Organiser of Malaysia dog-touching event says sorry, co-organiser says lost control of crowd

Organiser Syed Azmi petting a dog while volunteers and pet owners (in red) look on during Sunday's "I Want To Touch A Dog" event, which has triggered an investigation from the Islamic Development Department. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Organiser Syed Azmi petting a dog while volunteers and pet owners (in red) look on during Sunday's "I Want To Touch A Dog" event, which has triggered an investigation from the Islamic Development Department. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Mr Syed Azmi Abhalshi, the man behind the controversial "I Want To Touch A Dog" event, has apologised for the furore it has caused.

However, the social activist stressed that the programme was meant to be educational, and not to promote liberalism as alleged by certain quarters.

"I organised this event because of Allah, not to deviate the people's faiths, try to change the Islamic rules of law, poke fun at the ulama or encourage pluralism," he told a packed press conference at Kelab Sri Selangor here on Saturday.

Reading from a press statement, he also admitted that there were weaknesses to the programme, and apologised for the trouble and insensitivities that the programme had caused.

Soon after reading the statement, Mr Syed Azmi left the press conference abruptly and did not take any questions from the floor.

His lawyer Syahredzan Johan said he had to leave for his own safety as he was getting "severe death threats" since the event was held last Sunday at Central Park in Bandar Utama.

Many Malays, including clerics, took offence at photos of Muslims petting and holding the dogs and circulated his mobile number online.

On social media platform Facebook and WhatsApp, messages claiming he is a Christian in disguise have also been widely circulated.

Mr Syahredzan Johan said Mr Syed Azmi had also received over 2,000 unread messages on WhatsApp.

"We have lodged a police report on Oct 22 and further police reports will be lodged. We have also lodged a report with Malaysia Multimedia and Communication Commission. We are very concerned with his well being," he said.

The Department of Islamic Development of Malaysia (Jakim) said it would be conducting an investigation into the event, which attracted about 800 people - half of them Muslims.

The event, aimed at dispelling negative perception of dogs particularly among Muslims, started out as a small get-together for those curious about dogs.

Earlier, Mr Syed Azmi also stressed that the programme was never meant to encourage people, particularly the Muslims, to adopt dogs as their pets but merely to give them an idea on how to help dogs if they are in a difficult situation.

He said he had also received approvals from the Selangor Mufti Department, who had given the organisers guidelines on how to handle the canines.

"During the event, the participants were also given detailed explanation on rules and regulations on how to handle dogs," he said, adding that sertu (the Islamic way of purifying after being in contact with dogs) was also explained to the participants.

"Once again, I would like to apologise for any reaction this programme had caused.

"I would also like to say thank you for all the comments made to me.

"This is a learning process for me," he said, adding he had no intention to cause disharmony.

The co-organiser for the event said they had no control over the Muslim participants who appeared to have kissed or cuddled the dogs.

Ms Norhayati Ismail said the public had been informed that the programme was meant to dispel fear and negative perceptions among Muslims towards dogs.

"We would like to deny that the public were told to touch the dogs for fun. We had even told them that in our mazhab shafie (school of thought), it was haram (forbidden) for Muslims to do so," she told a press conference here on Saturday.

She said as an organiser, the event had followed the guidelines provided by the Selangor Mufti Department and this was detailed in the fliers distributed to the participants.

"We also had coaches and volunteers at the event and the participants were divided to a few groups.

"There were those who wanted to learn to touch the dogs and there were those who just wanted to observe," she said.

Ms Norhayati said, however, the programme went beyond their control as the number of the crowd grew to nearly 1,000 from an anticipated 500.

"I admit we had no control over the crowd and what they did to the dogs. There could also be those who came late and did not hear our explanation from the Islamic perspectives," she said.

Ms Norhayati also said that the backlash on the event was contributed by the "bad publicity" from press who were not at the event.

"I do not know where their sources came from. We also regret that the photos of the performance of sertu were not included in any media," she said.

However, she said that the event had achieved one thing, as the non-Muslims became more aware on the reasons Muslims could not keep the dogs as pets.

"Many non-Muslim participants came to us and learned how to perform sertu and they understood better why Muslims can't simply touch dogs.

"The event had also taught them on how to draw the line whenever they bring their dogs to the park or if they have Muslims as neighbours," she said.

Ms Norhayati said the organisers have met with Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais), Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) and they will meet with Jakim soon to offer their explanation.