Today: “Najib courts Muslim vote with welcome for controversial preacher”

March 29, 2017

Malaysia has rolled out the red carpet for controversial Islamic scholar Ismail Musa Menk, a move that analysts have suggested could be part of efforts by Prime Minister Najib Razak to burnish his Islamic credentials to appeal to middle-class Muslim voters ahead of the general election.

“(Mufti) Menk is popular among middle-class Malaysian Muslims … and if this is to be read as a political motive, then this … will boost Najib’s popularity with that group,” Dr Norshahril Saat, a Fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute told TODAY.

The Zimbabwe-born Mufti Menk has more than 2.3 million Facebook fans and 1.3 million Twitter followers who regularly share his positive quotes on life.

Mr Asrul Hadi Abdullah, a director with political risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia, told TODAY that Mr Najib’s association with Mufti Menk is in line with Umno’s political Islam narrative to capture the Malay community’s votes, as the scholar is popular with the Malay electorate.

Mr Asrul’s views were echoed by Mr Adib Zalkapli, a political analyst at political risk advisory firm Vriens & Partners, who noted that any association with Mufti Menk is “definitely a vote winner”.

“Najib is not the first politician to employ this strategy and he won’t be the last. (Former opposition leader) Anwar Ibrahim used the same strategy by getting support from Yusuf Qaradawi when he was on trial for sodomy in 2014,” he said in reference to the renowned Islamic scholar and the head of the Qatar-based nternational Union for Muslim Scholars.

Anwar was convicted and jailed for sodomising a former aide, a charge he describes as a politically-motivated attempt to end his career.

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