KUALA LUMPUR - Non-believers should be "hunted down" as Malaysia has no place for atheism, a Cabinet minister said on Tuesday (Aug 8) in the wake of reports that Muslims attended a recent meeting organised by international group Atheist Republic.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Shahidan Kassim said such groups go against the Federal Constitution, which states Islam is the official religion while others are free to practise their own faith, reported The Star.
"Not once does it (the Constitution) mention atheism. This clearly shows that the group goes against the Constitution and basic rights," he was quoted as telling reporters in Parliament.
The controversy first erupted after several Islamist blog sites posted a photo of a gathering of Atheist Republic's Kuala Lumpur chapter which appeared to feature young Malay Muslims posing with the non-profit group's Iran-born founder Armin Navabi.
The posts drew considerable ire, including calls for the "apostates" to be arrested and threats to behead Mr Navabi. It was reported that the Federal Government would investigate the local group, with the help of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission as it involved the faith of Muslims.
Dr Shahidan said he would suggest to religious departments and muftis to intervene in the matter by identifying members of the group.
"I suggest we track them down and identify each of them. After that, we have to bring them back to the right path," he said.
"We can't act in such a way where they could gain sympathy from other people. This would just make them more popular," he said.
Atheist Republic, which is based in Canada and has hundreds of chapters worldwide including in Indonesia and the Philippines, has said that any crackdown on non-believers will affect Malaysia's image as a moderate Muslim country.
"What does this group do to anybody? How do they harm anybody?" Mr Navabi told the Malay Mail Online.
He said the group was just meant for non-believers to socialise and have a support community.