SIS: Court’s fatwa challenge refusal dark moment for Malaysia, women’s rights

SIS executive director Rozana Isa is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex August 27, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
SIS executive director Rozana Isa is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex August 27, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 27 — The High Court’s decision today that it had no power to hear Sisters in Islam’s (SIS) challenge against a 2014 Selangor fatwa is “damning” for Muslim women and a dark moment for Malaysia, the women rights advocacy group said.

SIS executive director Rozana Isa said the High Court’s ruling is a “very damning decision on women’s rights, on women’s voices, on Muslim women and on Malaysians in general”.

“The fact it has gone a step further to lift the corporate veil, I think it is something that all Malaysians should be aware of. Because what are the standards for this?

“Even lifting the corporate veil for a fraud case has very high standards, and what are the standards that have been applied to SIS?” she told reporters immediately after the High Court’s decision.

High Court judge Datuk Nordin Hassan had dismissed SIS’ legal challenge solely by ruling that the civil courts had no jurisdiction to decide on the case, and that SIS should instead head to the Shariah courts to challenge the fatwa.

The judge went on to provide his views on other legal points, saying that the Selangor fatwa applies to SIS Forum (Malaysia) even if it was just a company.

Companies and their directors are usually considered separate legal entities, but the judge said justice in this case requires this corporate veil to be lifted.

While acknowledging the company SIS is an “artificial legal person”, the judge said its directing minds are Muslims and their activities touch on Islamic law which the fatwa is applicable on.

SIS’ lawyers had previously argued that the fatwa cannot be applied on the company, as the company does not fall within the category of “persons professing the religion of Islam”.

SIS’ lawyers had also argued that state governments’ powers under the Federal Constitution to make Islamic laws only cover persons professing the religion of Islam and do not extend to companies.

Today, Rozana said SIS would still continue to advocate for women.

“We are definitely very disappointed with the decision, however I cannot say I’m surprised. But the fight continues, we will forge on with our work.

“Whatever is said about SIS, the raison d’être is, at the end of the day, we are here for Muslim women and women rights,” she said.

She thanked those who turned up to support SIS today, adding: “But I think we are really, really looking at very dark hours for Malaysia just before Merdeka after 61 years, it’s a very sad moment.”

Asked if SIS would appeal today’s decision or pursue its legal challenge in the Shariah courts, Rozana said these options will be discussed with SIS lawyers.

SIS has been engaged in a legal tussle over the past five years to challenge the constitutionality and legality of how the fatwa was made.

The fatwa accuses SIS which operates via SIS Forum (Malaysia) of being “deviant”.

The Selangor fatwa, which was gazetted on July 31, 2014, singles out SIS Forum (Malaysia) in a sweeping declaration that the organisation and any individuals, organisations or entities holding on to “liberalism” and “religious pluralism” are deviant from Islamic teachings.

The 2014 fatwa also declares that any published materials with elements of liberalism or religious pluralism are haram (forbidden to Muslims) and can be confiscated, and instructs the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to block social websites that go against Islamic teachings and Islamic law.

The fatwa or religious edict also declares that any individual holding on to liberalism and religious pluralism should repent and return to the path of Islam.

On October 31, 2014, SIS Forum (Malaysia), the group’s co-founder Zainah Anwar and Datuk Zaid Ibrahim had filed a judicial review application over the fatwa against the Selangor Fatwa Committee, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) and the Selangor state government.

In SIS’ legal challenge, it had asked the civil courts to declare the 2014 fatwa as being unconstitutional and being in breach of federal laws and a state law.

SIS had argued that the fatwa was made in breach of the Printing Presses and Publications Act’s Section 7; the Communications and Multimedia Act’s Section 3(3); and Section 51 of the Administration of the Religion of Islam (State of Selangor) Enactment 2003 for not following procedures; as well as the Federal Constitution’s Articles 10, 11, 74, and List I and List II of the Ninth Schedule.

SIS had also applied for the civil courts to declare that SIS as a company or others not able to profess the religion of Islam should not be subject to the Selangor religious authorities’ jurisdiction, as the latter has powers only over “persons” professing the religion of Islam.

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