'Rest in peace' not allowed for Karpal Singh, says Malaysia's fatwa council

Bangkok: Malaysia’s high-profile opposition figure and lawyer Karpal Singh paid a heavy price for speaking out against his country’s ruling party and defending human rights, including spending months languishing in jail. Now Muslims in his predominantly Muslim country are being urged not to use the term “rest in peace” following his death in a road accident on April 17.

Malaysia’s Islamic National Fatwa Council says using the term “rest in peace” to a non-Muslim has Christian connotations and Muslims are encouraged not to use it.

“Wishes such as ‘I sympathise with what has happened to you’ or ‘we express our sadness at the loss in your family” are allowed,” the council said in a statement on its website. “However, a Muslim is definitely not encouraged to wish a non-Muslim person ‘rest in peace,’” the council said.

The council said use of “rest in peace” was an assumption that the non-Muslim person would receive God’s blessings. It said the term was a form of prayer regularly used by Christians, especially during the 18th century and regularly engraved on tombstones.

“From an Islamic point of view, a person who has died in blasphemy will not receive God’s forgiveness and blessings,” the council said.

The council’s statement at a time of mourning over Mr Karpal’s death is sensitive in the country that is portrayed as a moderate Muslim society.

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, an Islamic opposition political party, is scheduled to discuss the statement on Monday.

“We will be raising the issue at the party’s political bureau in Kuala Lumpur and we will make a stand on it,” said the party's research centre director Dzulkefly Ahmad.

Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party MP Kamaruddin Jaafar was quoted by the Malaysiakini news website as saying this was the time to honour Mr Karpal and not resort to any negative comments and opinions.

“This is the undisputable practice of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, who respected the cortege of a Jew. When he was asked why, the prophet replied that the man has a human soul,” Mr Kamaruddin said.

The controversy follows a Malaysian court decision last year ordering Christians not to use the word “Allah” when referring to God, the only country where there has been such a ruling. Malaysia’s government then ordered the confiscation of bibles containing the word.

Mr Karpal, 73, will be honoured at a state funeral in his home town Penang on Sunday.

After his death Human Rights Watch described Mr Karpal as a towering figure for justice and human rights in Asia.

In 1987 he and other opposition figures were jailed under Malaysia’s then draconian Internal Security Act.

He was denigrated for defending opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in two trials on sodomy charges that rights groups say were politically motivated.

Before Mr Karpal’s death he was facing jail on a charge of alleged sedition for publicly asserting in February 2009 that the decisions of a hereditary ruler could be questioned in court. A court had originally thrown out the charge but Malaysia’s government appealed the decision and applied for a prison term.

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