KUALA LUMPUR - Thousands of Malaysian Muslims marched at a rally on Saturday (May 4) in Kuala Lumpur to defend the "sovereignty of Islam" following claims that their rights were being eroded by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
The participants started gathering at the downtown KL mosque of Masjid Jamek, a popular gathering place for peaceful demonstrators, hours before the rally kicked off.
By the time the rally started at 2pm, the crowd had swelled to about 2,000 people, who then marched to the nearby Sogo shopping complex.
Many were clad in white T-shirts depicting the country's nine Malay rulers and the words "Daulat Tuanku" (Long live the King) emblazoned on it.
They also carried placards that called for respect to the country's royals as well as voicing support for the Johor Crown Prince for opposing the government over the signing of several international treaties.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim have recently engaged in a war of words over the powers of the constitutional monarchy to interfere in political matters such as Kuala Lumpur's now-retracted decision to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and on appointments to the state government.
"This rally is good to unite Malays and uphold Islam. The royalty are being insulted and so is the institution of Islam," rally participant Harun Yusof told news portal The Malaysian Insight.
The leaders of the country's two biggest Malay Muslim parties, Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), were also spotted at the event and several of them made speeches denouncing PH's recent actions.
This includes the appointment of Tommy Thomas as the country's Attorney-General and PH's earlier intention to ratify the Rome Statute and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
The government decided not to accede to both treaties after receiving the full brunt of verbal attacks by opponents - including opposition politicians and the Johor palace - who claimed the treaty would render Malay rulers irrelevant and impact the status of Malays and Islam in Malaysia.
Umno Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said people cannot accept the royal institutions being belittled.
"Recently there is a claim that (a) Malay ruler is a robber at a forum which was also attended by Attorney-General Tommy Thomas," he said in reference to a talk last weekend where Mr Thomas made comments critical of the monarchy in relation to Kuala Lumpur's move not to accede to the Rome Statute.
"He is unworthy to be the Attorney-General where he allowed the rulers to be insulted," he was reported by the Malay Mail as saying.
Saturday's rally - which ended at 3.30pm due to rain - was organised by pro-Islam umbrella coalition Gerakan Pembela Ummah (Ummah) who said Muslims needed to come together to defend their rights, which the non-governmental organisation claimed are being eroded by the year-old PH government.
Ummah had last year organised a rally against ICERD.
PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man warned that Saturday's rally was a "warning and reminder" that Muslims will not stay silent when Islam is insulted.
"Stop the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) agenda. Stop the liberal movement that is making it seem as if religion is a personal matter and not an agenda for the country. Islam is the religion of the federation and must be respected," he was quoted as saying by The Malaysian Insight.
The PH government has been hit by accusations 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.
Umno and PAS have banded together in an informal opposition alliance, and placed race and religion at the forefront of their campaign to weaken PH.
In a media interview earlier this week, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin warned that stern police action would be taken against those who insult any religion, describing the gathering as a possible attempt to incite Muslims.
"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."