KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 — Islamic authorities are pressing ahead with their case against Muslim intellectual Kassim Ahmad despite a civil court challenge against his arrest and charge that will only be heard next month, lawyer Rosli Dahlan complained today.
Kassim’s lawyer Rosli, told Malay Mail Online that the Shariah Court and the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (JAWI) rejected his client’s request to defer the four-day trial running from October 20.
He claimed this to be an apparent attempt to set the civil courts and Shariah courts on a “collision course”, as there could be a conflict of laws on this matter.
Saying that JAWI and the Shariah Court had only notified him yesterday — just days before the Monday trial — Rosli said he had to file an application in the High Court today for a stay of the trial in the Shariah Court, but said it was uncertain if he would be able to get a hearing for the application before the trial.
In a October 14 letter from JAWI, the religious body’s prosecutor Zainor Rashid Hassin told Kassim’s lawyers that they “do not agree” with his application to postpone the trial dates set by the Putrajaya Shariah High Court.
In the letter that was made available to Malay Mail Online, Zainor did not state the reasons for their refusal to agree to defer the Shariah trial dates.
Zainor, who was writing on behalf of JAWI’s chief Syarie prosecutor, was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.
On October 3, Rosli had written to the Shariah Court to request that it postpone Kassim’s trial until the judicial review — which is set to be heard on November 18 — is disposed in the civil courts.
Rosli also claimed today that JAWI and the other parties named in the judicial review case had asked for the hearing date in the civil courts to be postponed, as they needed more time to file their court documents.
He said that his client had acted in good faith and had not objected to their requests, also saying that Kassim did not cause any delays in the hearing date for the judicial review, saying it was now “unfair” for the Shariah prosecutors to insist on going ahead with the trial before the civil court decides on the challenge.
Besides defending Kassim in the Shariah Court, Rosli also represents the 81-year-old author in the civil court in the judicial review of JAWI’s actions in abruptly hauling him up from his Kedah home to Kuala Lumpur, besides briefly detaining him overnight before charging him in the Putrajaya Shariah Court the next day.
In March, Kassim was charged at the Shariah High Court in Putrajaya 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 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.