CAIRO - A fierce debate is raging in Malaysia over holding the country's general elections during hajj season, with the main Islamic party warning the move would deprive thousands of Muslim pilgrims from casting their ballot.
If Prime Minister Najib Razak holds the elections during the hajj season, he is a traitor to Islam and Muslims, PAS secretary-general Mustafa Ali said in a press conference cited by The Malaysian Insider.
General elections are due to be held in 2013, but Prermier Najib has said the polls could be held in October, which coincides with the annual hajj.
Thousands of Malaysian pilgrims leave Malaysia for the holy lands weeks before the hajj season and return a month after the spiritual journey is over.
PAS leaders warned that holding the election in October will deprive thousands of Malaysian Muslim of their right to vote.
Mustafa, the PAS secretary-general, said holding the polls during hajj would deny the rights of the 30,000 Muslims in Malaysia that go for the pilgrimage.
He stressed that both voting and hajj are important to Muslims.
The last general elections show an ADUN (state assemblyman) can win with less than 100 votes (margin), while a Parliament seat can be won or lost by a few hundred votes.
The PAS leader underlined that voting is a fundamental human right.
Why purposely hold elections during the Hajj season? It can't possibly be that it's the only reasonable time in five years to do so, he said.
He called for the premier to give a guarantee that elections won't be held during the Hajj season.
He noted that PAS is ready to debate with Najib's United Malays National Organization (UMNO) over the issue.
However, Prime Minister Najib seemed resolved to hold the elections during hajj season.
In (the country's) history, elections have been conducted during hajj... in 1986 elections happened during hajj, during the tenure of [Dr Mahathir Mohamad], Najib said, referring to the former premier.
The Malaysian premier argued that he was not stopping anyone from performing hajj.
Only God decides on sins and blessings, said Najib, who went for the pilgrimage last year.
This year's hajj is expected to begin October 26.
Muslims from around the world pour into Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
We are not stopping anyone... if you want to go for Hajj, go, said Najib.
Muslim Malays form about 60 percent of Malaysia's 26-million population, while Christians make up around 9.1 percent.Buddhists constitute 19.2 percent, Hindu 6.3 while other traditional Chinese religions make up the rest of the population.