PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said that Islam will continue to be safeguarded in the country, as he pushed back against critics who have questioned whether the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government is sensitive to Islamic interests.
His critics have raised their concern following his government's push in the last two weeks to have a non-Malay-Muslim as the new Attorney-General (A-G).
The new government has also said it is reviewing the functions of the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim), a powerful Islamic agency.
"There are people who say this government will not protect the religion of Islam, which is the official religion of our country," Tun Dr Mahathir told the audience attending a breaking of fast event on Monday in Putrajaya. "This is incorrect as we are also responsible for governing the country without contradicting the teachings of Islam."
Mr Thomas is the first non-Malay-Muslim A-G since Mr Athi Nahappan in 1974 - that was 44 years ago.
Malay and Islamic non-governmental organisations, and several political leaders in Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia have voiced their worries that a non-Malay-Muslim wouldn't be sensitive to legal matters involving Islam and Muslims.
The issues raised over the new A-G followed another move by the PH government that set tongues wagging among its critics. This was its appointment of an ethnic Chinese finance minister, Mr Lim Guan Eng, the first time after a 44-year hiatus.
Malaysia's first two finance ministers after independence in 1957 were Chinese, but the post had been held by ethnic Malays from 1974.
Dr Mahathir in his speech on Monday said : "We know there are many who claim to be supposedly protecting Islam, they claim to want to set up an Islamic government but we find that their actions are in fact contrary to the teachings of Islam."
He added: "We will establish a government that upholds the laws and the Constitution of the country and we will not do anything contrary to Islam."
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Ismail said there is no issue of Islam and Malay interests being undermined just because Mr Thomas is being appointed.
"We have the federal Constitution which is clear, and whoever is the attorney-general must uphold the constitution.
"Islam is the official religion, with freedom for other religions. The (position of the) royal institution, Bahasa Melayu, that is accepted by all Malaysians," Wan Azizah told Malaysiakini news site in an interview on Tuesday.