KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Friday (May 3) hit back at a Muslim organisation planning a mass rally, saying these so-called defenders of Islam were nowhere to be seen when pilgrimage fund Tabung Haji and plantation agency Felda lost millions of dollars under the previous administration.
Gerakan Pembela Ummah (Muslim Defenders Front) is planning a mass rally in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, asking Muslims to come together to defend their rights that the non-governmental organisation claims are being eroded by the year-old Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin's response, as quoted by Malay Mail news site: "They are doing all this on the expense of religion to get more followers and support.
"But in reality, if they were really interested in defending Islam, where were they when Tabung Haji issue cropped up?"
The Malaysian government has bailed out Tabung Haji with a RM17.8 billion (S$5.8 billion) plan that removed financially distressed assets from its books. PH has said Tabung Haji was weakened by bad management, including paying above-market rates for a plot of land owned by scandal-tainted state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
And another RM6.3 billion is being used to rescue the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), a palm and rubber plantations agency that helps rural Malay Muslims.
The PH government has been hit by claims that it was eroding Muslim rights since it came to power and appointed non-Malays to powerful positions such as the finance minister and the attorney-general, with such claims rising in frequency in recent months.
The two biggest Malay Muslim parties, Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), have banded together in an informal opposition alliance, and has placed race and religion at the front of their campaign to weaken PH.
The rally is to take place at the downtown KL mosque of Masjid Jamek, a popular gathering place for peaceful demonstrators from the time the four PH parties were in the opposition.
The protesters then plan to march to the Sogo shopping centre nearby to listen to speeches by rally leaders.
But to Mr Muhyiddin, claims that Malay Muslim rights need defending now do not make sense. He is also president of PH member Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia chaired by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
"Where were they when our country's debt was revealed?" he asked. "If they meant well for Islam, what did they do?"
"Just like Felda... which a big part of it involved Muslims. In the end it was us, Pakatan Harapan who took responsibility to figure out big debts such as RM17 billion," he said, as quoted by Malay Mail.
Mr Muhyiddin dismissed the Saturday rally as a publicity stunt, and advised the organisers not to misuse religion to sow public discord.
"All I can say is don't evoke Islam sentiments or make us look like we are not protecting Islam," he said.
"There is no evidence till now to show Islam has been neglected or any of Islam's institutions were meddled with or demolished by PH."