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Non-Muslims have right to take part in any debate on laws: Anwar

PKR leader says there's space for dialogue, including in the media

PETALING JAYA Non-Muslims in Malaysia have every right to take part in any debate on laws, including those that affect them indirectly, said ruling coalition partner Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leader Anwar Ibrahim.

He said that while some laws appeared to affect only Muslims, these often affected non-Muslims as well.

He cited as an example Muslim party PAS' president Abdul Hadi Awang's proposed Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act (Act 355).

"They (proponents of the Bill) speak as if we are all in Islam and that's it; nobody else should bother. They (non-Muslims) have a right to bother.

"Any legislation, though it seems to purely affect only Muslims, will inevitably affect non-Muslims, and therefore they have every right to participate," he said, in a wide-ranging interview with The Star and Sinar Harian on Friday.

Mr Anwar said non-Muslims were concerned over what seemed to be minor issues because of the fear that it would ultimately affect them.

"Their fear is that it will be like a Trojan Horse. We have to navigate and weigh these issues well," he said, when asked about his views on tackling some of the major differences in opinion about religion in the country.

Mr Anwar, who was released from prison on May 16 following a royal pardon, hoped that the freedom of the press enjoyed in the country today would create space for dialogue and exchange of views over the issue.

"I am confident that if a debate takes place, and is referred to authoritative views on Act 355, it (the proposed Bill) will not last,'' he said.

"We are not liberals who refuse to apply Islamic tenets. We represent the Islamic conscience, but we do not represent this outmoded ultra-conservative Islam that wants to compel others to accept a particular interpretation," he pointed out.

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Mr Anwar was also asked to comment on the fate of the Islamic Development Department (Jakim), which was under review following Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's announcement on May 31 that a committee made up of religious scholars and non-religious experts would be set up for the purpose.

"Tun Mahathir did not say abolish but to re-examine," he added.

Senior people in Jakim were involved in the campaign for a particular political party and that was excessive, he said, adding that Jakim's budget of almost RM1 billion was also "huge".

"If the aim is for increasing awareness on proselytisation, that I agree. But now people are raising the issue that even on the question of halal (certification), there are excesses."

Anwar said he had met representatives from a number of local food manufacturing companies run by non-Muslims who had no objection over the need for halal certifications but complained about the excessive additional costs involved.

- THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Dr Mahathir: Two-year stint as PM only a suggestion

PETALING JAYA Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said his stint could be extended beyond the two years previously stated, emphasising it was only a "suggestion".

While he acknowledged that two years was the initial decision, after which he would hand over to Mr Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto leader of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Dr Mahathir said this was not set in stone, reported The Star.

"It (the two years) is a suggestion but we are not fixed on this. It could be earlier, or even later.

"The priority is to return the nation's wealth and build our economy to become more sustainable," he said, in an interview with Malaysia's Sinar Harian published on Saturday.

"In the short term, I want to overcome the problems we are facing now," he said.

But he was quick to reiterate that Mr Anwar would be his successor, The Star reported.

In a separate development, the government will look into claims that the Malaysian King Sultan Muhammad V received RM257 million (S$86 million) in allocations between January 2017 and April this year, the New Straits Times reported.

Dr Mahathir said yesterday: "I want to look at it first, if the said amount was given, in how many years.

"Is it a year or 10 years, I wouldn't know.I will inform you all later."

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