Muslim NGO under fire for beauty pageant defence

(MM) – Sisters In Islam (SIS), a non-government Muslim organisation comprising mostly women, drew flak from a conservative Muslim columnist today for purportedly putting civil liberties ahead of their religion’s glory.

The women’s group had recently waded into a row over the rights of Muslim women to take part in the Miss Malaysia World 2013 beauty pageant, and raised its concern on the overreach of fatwa (religious edicts) by Islamic officials here beyond the faith’s intent.

In an opinion piece in Malay paper Mingguan Malaysia, columnist Ku Seman Ku Hussain lashed out at the women’s group for what he viewed to be an attempt to undermine and denigrate Islam by one of its own by persistent questioning of the religion’s authorities here on the grounds the edicts were not legislated into civil law.

“It seems for SIS, fundamental rights freedoms are more important than prohibiting Muslims against insulting their own religion,” he said, in the article titled “Apabila Sisters In Islam mempertikai mufti [When Sisters In Islam dispute the mufti]”.

The columnist noted the group saw itself as a champion of Muslim rights, but criticised SIS for its advocacy of fundamental freedoms that ran counter to what he said were Islam’s teaching.

He stressed that such statements issued by SIS on the fatwa against Muslim women joining beauty contests must be clarified as the group persisted in speaking out under the name of Islam, “to save Muslim women from being trapped in an agenda that blackens Islam”.

“It is unfortunate because SIS defends the human rights of the four Muslim women because the Federal Territory Mufti has forbid them from taking part in the Miss Malay World.

“But at the same time SIS does not fight for Islam because it does not see the mufti’s prohibition as an effort to preserve Islam from being tainted,” Ku Seman said.

He advised Muslims to drop those matters he said did not contribute to Islamic development, singling out beauty contests as an example.

“We should not wait for SIS because the recommendation for Muslims not to be beauty queen organisers is not gazetted under the law.

“SIS will never support this suggestion as long because as it is not made into law, it is a violation of human basic rights,” the columnist said.

Four Muslim women were dropped as contestants in the Miss Malaysia World 2013 pageant and are now under investigation for allegedly breaching the National Fatwa Council’s edict and allegedly insulting Islam.

The council had issued an edict in 1996 prohibiting Muslim women from taking part in beauty pageants, and the fatwa was gazetted as law, making it an offence punishable with a three-year jail term or a RM3,000 fine or both.

The recent spotlight on Islamic decrees by Malaysian authorities on its followers as well as non-Muslims has drawn much debate over their enforcement here, with some groups deeming certain provisions under religious law to be regressive while others voice concern over a worrying trend of overt Islamisation in a multicultural country.