The men of God

The point is this: what action is taken against these powerful urbanites? Was the fatwa issued because it’s a beauty contest per se or because it exposes parts of a woman’s body? If it is the contest itself that is deemed to be dehumanising and immoral, what about bodybuilding contests for men? Will action be taken against them too? Of course not—that’s why any punishment for the four girls, if meted out, will prove the hypocrisy of our ulama. They believe women are weak and can be bullied. This will draw more international ire and condemnation. We will achieve very little by punishing the girls.

Zaid Ibrahim,TMI

JAIS is preparing to take action against the four Muslim girls who participated in the Miss Malaysia World 2013 beauty contest in contravention of an earlier fatwa banning Muslims from taking part in beauty pageants. I am writing to appeal to the department to desist from doing so.

Any action by the religious authorities to enforce this fatwa will end up in another controversy that will yet again embarass the Muslim community at large. I am not against the religious council issuing fatwas on any subject they deem fit, but as in the olden days, these fatwas are meant to be opinions of the learned jurists that are issued to guide the conduct of Muslims.

The fatwa should remain an opinion or a guide, as they were when Islam was at its pristine best. In those days Muslims either followed these guides voluntarily or they did not. But they also engaged with the ulama on many societal issues and as a result, these fatwas were sometimes modified based on the community’s feedback. No one was interested in punishing the recalcitrant or the wayward. They focused on finding the right path for the community, because Islam encourages questioning and thinking in search of the truth. The relationship between the community and its religious leaders then was therefore positive, constructive and dynamic.

We are obviously living in a very different era. Power is infectious: the politicians and the rich have it, as do the police and even the members of the underworld. So it’s not a surprise the ulama also want power, which is why they have created so many rules. This gives them the opportunity to enforce these rules, hence exhibiting power and command. But these attempts to flex their authority always fall flat.