Playing civil law card, lawyer thwarts Kassim Ahmad’s Shariah trial for Islam slur

Rosli Dahlan

(Malay Mail Online) – The Shariah trial of Kassim Ahmad for allegedly insulting Islam was postponed today after a lawsuit was filed with the civil courts challenging the legality of the intellectual’s arrest.

In a move that caught the syarie prosecutor off guard, Kassim’s syarie lawyer Rosli Dahlan told the Shariah High Court here today that a judicial review was filed at the Kuala Lumpur High Court yesterday.

The action initiated by another lawyer, Nizam Bashir, contends that the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) had no authority to detain Kassim at his home in Kulim, Kedah before taking him to Putrajaya.

“To ensure there’s no conflict of laws, it’s better to postpone the proceedings,” Rosli said at the Shariah High Court here today.

Kassim was charged at the Shariah High Court here in March with insulting Islam and defying religious authorities at a seminar in February that was officiated by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Kassim had pleaded not guilty to both charges under Section 7(b) and Section 9 of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997 that carry a maximum fine of RM3,000 or imprisonment up to two years, or both.

At the seminar in Putrajaya on February 15 and February 16, Kassim allegedly questioned the use of “hadith” (a collection of sayings and deeds attributed to Prophet Muhammad) to interpret the Quran, as well as the headscarf commonly worn by Muslim women, as he allegedly said hair was not part of the “aurat” that must be covered up.

The 81-year-old scholar and author, who had written a controversial book in 1986 titled Hadith: A Re-Evaluation that got banned, was also accused of questioning the beatification of Prophet Muhammad.

At the hearing today, Federal Territories syarie chief prosecutor Ibrahim Deris said the prosecution wished to amend both charges and add an additional charge.

But midway through the reading of the charges to Kassim, a frail-looking man who used a walking stick, his lawyer interrupted and announced the judicial review that was filed in the civil court yesterday.

“This involves the question of jurisdiction. His domicile in Kedah is subject to Kedah shariah laws,” Rosli told the Shariah High Court.

“We should allow the civil court to proceed first as this involves the question of jurisdiction,” he added.

Ibrahim argued that the offences were committed in Putrajaya.

Syarie judge Azzeman Omar ordered both parties to send written submissions on the matter and set July 17 for decision.

After the hearing, which was attended by Dr Mahathir who has previously defended Kassim, the former socialist politician’s lawyer Nizam said Shariah law does not have extra-territorial effect, and thus prohibits Jawi from going outside Federal Territory borders and arresting Kassim in Kedah.

“We’re calling it an abduction,” Nizam told The Malay Mail Online.