A senior freemason has suggested that protesters opposing a masonic conference in Malaysia on claims it is anti-Islamic should discuss their concerns over cup of tea with members of the secretive group, as authorities gave the green light to the summit taking place.
A number of Muslim groups in Penang had urged local authorities to ban the international masonic conference that the Grand Lodge of Scotland plans to hold at a seaside resort on the Malaysian island later in February, accusing the group of pursuing a secret agenda to undermine Islam. Robert Cooper, the Lodge curator, dismissed the claim as "complete nonsense", saying protesters were ill-informed.
"Everyone can have their opinion but we are a recognised, legitimate organisation," he said. "Unfortunately people tend to just read something and believe it because it's in a book and 'if it is printed it must be true', which is rather unfortunate," he added. "We would have explained that if they had come and spoken to us. If only the time had been taken to give us a telephone call, come in have a chat and a cup of tea and we would discuss their concerns but we were not given that opportunity, which is really rather sad."
Police in Penang received complaints from a coalition of nine non-governmental organisations that linked Scottish masonry to the shadowy Illuminati conspiracy, and claimed that members due to arrive at the Bayview Beach Resort had well-known Zionist links and peddled "evil conspiracy theories against Islam and Muslims".
"We want the police to investigate the conference, to find out what it is about," Mohd Hafiz Mohd Nordin, a leader of a protest group, told the Malay Online. "If the police don't stop them, we will stop the conference because we do not want it to be held here".
Armand Azha Abu Hanifah from another association called Umno Youth, claimed that conference-goers were members of the illuminati, a purported clandestine congregation of masterminds that manipulates global dynamics to usher in a new world order. The online programme for the five-day event, which is to run from 24 to 28 February 2016, seems rather less suspicious. Conferences are followed by cocktails and attendees are provided with tips on local food and tourist attractions.
Freemasons are given the option of jumping on a rickshaw for a heritage trail, try their cooking skills at a Malay cuisine class or enjoy the tropical wilderness with a mangrove forest and orangutan tour. The men-only congregation also provides a 'ladies programme' for freemasons' wives.
Cooper denied the Grand Lodge of Scotland follows any anti-Islam agenda, noting that the Edinburgh branch has Muslim members. On its website, the group says to be open "to men of any race or religion" and actually that states religious talk is banned from meetings. The curator added it was the first time since freemasonry was first introduced to Malaysia about 200 years ago that there had been a problem. "This has come out of the blue for us," he said. "We are really rather sorry that this has happened because it was unnecessary".
Meanwhile Penang authorities said the conference was to go ahead as planned, since the lodge was a regularly registered body and no laws had been breached. "Also, the event will be held indoor, in an orderly manner," assistant commissioner Mior Farid Alatrash Wahid told the New Straits Times.