KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 10 — Women’s advocacy group Sisters in Islam (SIS) has told minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom that Malaysia is a democracy and not a theocratic dictatorship.
The Muslim women’s rights NGO also said shariah laws are man-made and therefore not infallible, pointing out that the recent court challenges by SIS against a fatwa and by a group of Muslim transgender men against a state shariah law prohibiting cross-dressing were challenges to the “unjust and inefficient” Islamic legal system in Malaysia.
“We would like to remind the minister that Malaysia is a democratic country, not a theocratic dictatorship,” Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, a member of SIS’ board of directors, told Malay Mail Online.
“Our Federal Constitution guarantees the fundamental liberties of every citizen including Muslims. The rule of law applies to everyone, and everyone has a right to seek redress in the courts if they feel they have been unfairly treated,” she added.
SIS also expressed alarm at the call by Jamil Khir, who is the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic affairs, for all Muslims to defend their faith from liberal ideologies “by any method”.
“Does this mean he is giving the go-ahead for anyone to take vigilante action against those the minister deems un-Islamic, including violence? Does this mean that should anyone physically attack such persons, the state will take no action against them?” Marina asked.
Jamil Khir said yesterday that in a “new wave” of assault, Muslim transgenders and SIS are colluding with Islam’s enemies to put its religious institutions on trial in a secular court.
The minister was responding to two recent court challenges where state Islamic authorities were cast into a defensive role, with one initiated by SIS at the High Court here against a Selangor religious edict, or fatwa, declaring their organisation and its members “deviants”.
The other was a separate case mounted by a group of transgender men who were convicted of cross-dressing under the Negri Sembilan state shariah law, which they won at the Court of Appeal Friday.
A three-judge panel at the Court of Appeal had unanimously ruled Section 66 of the Negri Sembilan Syariah Criminal Enactment 1992 to be unconstitutional as it violated the three Muslim men’s right to freedom of expression.
Jamil Khir said Islamic institutions like the state Islamic councils must work together to face “this new wave against Islam”, claiming that there is an “agenda” outside the country’s predominant religion aiming to twist the faith of Muslims.
Malaysia’s religious authorities have long derided liberalism and pluralism, with Friday sermons nationwide claiming a conspiracy by “enemies of Islam” to manipulate Muslims through ideas like secularism, socialism, feminism and positivism, in addition to the two.