KUALA LUMPUR, March 18 — The continued persecution of Borders bookstore manager Nik Raina who was arrested by the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (JAWI) for selling a book deemed unIslamic back in 2012 has far-reaching repercussions.
Muslim employees—not just of bookstores—are bound to wonder if they will be next. If a bookstore manager can be prosecuted, who’s next?
Muslim group Sisters in Islam’s Ratna Osman believes that JAWI’s prosecution of Nik Raina would “definitely put fear” in the hearts of other Muslims in similar situations like her.
“Definitely Muslims will be very wary, not knowing when and where they can be arrested.
“Once you are open to risk, you are constantly under pressure and threat because you are exposed to being arrested by any Islamic authority once they deem this product or that product is against Islam,” the advocacy group’s executive director told Malay Mail Online recently.
“Are they going to say one day that only Islamic books can be sold in Malaysia, or any non-Islamic books in bookstores, no Muslim employees can sell that? Is that the kind of law or policy they are going to spread?” Ratna asked, noting that religious authorities have the “upper hand” on deciding what publications are halal or haram — forbidden or permissible in Islam.
Ratna noted the prevalent “moral policing” in Malaysia with Putrajaya even mooting a Shariah police squad that would heighten the control of the life of Muslims. She said that religious authorities could instead learn from the whole Borders episode that has stretched close to three years.
On Monday, SIS said JAWI’s actions against Nik Raina had violated the Federal Constitution and tenets of Islamic justice, also claiming that it opens up room for Muslim employees to be discriminated with the potential of facing similar prosecution.
A major bookstore chain (not Borders) declined to comment on the issue, claiming it was “sensitive” and did not want to be involved in the matter, while other bookstore companies contacted by Malay Mail Online have yet to respond with comments on how JAWI’s actions against Nik Raina had affected their Muslim employees.
For Borders, it will continue its careful approach to protect its employees, including measures such as placing warnings on and cling-wrapping books deemed to contain inappropriate content to prevent young readers from reading them.
In an illustration of Borders’ precautionary actions, Borders’ general manager Peter Xavier cited the example of the Fifty Shades of Grey series that was only recently banned after it was made available in Malaysia several years ago.
“However, when the movie ban was announced (though the book was yet to be banned) we took immediate proactive steps to remove all titles — including the trilogy — from our shelves,” he said, pointing out that this was done even before the Home Ministry banned the book and while it was still openly sold by other bookstores.
Xavier told Malay Mail Online that none of the company’s Muslim employees have been “affected” by Nik Raina’s case.
“They are aware that management takes full responsibility of their wellbeing and are ever ready to stand by and support them in any eventualities,” he said in an emailed response yesterday.
Borders has a sizeable Muslim workforce, with 100 out of its 167 employees being Muslim.
When asked if anyone had quit Borders out of fear following JAWI’s actions against Nik Raina, he said those who left after part-time gigs had done so to pursue their further studies, while many others had been absorbed as full-time staff.
When asked if the JAWI incident had deterred Muslims from joining Borders, Peter noted that most new employees hired by the company are Muslim, saying: “In fact, most new hires are mainly Muslim.
“None of the employees have shown any fear or apprehension in relation to the ongoing case,” he said.