KUALA LUMPUR, April 17 — The Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) is abusing its power to harass and intimidate female activists, said three women currently being investigated by the agency for a forum on Malay women and discarding the hijab.
In a joint statement, the three women said they are ready to cooperate with authorities, but unequivocally insisted that they have not broken any laws in the country.
“We condemn this unnecessary investigation as abuse of power to harass and intimidate women activists who are speaking up on issues affecting women, and organisers for intellectual discussions that do not serve the status quo.
“We implore the public and the authorities to explore the subject at hand with rational thinking and dialogue, as we believe in healthy discourse and the defense of democratic spaces for all minorities in Malaysia,” they said in the statement.
“Let’s all do our part to stop a culture of misinformation and fear of intellectual discourse,” they added.
The trio consists of activist and writer Maryam Lee, legal professional and social media commentator Dian Sofia, and journalist and women’s rights activist Mohani Niza.
They were panellists in a forum in conjunction with the launching of Maryam’s book Unveiling Choice.
The event organised by publisher and book store Gerakbudaya received backlash from some Muslims on social media, after positively presenting the perspectives and opinions of several Malay women who “dehijab”, or no longer cover their hair.
Book Launch & Forum on Malay Women & Dehijabbing with author, @mrymler , Dian Sofia and Mohani Niza. April 13, Saturday at 2 PM – 5 PM at— Gerakbudaya | SIRD (@GerakBudaya) April 10, 2019
Gerakbudaya Bookstore. #Unveilingchoice pic.twitter.com/VKTctw2NF7
The trio said the three-hour discussion was an intellectual discourse based on the women’s lived realities, looking at the phenomenon from sociological and historical perspectives, alongside discussions on the socio-political realities of Malaysian girls and women today.
According to them, the backlash on social media only started a day after the event, which had ended on a positive note.
“Negative comments of the event largely came from those who did not attend the discussion, as a result, they spread misinformation of what was being discussed and distorted perceptions of the book, the author, and the panellists,” they said.
The trio said they were only informed of the investigation via a statement by minister in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa on Facebook on Monday.
By Tuesday morning, Jais officers had visited Gerakbudaya to obtain copies of the book and interview the store’s representative, in response to reports against the event lodged with them.
There are differing views among Muslim scholars as to whether it is obligatory for Muslim women to cover their hair as part of the aurat, or “intimate parts”.