KUALA LUMPUR - Like other Muslims they read the Koran and face Mecca to pray, but the Shiite community in Malaysia is considered a "deviant sect" and faces harassment in the multicultural country.
Religious authorities in December arrested 200 Shiites as they observed the holy day of Ashura, accusing them of threatening national security in a country where most of the 16.5 million Muslims are members of the Sunni sect.
The majority of those detained were Muslim Malays - who dominate the Malaysian population - joined by followers from Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Iran.
Former state religious department head Mohammed Khusrin Munawi, who led the December 16 raid, said that the faith, if left to grow, could undermine security as "fanatical followers of the sect consider other Muslims infidels".
"For them, the blood of the followers of other faiths is lawful which means that it is okay to kill (Sunnis)," he told the Utusan Malaysia newspaper.
"Shiite doctrine is more dangerous than other deviant teachings (as)... Shiite followers in Iran and India are fighting against other Muslims merely because of different faiths," he said.
The split dates back to a dispute over succession after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632.
In a country where non-Muslims are constitutionally free to practice their faith, the crackdown on an Islamic sect which forms the majority in other countries, including Iran and Iraq, has raised concerns.
"Everyone in the country should have freedom of worship," Reverend Thomas Philips, head of the country's largest inter-religious council, told AFP.
"But in the Muslim context in Malaysia, they have a different understanding and so it is a very sensitive issue."
The estimated 40,000 Shiites in Malaysia are one of several Islamic sects under close watch by religious authorities, who crack down hard on so-called deviant Islamic groups.
A 1989 Islamic law and a 1996 fatwa by Malaysia's top Islamic clerics banned Shiism, declaring it a deviant ideology.
Malaysia has a dual-track legal system, with civil courts running in parallel with Islamic Sharia courts where Muslim Malays can be tried on religious and moral charges.
However, Chandra Muzaffar, head of rights group JUST, says that religious officials are abusing their power.
"The Shiites are not deviants, they are very much part of the Muslim community and if you deny them, then you are saying that 15 per cent of Muslims worldwide are also deviant," he said.
"They follow almost all the tenets of the majority Sunni sect and the differences are more political and historical so we should engage them through dialogue rather than carry out raids, arrest and prosecute them."
Kamil Zuhairi Abdul Aziz, 45, the Iranian-trained leader of the Hauzah ar-Redha or "Knowledge House" raided by authorities in December, says they are forced to practice their faith quietly.
"We are Muslims just like any other Muslims in the country but we live in fear as we are constantly attacked verbally and are often arrested and detained by authorities," he told AFP after prayers at the hauzah, the biggest of 40 Shiite community halls throughout the country.
"Shiism came to the shores of Malaysia in the 14th century when Islam arrived here as many of the Arabic, Indian and Persian traders who brought the religion were also Shiites.
"The authorities must recognise that we are not a recent phenomenon and that we should be respected just like any other faith in the country," he said in the hall filled with religious banners and pictures of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"We do not believe in bloodshed or that we are justified in killing anyone but yet these are the lies spread about us."
Community elder Muhammad Hassan, 72, said the last waves of arrests of Shiite followers in Malaysia came in 1997 and 2001.
He says his grandchildren are discriminated against in school and higher learning institutions, where religious teachers "criticise Shiites openly although they don't even understand or are bothered to even study our teachings."
State religious department head Marzuki Hussin told AFP "the bottom line is that Shiism clashes with Islam in Malaysia and so it cannot be allowed to propagate here as it can cause instability."
"We are happy to counsel the Shiite community on the practices of Malaysian Sunnis as what they are practising is a violation of our religious laws," he said.
Kamil, who was among those arrested in the December raid, will answer charges of preventing Islamic officials from carrying out their duties on February 17.
"Our future is very uncertain as we have lived here for centuries but now don't know for how long we can exist like this on the periphery of society," he said.
"We are treated as outcasts when we actually contribute much to society. We are fellow Muslims - treat us as such."