No use getting upset over PAS’ dress rules

Rather than complain about PAS’ dress rules, people must understand that religion is an integral part of its politics and act on one of three options open to them.

A. Kathirasen, Free Malaysia Today

I’m neither surprised nor upset by news that a non-Muslim Kelantanese woman was issued a compound notice on June 26 for wearing “indecent clothing”.

Many netizens, according to reports, are unhappy with the action.

In fact, someone I know was hot in the collar as his wife often walks around in shorts; and so do his daughters. He does not think it is indecent.

First, let me state why I am not surprised. Kelantan is ruled by PAS whose aim is to introduce Islamic laws – or rather its version of Islam – throughout the country in stages. It has already succeeded in taking control of four states.

It doesn’t even matter if you are not a Muslim. You must follow the laws that it sets down in states that it governs, irrespective of your religious beliefs or customs.

One may argue that the case of the 35-year-old woman operating a clothing business who was issued a compound notice by the Kota Baru Municipal Council for wearing a pair of shorts again shows that PAS does not recognise individual rights.

If you are in public – and that apparently involves being in your own shop – you must be dressed according to rules set by the Kelantan government – in this case the municipal council.

Kota Baru Municipal Council president Rosnazli Amin was quoted by the media as saying that the by-law on the dress code had been in existence for “a long time” and that “many locals, including non-Muslims understand it”.

We must understand that the state government and local councils have the right to promulgate and enforce laws and by-laws so long as these do not run afoul of the Federal Constitution.

Unfortunately, in the process, some of them tend to become moral policemen.

Those who do not like such laws have few options. They can either follow the laws to the letter and continue staying in the state – in this case Kelantan – or leave for another state where there is greater freedom or use their voting power to vote in a government that they feel respects their rights.

Wearing shorts is not a problem in, say, Kuala Lumpur, and I have even seen Muslim women in shorts or clothes that may upset conservatives. The only caveat is that most government departments do not allow you to enter the premises wearing shorts.

This is not a law though. It is just a dress code for visitors that the chief secretary to the government has sent to department heads. Unfortunately, we have heard of some unthinking officials or security personnel stationed at these departments turning away people even in emergencies, including at hospitals and police stations.

I believe non-Muslims have no problem with dress codes for Muslims being shariah-compliant but they would prefer to be left alone to decide what is good for them.

Now the issue of “indecent”, I have to say, is open to interpretation.

My neighbour and the Kelantan woman who was issued a compound notice may think the shorts is a decent piece of clothing but PAS leaders and supporters, and those who are conservative in their ways, may not.

In fact, it is not just Muslims who may frown at women wearing shorts. I know of older non-Muslims who do not like to see their daughters’ wearing shorts that are very short or exposing their bodies too much. They think women can be fashionably dressed without exposing their thighs or cleavage.

A searing complaint from women is that it is the men who are very concerned – some women say “obsessed” – with how they dress. I wonder if men are using it as a control mechanism.

Going by the local history of complaints about women’s dressing, male PAS leaders lead the way.

Remember the time in November 2021 when PAS MP for Kuala Krai, Abdul Latif Abdul Rahman complained about female Muslim hotel workers being asked to wear short skirts? A month later, Abdul Latiff was reported to have complained that Malaysian air stewardesses were wearing “revealing” clothes.

Recently, on June 15 in fact, PAS MP Wan Razali Wan Nor called for a change in the dress code for nurses because, to his eye, their uniform was too tight and not shariah-compliant.

The Kuantan MP complained that nurses’ uniforms “show their body shape”.

Most young men, I gather, would not mind seeing women in outfits that show their body shape.

I am reminded of a quote I read a long time ago: “Some men object to the fan dancer, others to the fan.”

To be fair, the Kelantan government also goes after men whose dressing is not shariah-compliant. For instance, the media reported that seven men in Tanah Merah were given warning notices on March 17 by the Kelantan Islamic religious affairs department for wearing thigh-length shorts.

The truth of the matter is, as PAS gains in strength, we are going to see the implementation of more and more such laws and by-laws. Because PAS has mixed religion with politics, every little thing it does will have a significant dose of religion in it. Kelantan is clearly the best example.

FMT reported on June 27 that local government development minister Nga Kor Ming had urged the Kota Bharu Municipal Council to retract the compound notice issued to the woman because she was not a Muslim and had a right to wear shorts.

This is not likely to happen.

What is likely to happen is that we will hear of more such cases in future.

As I said earlier, three options are available to Malaysians: Accept the situation and adjust, move out to another state or vote for political parties that will respect their rights.

People, both Muslim and non-Muslim, must understand this fact and act wisely.