Fatwa declaring Kassim Ahmad an apostate only for Terengganu, minister says

Kassim Ahmad speaks to reporters after his trial at the Shariah High Court in Putrajaya, May 6, 2014. The 81-year-old scholar and author was declared an apostate by the Terengganu Fatwa Council. ― Picture by Boo Su-Lyn
Kassim Ahmad speaks to reporters after his trial at the Shariah High Court in Putrajaya, May 6, 2014. The 81-year-old scholar and author was declared an apostate by the Terengganu Fatwa Council. ― Picture by Boo Su-Lyn

PUTRAJAYA, July 2 —- The fatwa issued by the Terengganu Fatwa Council declaring activist Kassim Ahmad an apostate is only applicable in that state, minister in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom said today.

“The views expressed by the mufti in Terengganu is a decision decided only at the Terengganu state level.

“So for other states, it is up to them to make decisions based on their respective views,” he told reporters after attending an official event here.

Yesterday, Bernama reported the Terengganu Fatwa Committee as having unanimously ruled that the statements made by Kassim at a seminar in February as “kufur” (disbelief) and apostate thoughts.

State Islamic Affairs Commissioner Datuk Mohd Rozali Salleh said the decision was made at a special meeting of the committee on March 9.

“Such thoughts were deviant and a threat to public order and damaging to Islam, as there were elements of irregularities like disputing the ‘syahadah’, hadis, Islamic rules, women’s hair as aurat, the selawat, and condoning apostasy,” Rozali was quoted as saying.

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.

Kassim was subsequently charged in March at the Shariah High Court in Putrajaya with insulting Islam and defying religious authorities.

He 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.

Kassim’s lawyer argued that Jawi officers had overstepped their legal powers as the Kedah resident should only be subjected to Kedah’s Shariah laws, insisting that Putrajaya’s courts and the laws of the federal territory has no jurisdiction over him.

The lawyer said that in Malaysia, the Islamic laws differ for each states and “only bind Muslims residents” in the respective states.

The case has cast a spotlight on the “conflict of laws” between the differing Shariah laws for different states, as well as between the civil courts and Islamic courts.

The activist has filed for a judicial review and asked the civil courts to declare that the charges against him for insulting Islam in the Putrajaya Shariah court are unconstitutional and in violation of state Islamic laws.

In the judicial review application filed today, Kassim wants the Kuala Lumpur High Court to compel Jamil to ensure that Putrajaya’s religious authorities do not “violate” his fundamental rights in the criminal case in the Shariah courts.

The Islamic affairs minister declined to comment on the suit brought against him.