Malaysians are rejecting the notion that their homeland is a nesting ground for terrorists, after two Malaysian nationals were arrested in Lebanon with alleged plans to become al-Qaeda suicide bombers.
It is simply not in the nature of Malaysian Muslims to take a warring stance, says Ustaz Suhaimi Haris, a former religious teacher turned full-time social activist.
"In every matter, we believe in discussion to find solutions. War is always a last resort. Then even in war, there are rules which protect children, women and the sick and elderly," Suhaimi told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Muslims should seek reference from the Qur'an in times of trouble and not rely on the word of questionable characters with dubious backgrounds, Suhaimi said.
"It is clearly stated in the sunnah (teachings) on what course of action is to be taken in regards to the proper way of conduct in society," he says.
M. Said Othman, a senior lecturer at the University of Malaya, cautions against stereotyping Muslims as terrorists.
"We should avoid generalizing things. It's like saying all women drivers are bad or all Westerners are morally corrupt, two things which we know are very far from the truth," he remarked.
"At the same time, it is not impossible for our young men to face the risk of being recruited into terrorist organisations. If young ladies can be roped in as drug mules, then young Muslim men are not spared as well," he said.
"But it is important to remember that al-Qaeda cannot be regarded as a representative of the Muslim nation. They are but just a few men out of the millions of Muslims who prefer peace over war anytime," Said added.
Concern over global links
Lebanese authorities arrested the two in Beirut on October 18th, Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman announced late last month. They were later identified as Razif Mohd Ariff, 30, a businessman, and Muhamad Razin Sharhan Mustafa Kamal, 21, a student.
Ariff, an unmarried Kuala Lumpur native said to have worked in the construction industry, previously studied in Pakistan and later Yemen, where he was deported after attempting to contact al-Qaeda members, The New Straits Times reported.
He and Kamal met earlier this year via a social networking website and planned to join al-Qaeda as suicide bombers, the report said. They flew to Turkey, then to a European country where an al-Qaeda operative arranged a flight to Beirut. After they began contacting militant elements there, they were arrested.
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein called the pair's alleged link to international terrorist groups "worrying", according to The Times.
"Malaysians' involvement with terrorist organisations based in the Middle East is unusual as local links have so far been limited to regional groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) or Darul Islam," he said.
Amini Amir Abdullah, a scholar at Universiti Putra Malaysia who has traced the existence of Islamic terror organisations in the country, confirms that JI, which was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings and other terror acts, was present in Malaysia in 1993.
Nasir Abas, who made headlines in 2003 by defecting from the terrorist camp and is now working with Indonesian police, once acted as advisor to its members at the Madrassa Luqmanul Hakim in Johor Baru, he explained.
The madrassa became a central meeting point for supporters of such ideologies, who used religious education as a cover. Among those who frequented the school was Masrizal bin Ali Umar, who was involved in the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta that killed 12 and injured 150.
According to Abdullah, JI failed to take off in Malaysia, because its extremist ideologies were not accepted by local Muslims.
"Malaysia is a safe and harmonious country and the authorities are fully prepared for any threats," he told Khabar.
A call for further debate
In the wake of the arrests came the discovery that a Malaysian service provider was hosting the English-language version of an al-Qaeda web portal, tawhed.net. The government promptly shut it down, along with two other terrorist websites, Shumukh Al Islam and Al Faluja, according to The Star.
Earlier this week, Malaysia's House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat) rejected a member's call to hold a public debate about Malaysia's link to the web portal, described as al-Qaeda's largest online library.
Apparently seeking greater civic introspection in the wake of the troubling events, the MP, Lim Lip Eng, is now calling for a home ministry probe into the matter.
"We ask the [Home] Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein to check and investigate the extent of influence these terrorist groups have in this country and the threat they pose," he was quoted as saying by The Times.