MALAYSIA: ‘I Want to Touch a Dog’ organizer forced into hiding because of threats to stone him to death

Syed Azmi Alhabshi, a community activist, said he organized the ‘I want to touch a dog’ event to educate and familiarize Muslims who are known to be afraid of dogs and, in some cases, very cruel to them.

Syed Azmi Alhabshi (right)
Syed Azmi Alhabshi (right)

Clarion Project  Syed Azmi Alhabshi, a 30-year old pharmacist and community activist who organized the event along others, said in a press conference that the event was met to educate and familiarize the public anout dogs. 

More than 1,000 people attended the event held in a park in an affluent neighborhood on the edge of Kuala Lumpur. “During the event, the participants were also given a detailed explanation on how to handle dogs.

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Even though the event was organized by 10-15 people, Syed Azmi has become the public face of the event and has suffered its backlash. At the press conference, he apologized for the trouble the event had caused and for offending any Muslim sensibilities. He denied that he had organized the event to challenge the conservative establishment and promote liberalism.

But he continues to receive death threats. Some have threatened to break his bones and others said they would kill him if they see him on the street.” 

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Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria dismissed Syed Azmi’s apology, saying it was insincere. “It’s just a game. His face showed no regret, but he smiled, so this is a game.” “We take offense at his actions because we are Muslims, but God is angry because he made a mockery of God’s Law, so he should repent and never do it again,” the mufti was quoted as saying.

Having such a big event was perceived by [hardliners] as a challenge of the status quo and a form of disrespect to the inherited norms of the majority.

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The “I Want to Touch a Dog” event created a virtual storm on social media. Syed Azmi received more than 3,000 messages on his phone after the event, many of them threatening. But many Malaysians come out in favor of the event, posting positive comments on social media and news outlets.

A prominent human rights activist and daughter of a former prime minister in Malaysia, Marina Mahathir decried the “ignorance” of those who have instigated the hate campaign against Syed Azmi. “I didn’t realize that kindness is now considered despicable, but then the world has turned upside down,” Mahathir wrote in The Star.

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“Never mind that the intention of those who attended was to learn about one of God’s own creatures and how to treat them kindly.”

Islamic authorities viewed the event as an insult to Islam and its clerics. “Don’t try to create a culture that is opposite to Islam,” Muslim leader Nooh Gadut was quoted as saying.