Let Parliament, state assemblies legislate fatwas, Muslim women group suggests


(MM) – The process, SIS added, ultimately allowed fatwas to be used as a tool to “undemocratically pass laws that infringe on our fundamental liberties.”

A Muslim women group suggested today that fatwas be deliberated by a legislative body before they are made binding on Islam’s faithful, calling the current procedure “un-Islamic and undemocratic”.

In a statement here, Sisters in Islam (SIS) condemned the dropping of four Muslim candidates from the Miss Malaysia World 2013 contest because they purportedly violated a 1996 fatwa, which deems Muslim participation in beauty pageants sinful.

Their disqualification, the group said, raises concerns on the “over-reach” of a religious edict or fatwa beyond their original intent.

“The1996 fatwa exists as an attempt to control the public conduct of Muslims in terms of dress and indecency, specifically Muslim women,” SIS pointed out in a press statement here.

“Yet, despite the organisers’ assurance that the contestants will not be required to wear swimming costumes and instead be wearing long pants, their participation was still deemed ‘sinful’.

“How, where and on what basis do the religious authorities draw the line as to what is indecent dress or indecent behaviour? Do long pants now fall in the category of ‘sinful’ and indecent attire?” the group asked.

Organisers of Miss Malaysia 2013 were forced to drop the four participants after Federal Territories mufti Datuk Wan Zaidi Wan Teh labelled their participation “sinful” in view of the 1996 fatwa banning pageant participation among Muslim women.

According to Wan Zahidi, the fatwa prohibiting Muslim women from joining beauty pageants was issued and gazetted under the Federal Territories Islamic Administration Act in February 1996.

The move drew protest from one of the contestant, Wafa Johanna de Korte, who told Utusan Malaysia’s Sunday edition that the decision to drop them was unnecessary as other Muslim countries like Indonesia allows Muslim women to participate in pageants.

Backing the protest, SIS also raised the issue of gender bias in the issuance of such fatwas and asked if the same such edict could be issued to bar Muslim men from participating in body-building contests.

“Does not the Constitution say all are equal before the law and that there can be no discrimination on the basis of gender?

“We are not saying the simple solution is to ban all such activities, but to raise the point of inconsistency and double-standards,” the group argued.

It said its greatest concern was particularly on how fatwas have the automatic force of law without being subjected to stringent scrutiny by a legislative body like Parliament or a state assembly.

After a fatwa is approved by a state executive council and a Sultan, the edict only needs to be gazetted before it is enforced into a religious law.

“It is not tabled for debate in the legislative body. Any violation of the fatwa is a criminal offence. Any effort to dispute or to give an opinion contrary to the fatwa is also a criminal offence.

“Such provisions have no basis in the Quran and historical practices of Islam and violate several articles in the Federal Constitution,” the group said.

The process, SIS added, ultimately allowed fatwas to be used as a tool to “undemocratically pass laws that infringe on our fundamental liberties.”

To put an end to this, the Islamic group suggested that each fatwa be made to obtain approval from a legislative body before it can come into effect.

This, it said, is to ensure that the principle of “syura” in Islam is fulfilled.

“Such open debate will also invite public participation in the making of legislation that affect fundamental liberties,” SIS added.

In recent years, the National Fatwa Council, the country’s highest Islamic body, had also issued rulings forbidding Muslims from using botox and banned women from exhibiting tomboy behaviour, which it defined as behaving or dressing like men or taking part in lesbian sex.

The council came under heavy scrutiny for its proposal to ban yoga after a university lecturer advised people to stop practising it for fear that it could deviate from the teachings of Islam.

The move met protests from progressive Muslim women groups like the SIS who deemed the fatwas regressive while observers claimed it highlighted the worrying trend of overt Islamisation in Malaysia.