Between an opinion and the law

In a democracy, laws are made by an elected legislature and an opinion of humans should not have any legal weight.

But looking at the laws, in particular the Syariah Criminal Offences laws, it would appear that our erstwhile mullahs can state an opinion, and that is all a fatwa is, an opinion, and it becomes, effectively a law.

Azmi Sharom, The Star

I SAY man. I say. I say man. How can? How? Forgive me for my loss of ability to speak with any coherence, but there are some things which just leave one utterly gobsmacked.

For example, when did our mullahs suddenly become the embodiment of Islam? Because that is what it looks like to me.

Disagreeing with a human being’s opinion is equated to insulting a religion.

That strikes me as not only logically bizarre, but also unbelievably arrogant.

And, what about the fact that such questioning can lead to punitive action from the State? Oh dear, oh dear.

Zainah Anwar had already, in the pages of this paper, clearly elucidated the true meaning of the fatwa (“The essence of fatwa,” Sunday Star, Aug 4). That it is merely an opinion of humans and therefore should not have any legal weight.

A practice apparently carried out all over the Muslim world, except in Malaysia.

But looking at the laws, in particular the Syariah Criminal Offences laws, it would appear that our erstwhile mullahs can state an opinion, and that is all a fatwa is, an opinion, and it becomes, effectively a law.

I say. I say man. How can?

In a democracy a law is made by an elected legislature. The last time that I looked the only elected legislatures are Parliament and the various state legislative assemblies. No one else.

And, why the crazy heavy-handedness? I am thinking of course about the lady and her pooches.

Just the action of expressing her love for her dogs has led to two nights in jail and being charged in a court of law while handcuffed like a violent criminal.

What sort of desperate thinking can equate her caring for her dogs as a threat?

And, that is what all the happenings of the past couple of weeks smell like to me. Desperation.

It looks like the powers that be, now faced with a threat to their cosy existence, have gone into overdrive to ensure that the status quo with them sitting unquestionably at the top of the pile remains as it is. But things are not as they are anymore are they?

It is clear that across the board the majority of Malaysians of all creeds and faiths are challenging the status quo. Groups who belong to that status quo, whether consciously or not, can’t help but feel that their way of doing things are coming to an end.

Because of this, any sort of difference to their view point cannot and must not be tolerated.

Malaysians have much more access to information than we have ever had before.

They are now willing to defy the powers that be in order to get their views across and this is frightening to those who want us to be servile, subservient and silent.

This goes for the secular powers that be as well, as we can see in the spate of Sedition Act charges and shrill calls for the return of the “good old days” of detention without trial.

The retrogressive actions of the powerful, the anti-intellectual movements that they are on, all point towards one particular conclusion: they are frightened.

Not of violence, because the vast majority of Malaysians have not shown any violent tendencies, even when opposing the existing state of affairs, but of a populace which after decades of submissiveness have now found their voice and are willing to use it. And, use it we must.

I, for one, see the crazy fatwa situation and the banning of the Shia branch of Islam as a clarion call for a strengthening of a secular system of government.

Not because I disrespect religion; on the contrary, it is with utmost respect that I understand that people have a right to find spiritual solace in any way they want.

It is just that, only in a pluralistic, democratic, secular system which respects human rights and the rule of law can all people have the security to find their own way.

We can also see that our democratic country has so many flaws in it — from the subtle, like unevenly divided constituencies, to the blatant where an unelected body can make laws — that a concerted and persistent movement to change all this, to return us to a situation where our inherent dignity as free men and women is respected, is of the utmost urgency.

But in the meantime, I still foresee many more occasions when all I’ll be able to mumble is; I say, I say man, how can?

> Azmi Sharom ([email protected]) is a law teacher.