KUALA LUMPUR (dpa) – A man who organised a dog-petting event for Muslims in Malaysia has received death threats from religious extremists who consider dogs to be untouchable.
The threats have been continuous for Syed Azmi Alhabshi, a Muslim himself, who hosted the “I want to touch a dog” event in Kuala Lumpur last week that drew nearly 1,000 people, according to his lawyer Shahredzen Johan.
“He has been getting severe death threats,” he said. Shahredzan said he received nearly 2,000 messages on his mobile phone within one hour on Friday. Detractors have obtained his phone number and published it on the Internet.
Syed Azmi, a pharmacist who runs various charitable programmes for orphans and the homeless, is being accused of being an apostate.
He issued a statement apologising for the uproar that arose from the dog event.
His intention was merely to help people “overcome a fear of dogs, how to help them when they are in trouble and the limitations in the Islamic context,” Syed Azmi said. “The programme is an educational process to respect Allah the Almighty’s creatures that are increasingly held in contempt and abused by our society.”
He said the programme had received approval from the relevant Islamic authorities, and furnished copies of their correspondences to the media.
The same authorities, however, claimed they were “misled.” They were reportedly shocked by media photos of Muslims including women in hijab cuddling with the dogs.
The National Fatwa Council issued a dictum on Thursday that touching dogs violates the Imam Shafie teachings, the main Islamic doctrine in Malaysia.
Some 60 per cent of the 29 million population is Muslim. Malaysia is generally viewed as a moderate society, but extremism is gaining a foothold.
Dozens have recently been arrested for links with the Islamic State terror group. Some are known to have join the group fighting in Syria and Iraq.