PETALING JAYA, Jan 24 — Fearing loss of political clout, Malaysia’s Islamic authorities are wielding their narrow interpretation of religion and pitting it against secular rights to maintain their rigid control of power, human rights proponents said today.
Speaking at a transgender forum that drew a small crowd of fewer than 40 people, the activists however argued that the dominant religion in Malaysia should not be viewed as conflicting with civil liberties, adding that there was nothing expressly stated in Islamic teachings to criminalise those with different sexual orientations.
“Islam is being politicised as a tool to get into power… and it is a wonderful tool. Any extremist group wanting to propagate their ideas can do so, because you can’t question the religion.
“In that sense, it is easy to draw support towards your political cause,” said lawyer Honey Tan, representing the Coalition of Human Rights NGOs.
She pointed out that there has been talk of creating a Shariah Federal Court which would supposedly have equal powers to the current civil courts, which would challenge the rights of many Malaysians especially minority communities.
“We are heading towards an Islamic state,” she said.
Firdaus Husni, committee member from the Bar Council constitutional law committee disputed against the view that human rights is incongruous with Islam, pointing out the religion’s basic tenets champions the protections of the rights for all regardless of the individual’s background or beliefs.
“Why can’t we change the perception that justice is the core of Islam. There is nothing which suggests that current civil laws are not Islamic,” she said.
Alluding to last year’s landmark Court of Appeal ruling upholding the constitutional rights of three Muslim transgenders, Firdaus said though a small step now, the decision held a far-reaching implication on sexual minorities in the country.
“But for the life of me, I do not know why the trans community is seen as a threat,” the Malay lawyer added.
Transgender activist and founder of online community for Malaysian transmen, Transmen of Malaysia Dorian Wilde said that the persecution and clampdown against sexual minorities is viewed as a sort of testament of a person’s religiosity within society.
“It is almost like a race to how much can you oppress people, and that this shows how much more faith you have,” he said.
The Court of Appeal ruled last November in favour of three Muslim transgenders ― Muhamad Juzaili Mohd Khamis, Shukur Jani and Wan Fairol Wan Ismail ― who were convicted of cross-dressing under Section 66 of the Negri Sembilan Syariah Criminal Enactment 1992 that punishes Muslim men who wear women’s attire with a fine not exceeding RM1,000, or jail of not more than six months, or both.
The three-judge bench in the appellate court also struck down Section 66 of the Negri Sembilan Syariah Criminal Enactment 1992 as unconstitutional and void, noting that the state law provision contravened a slew of fundamental liberties, which were personal liberty, equality, freedom of movement and freedom of expression.
The court panel ― comprising Justice Datuk Mohd Hishamudin Yunus, Datuk Aziah Ali and Datuk Lim Yee Lan ― had also said the law was discriminatory as it failed to recognise men diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID).
In the ruling, Hishamudin cited former Lord President Tun Salleh Abas, who had ruled that the framers of the Federal Constitution had confined the word “Islam” in Article 3 — which says that Islam is the religion of the Federation — to the areas of marriage, divorce and inheritance law, based on the history of Islamic legislation in Malaya during British colonial times.
The Federal Court is set to hear next Tuesday the Negri Sembilan state government’s application for leave to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision.
The appeals court’s judgment comes even as Putrajaya is attempting to elevate the Shariah courts to be on par with the civil Federal Court, the highest court in the country.
Malay-Muslim right-wing groups have also claimed that the enforcement of hudud law — which PAS is trying to push in Kelantan — is in line with the contentious Article 3 of the Federal Constitution.