Don’t use fatwas as ‘backdoor’ to force Islamic law on public, PAS leader tells authorities

PAS’s Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said Islamic authorities must not use fatwas or religious edicts to implement religious laws without prior consultation. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
PAS’s Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said Islamic authorities must not use fatwas or religious edicts to implement religious laws without prior consultation. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 13 — Islamic authorities must avoid using fatwas or religious edicts to covertly implement religious principles or laws without prior consultation or discussion, PAS’s Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said today.

The PAS Research Centre chief executive said clerics and Islamists must adhere to the norms of democracy by engaging the public, rather than foisting their principles on Muslims and even non-Muslims who are increasingly suspicious of the authorities.

“No Islamic principles, however important, should be implemented by some form of backdoor implementations. That means, by way of fatwa,” Dzulkefly said in a roundtable discussion on “Democrat Islamists”, referring to the Islamic religious edict.

“And fatwa, as you know very well, are not voted on by representatives that are elected. That presents a problem.”

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

Dzulkefly added that he does not agree that a fatwa is beyond challenge, saying that even PAS has contested such edicts before.

Speaking in the discussion organised by the Global Movement of Moderates Malaysia, Dzulkefly insisted that an Islamist must be able to engage the public, be less judgmental towards others, and tolerate differing opinions.

Failure to do these, Dzulkefly said, will cause Muslim community to “retrogress” into a doctrine of “takfiri”, in which one can easily declare others as unbelievers or infidels.

Besides the PAS representative, other guests in the discussion were Dr Anis Matta, the president of Indonesia’s Prosperous Justice Party (PKS); Dr Azzam Tamimi, chief editor of Alhiwar Arabic TV channel; and Dr Driss Bouanou, a member of Morocco’s Justice and Development Party (PJD).

“It is better and nicer if the fatwa and religious bodies can see this discussion and forum as inputs for them to examine and consider,” said Dzulkefly, explaining that these dialogues should not be seen as challenging their authorities.

“These are the engagement, democratic process of arriving to the stage where fatwa can be decreed … . The public can no longer accept the authorities through force and repression.”

Earlier this week, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that any religious edict, or fatwa, issued by Islamic scholars must consider the realities of the current times and be thoroughly debated first.

The former prime minister also said nobody should declare that only their interpretation of the Islamic scriptures are correct and unquestionable, pointing out that many scholars have made irrelevant interpretations before.

Muslim women’s group Sisters in Islam (SIS) has caused a backlash in the past weeks for mounting a constitutional challenge against a Selangor fatwa declaring those “professing” liberalism and religious pluralism as “deviants”.