An aggressive anti-Shia campaign launched by the Malaysian government last year has taken its toll on the country’s economy, leaving the government millions of ringgit in losses after a backlash from predominantly Shia Iran, forcing a minister to seek help from PAS to restore ties, said a source.
Dr Syed Azman Ahmad Nawawi, who heads PAS international bureau, confirmed this, but declined to name the minister.
“It is true the minister contacted me for help,” Syed Azman told The Malaysian Insider.
The Batu Burok state assemblyman said Iran’s reaction to the anti-Shia campaign spearheaded by Umno has cost Malaysia dearly.
“The biggest loser is Petronas whose oil exploration in Iran has been met with hurdles from the Iranian government, while at the same time, American firms such as Esso and Conoco are making their way into the country,” added Syed Azman.
Ties have improved between Iran and Washington as well as the European nations, following the electoral victory last year of moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani, who took over as president from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
As chairman of the Islamist party’s international bureau, Syed Azman has close ties with leaders of Islamic movements around the world, including Iran.
PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and his deputy, Mohamad Sabu, have also forged close friendship with Iranian leaders.
Apart from Petronas, the country’s palm oil industry has also suffered, as Iran looks elsewhere for its needs.
Between January and November last year, Iran imported 671,384 tons of palm oil from Malaysia, making the Islamic republic among the biggest importers of Malaysian palm oil.
But following Umno’s anti-Shia campaign, first reflected in a speech by its vice-president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at the Umno general assembly last year, and later followed up by other Umno leaders, Iran moved to block and decrease its palm oil import from Malaysia.
The Umno general assembly last year also passed a motion to make only the Sunni school of thought as the recognised version of Islam in Malaysia, while branding Shia Islam as deviant and outside the Islamic fold.
Late last year, Sheikh Jalaluddin Ash-Shoghiran, an Iraqi parliamentarian, said that the Malaysian government was the first in the world to officially declare Shias as being outside Islam.
He hit out at the actions by the Malaysian authorities, although the government of Iraq, another predominantly Shia nation, did not take any action on the issue.
“The Malaysian government labels the majority of Iraqis as infidels, but the Malaysian Embassy has not been summoned for a gentle reminder.
“Malaysian companies are happily reaping multiple projects in Iraq and many business opportunities have been specially handed to the Malaysian government.
“I do not know how the Malaysian government can reach the point of crushing diplomatic relations and defying the faith. Where is the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)? Whether this is an extreme behaviour or not, the heathen actions could lead to murder,” said Jalaluddin in a YouTube video which had gone viral.
Prof Datuk Mohamad Abu Bakar, who teaches international relations at the University of Malaya, said Malaysia should follow the example of some Middle East nations in handling the differences between Islamic sects, where Sunni Muslims have not declared their Shia brethren as being outside the fold of Islam.
Mohamad warned that the Malaysian government risked jeopardising the country’s image, as well as making the country a target of rights activists accusing it of not practising intra-religious tolerance.
In 2004, Malaysia under Tun Abdullah Badawi signed the Amman Message, an initiative by the Jordanian ruler King Abdullah II, to set aside differences among followers of the many Islamic sects, including Sunni and Shia.
“Whosoever is an adherent to one of the four Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i and Hanbali), the two Shi’i schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Ja’fari and Zaydi), the Ibadi school of Islamic jurisprudence and the Thahiri school of Islamic jurisprudence, is a Muslim,” read the declaration, which was also signed by among others, opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Youth and Sport minister Khairy Jamaludin. – March 3, 2014.