Controversial Malaysian preacher attracts fresh flak, but Home Minister calls him an 'asset'

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian preacher Zamihan Mat Zin, who is barred from delivering lectures in Johor and Selangor for his "extremist" Islamic viewpoints, is still working for government agency Jakim to rehabilitate imprisoned terrorists.

But Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Thursday (Nov 9) defended Mr Zamihan's role after this was questioned by criticis, calling the controversial cleric an "asset" in rehabilitation work.

"From records I obtained, his success rate in restoring their (detained militants) faith has been quite high," Datuk Seri Zahid was quoted as saying on Thursday by The Sun Daily newspaper.

"Meaning he is an asset, not only in faith restoration, but also in bringing these groups of people back to the right track. I don't think he should be penalised with (the removal of) his position in the Prisons Department," Mr Zahid, who is also Home Minister, told reporters. 

The mufti of northern Perlis state, Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, questioned the government's wisdom in allowing Mr Zamihan to continue working to deradicalise terrorists in prison.

"This is not the first time that he (Zamihan) has expressed his extremist thinking. It is not enough to condemn fellow Muslims, but non-Muslims are also dragged into his extremist thinking," Mufti Asri wrote in a Facebook posting on Thursday. "The authorities should evaluate all these issues seriously."

Mr Zamihan, a preacher with the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim), a federal government agency, created headlines last month when he supported a Muslim-only laundrette in Johor that Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar had described as unacceptable in his multi-religious state.

The laundrette owner in Muar town has since allowed non-Muslims to use his washing machines.

But Mr Zamihan later indirectly criticised the ruler for disallowing the Muslim-only laundrette, with Sultan Ibrahim responding by calling the preacher "an empty can and brainless".

In banning the preacher from speaking at mosques and lecture halls in Selangor, the state's Islamic department said Mr Zamihan's lecture that led to the ban "contained words that are racist, ill-mannered and excessively critical of the royal institution".

The preacher is being investigated by the police for sedition.

But that has not stopped him.

Mr Zamihan last week attracted fresh controversy when he attacked a mosque official in Penang for allowing non-Muslims to shelter in a small neighbourhood mosque during heavy flooding in the area.

He said the state-wide Penang flood, which killed seven people, should not be categorised as an "emergency" that could justify a mosque giving shelter to non-Muslims. He later deleted his Facebook posting on this.

Ms Latheefa Koya, a leader with opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat, was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper on Friday: "Zamihan's extremist views are well known, from the Muslims-only launderette controversy that caused him to be banned in Johor and Selangor to his latest comment condemning a surau in Penang for sheltering non-Muslims during a major flood."