Muslim women’s group to challenge fatwa against liberalism, pluralism

SIS' programme manager Suriani Kempe (pic) says the fatwa violated natural justice and they were not notified nor given a chance to defend themselves. ― File pic
SIS' programme manager Suriani Kempe (pic) says the fatwa violated natural justice and they were not notified nor given a chance to defend themselves. ― File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 ― A Muslim women’s group is set to file a legal challenge today against a fatwa, or religious edict, by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) declaring any persons or groups “professing liberalism or religious pluralism” as “deviants”.

The challenge will be filed in the Kuala Lumpur High Court jointly by SIS Forum (Malaysia) Bhd ― commonly known as Sisters in Islam ― together with several individuals who have been labelled “liberals” before, including prominent feminist Zainah Anwar and former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

“Liberalism” encompasses a wide array of ideas, but its proponents commonly espouse notions such civil rights, freedom of speech and of religion, free trade, private property, and free and fair elections.

Meanwhile, “religious pluralism” maintains that no one religion holds the sole and exclusive source of truth, often promoting harmonious co-existence and understanding between all faiths and their adherents.

The challenge today will name Mais and the Selangor Fatwa Council as respondents.

The fatwa, gazetted on July 31, 2014, singled out SIS by name, in addition to “any individuals, organisations or institutions”.

It also deemed any publications with elements of liberalism and religious pluralism as “haram”, or prohibited, and liable for seizure by religious authorities.

In addition, the fatwa urged local Internet regulator Malaysian Commission of Multimedia and Communications (MCMC) to block “any social websites” opposed to Islamic teachings and laws.

“Any individuals professing liberalism and religious pluralism teachings must repent and return to Islam’s path,” said the fatwa, which is effective since September 1 if not challenged.

Fatwas are opinions issued by Islamic clerics on a multitude of issues. Although these are advisory in nature, Malaysia occasionally gazettes some into law.

It is understood that SIS contends that, as a company registered under the Companies Act, it does not profess a belief and therefore is out of Mais’ jurisdiction.

“It (the fatwa) violated natural justice, that is we were not notified nor given a chance to defend ourselves,” SIS' programme manager Suriani Kempe told Malay Mail Online recently.

However, the challenge is expected to antagonise conservative Muslims, with PAS Youth declaring SIS as an “insolent” and “extremist” group out to challenge the monarchy and Federal Constitution today.

In addition, pro-clergy Muslim group Geng Ustaz Cintakan Ulama (Gang of Ulama-loving Ustaz) has also planned a rally against SIS in front of the Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex this morning, according to its president Norazli Musa.

Malaysia’s religious authorities have long derided liberalism and pluralism, with Friday sermons nationwide claiming a conspiracy by “enemies of Islam” to manipulate Muslims through ideas like secularism, socialism, feminism and positivism, in addition to the two.

This was repeated by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who in April said that Islam is now being tested by new threats under the guise of humanism, secularism, liberalism and human rights.

Just last week, the federal Islamic Development Department (Jakim) warned Muslims nationwide in its Friday sermon against falling for the arguments put forth by the liberal proponents of their creed as the ideas they propagate deviate from the true teachings of Islam.

Muslim groups have also set “liberals” in their crosshairs, with Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) claiming in April that liberalism is the manifestation of Satan’s struggle to mislead mankind.

The group has also consistently labelled liberalism, Christianisation, non-Muslim’s chauvinism and religious pluralism as threats against the Malay-Muslim community.