KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 21 — Women’s rights group Sisters in Islam’s (SIS) — via SIS Forum (Malaysia) Bhd — has today obtained leave from the Federal Court to proceed with their appeals to challenge Selangor’s 2014 fatwa which had labelled the company as deviant from the teachings of Islam.
President of the Court of Appeal Tan Sri Amar Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, who chaired a three-judge panel, allowed the group and one of its co-founders to appeal against the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of its challenge against the fatwa earlier this year.
“Having considered the submissions by learned counsel for all the parties in this application, we are of the considered view the leave ought to be and is hereby given in respect of all the questions of law posed before us for further consideration in the substantive appeal.
“As such we are of the view that the threshold requirements under Section 96 of the Courts of Judicature Act are met,” he said in delivering the court’s unanimous decision through the video-conferencing platform Zoom.
Other judges who sat with him were Chief Judge of Malaya Datuk Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah and Federal Court Judge Tan Sri Datuk Nallini Pathmanathan.
Appeals to the Federal Court are not automatic, as the Federal Court will have to first decide whether to grant leave or whether it would proceed to hear and decide on the appeal.
SIS is seeking to quash a 2014 fatwa issued by Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) declaring that the women’s rights group subscribes to liberalism and religious pluralism and deviates from the teachings of Islam.
It is seeking to nullify the fatwa, arguing that it wrongly characterises the group’s beliefs and practices.
The 2014 fatwa issued by the Selangor fatwa committee is extensive, labelling SIS Forum (Malaysia) and any individuals, organisations or institutions holding on to liberalism and religious pluralism beliefs as deviant from the teachings of Islam. The fatwa did not explain or define the phrase “liberalism and religious pluralism”.
The Selangor fatwa issued and gazetted in July 2014 also said any publications with elements of liberalism and religious pluralism should be “diharamkan” (banned or made forbidden) and can be seized, stating that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) should block any social websites which goes against the teachings of Islam and hukum syarak (Islamic law), and also declared that any individuals holding on to liberalism and religious pluralism beliefs should repent and return to the path of Islam.
Lawyer Datuk Malik Imtiaz Sarwar appeared for SIS Forum while the Selangor fatwa committee was represented by lawyer Aidil Khalid; the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) was represented by Yusfarizal Yussoff and the Selangor state government was represented by Selangor assistant state legal adviser Khairul Nizam Abu Bakar.
In the notice of motion requesting for leave, SIS Forum had proposed 10 questions of law for the Federal Court to decide.
Among them, whether a fatwa, once published in the Gazette under sections 48(6), Administration of the Religion of Islam (State of Selangor) Enactment 2003, is a form of subsidiary law and/or delegated legislation.
Another question is whether the civil court has jurisdiction to judicially review the making of a fatwa, or its publication in the Gazette under section 48(6) of the Enactment, once it is so gazetted on the grounds generally available for the review of subsidiary or delegated legislation
The group’s judicial review application was previously dismissed by the High Court on August 27, 2019.
In March this year, SIS saw its appeal to the Court of Appeal turned away in a 2-1 decision, the second lower court to rule against it.
In a majority decision, Justices Datuk Has Zanah Mehat and Datuk Che Ruzima Ghazali held that there were no merits in SIS’ appeal. Justice Datuk M Gunalan, however, dissented.
The Court of Appeal’s majority decision was also of the view that the Selangor fatwa committee had complied with the procedures under Section 48 of the 2003 Selangor law when it issued the fatwa against SIS Forum.
Gunalan, in his dissenting judgment, viewed that the Selangor Islamic bodies could not apply the fatwa to SIS Forum (Malaysia) Bhd as it is a company not capable of professing the religion of Islam.