PUTRAJAYA, Nov 15 — The Court of Appeal has deferred its verdict to decide on SIS Forum (Malaysia)’s appeal to quash a fatwa that declared the organisation as deviant.
Justice Datuk Has Zanah Mehat, who led a three-member panel, said they need more time to deliberate and to give their decision on the appeal as the matter was important and of public interest.
The other two judges presiding on the panel were Justices Datuk Che Mohd Ruzima Ghazali and Datuk M. Gunalan. The court proceedings were conducted online.
The court heard submissions from SIS Forum’s lawyer Datuk Malik Imtiaz Sarwar who argued that the fatwa, prepared by the Selangor State Fatwa Committee and subsequently gazetted by the Selangor Government on July 31, 2014 stating that SIS Forum, individuals, organisations and institutions adopting ideologies of liberalism and pluralism are deviant and against the teaching of Islam, is disproportionate and unconstitutional.
“The fatwa does not define or even indicate as to what amounts to pluralism or liberalism. The fatwa also did not provide proper notice to the appellants (SIS Forum) as to what conduct would result in them committing a crime,” he said.
He said SIS Forum was incorporated in 1993, to promote a framework of women’s rights in Islam that considers woman’s experiences and realities, to eliminate injustice and discrimination against women, and to increase public awareness and reform laws and policies within the framework of justice and equality in Islam.
He said SIS Forum’s activities in advocating fair and just treatment towards women are in line with the overall Quranic ethos of justice and compassion, adding that there were insufficient materials before the court to show that their activities were within the meaning of “liberalism and pluralism”.
Malik, who was assisted by A. Surendra Ananth, said any law that seeks to impose criminal sanctions but does not give fair notice to a person of the conduct that is deemed as criminal, can be declared to be unconstitutional.
The court also heard submissions from lawyer Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar representing the Selangor State Fatwa Committee, Yusfarizal Yussoff representing the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) and Selangor state legal adviser Datuk Salim Soib@Hamid representing the Selangor Government.
Zainul Rijal argued that the acronym for SIS Forum is Sisters in Islam and by its name, the organisation showed that it has a connection with Islam and the organisation’s founding members, who are directors, are all Muslim women, adding that its activities included matters pertaining to Islamic affairs.
He said SIS Forum has published many of its views and stands on the teaching of Islam under the name of SIS Forum which the Selangor state Fatwa Committee found to consist of elements of liberalism and pluralism that went against the teaching of Islam.
Zainul Rijal said the objective to control and restrict any belief which is against the teaching of Islam as empowered under Article 11 (4) of the Federal Constitution would be ineffective if any statement or views against the teaching of Islam was made under a company’s name such as SIS Forum.
Meanwhile, Yusfarizal argued that SIS Forum is not challenging the constitutionality or statutory compliance of the fatwa but their challenge was on the validity of the content of the fatwa which should be under the Syariah Court’s jurisdiction and not the Civil Court.
On August 27, 2019, the High Court dismissed the judicial review application filed by SIS Forum, its founder Zainah Mahfoozah Anwar and former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mohd Zaid Ibrahim.
In their judicial review, they are seeking a certiorari order to quash the fatwa which was prepared by the Selangor State Fatwa Committee and gazetted by the Selangor state government, declaring that SIS Forum, any individual, as well as groups that adopted the deviant ideologies of liberalism and pluralism, were deviating from the teachings of Islam. — Bernama