘Nuzul’ means ‘to come down’,” said the students’ teacher and principal Roslan Mohamad Esa as he led them in reciting on Wednesday. “Our Prophet (Mohammed) received the Quran, Allah sent down the Quran… to the Earth.” Student Nurul Atikah Syazwani Risyadi added: “The day of Nuzul Quran is an important day where it shows that we are confident in the revelation of the Quran.”

It is celebrated in Malaysia on the 17th day of Ramadan, the anniversary of a date in the seventh century when the angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mohammed in a cave near Mecca and started revealing the Quran to him. According to Muslim beliefs, Mohammed continued to have revelations over a period of more than 20 years. Some sixty percent of Malaysia’s 32 million population are Muslim, although the country also has significant Hindu, Buddhist and Christian communities. – Agencies