Fatwa on Muslim athletes a bad call, says Khairy

Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin told the Malaysian Handball Federation on July 7, 2013 to suspend all those involved in the alleged gang rape of the Sukma games official. — Picture by Arif Kartono
Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin told the Malaysian Handball Federation on July 7, 2013 to suspend all those involved in the alleged gang rape of the Sukma games official. — Picture by Arif Kartono

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KUALA LUMPUR, July 31 — Putrajaya will not agree to a fatwa keeping Muslim women out of certain competitive sports, minister Khairy Jamaluddin assured athletes and sports officials today after the National Fatwa Council (NFC) proposed the idea.

Yesterday Penang Mufti Hassan Ahmad was quoted as saying the NFC may ban Muslim women from certain sports events such as swimming and competitive gymnastics as it would expose their "aurat", on the heels of a similar fatwa on beauty pageants that recently sparked a storm over the Miss Malaysia World 2013 contest.

"I don't think this is a good idea at all. Sporting competitions are different from beauty contests. I would object to any banning of sporting events," Khairy told The Malay Mail Online in a text message.

The issue would be raised at the NFC's three-day committee meeting in September.

The news of a possible ban has sparked an uproar among sports officials with some arguing that such a move would "kill" the only few sporting events in which Malaysia excel.

Others have pointed out that a fatwa against Muslim women in gymnastics and swimming could lead to future bans in other sporting events.

"In gymnastics, most of them are already wearing leotards. Some international federations are relaxed with the attire of the contestants but some insist they have to wear a certain attire like beach volleyball.

"There’s netball, hockey and also athletics (where athletes wear short skirts or tight fitting attire). I hope the powers-that-be will be able to clear the air and state their intention. In Iran, there’s a women-only tournament while sports manufacturers can come up with suitable attire if clothing is an issue," said Olympic Council of Malaysia secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi.

“The council should think such matters thoroughly. One cannot say this can be done or that cannot be done without justification," he added.

Conservative Islamic scholars adhere to a strict dress code for Muslims, forbidding them from displaying certain parts of their body, or aurat, while in public. For women, this includes the hair and most of the rest of her body while for men, it is generally from the navel to the knees.

Other Muslim scholars preach a more pragmatic approach on the application of Islamic law on a person's dress code.

Khairy's position on the matter could also highlight the concerns raise by a Muslim women group over the binding powers of such fatwas.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) had recently suggested  that fatwa be deliberated by a legislative body before they are made binding on Muslims after it deemed the current procedure “un-Islamic and undemocratic”.

condemned the dropping of four Muslim candidates from the Miss Malaysia World 2013 contest because they purportedly violated a 1996 fatwa, which deems Muslim participation in beauty pageants sinful.

Their disqualification, the group said, raises concerns on the “over-reach” of a religious edict or fatwa beyond their original intent.

It further said its greatest concern was on the automatic enforcement of fatwa as law without being subjected to stringent scrutiny by a legislative body like Parliament or a state assembly.

After a fatwa is approved by a state executive council and a Sultan, the edict only needs to be gazetted before it is enforced into a religious law.

“It is not tabled for debate in the legislative body Any violation of the fatwa is a criminal offence. Any effort to dispute or to give an opinion contrary to the fatwa is also a criminal offence.

“Such provisions have no basis in the Quran and historical practices of Islam and violate several articles in the Federal Constitution,” the group said.

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