Fundamental liberties, except if you are Muslim

OCTOBER 3 — The Federal Court gave its decision earlier this week on ZI Publications and Ezra Zaid’s bid to have Section 16 of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995 declared invalid. The ruling to strike out the challenge was unfortunately not unexpected. 

The law as it exists today, particularly Article 74(2) under the Federal Constitution does in fact give state assemblies the power to make laws on matters falling under the state government’s jurisdiction in the Ninth Schedule. This includes laws to punish Muslims for offences relating to the precepts of Islam.

Section 16 (1) of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995 makes it a crime for Muslims to publish, distribute or possess publications against Islamic law, with this offence punishable with a fine not exceeding RM3,000 or two years’ prison, or both.

Section 16(2) empowers the state Shariah Court to order any book, document or other form of record to be “forfeited and destroyed”, even when nobody is convicted under Section 16(1).

The unanimous conclusion of the justices that the 1995 state law was not unconstitutional and that it fell within the jurisdiction of the state government was correct from a point of law. 

For a long time now, we have existed with the unfortunate reality that there are many double standards or dualities in the lives that we live in this country. But when you are a Muslim, the dichotomy is further enhanced and further pronounced when there are laws for everyone and then there are additional laws for Muslims. 

Fundamental liberties which are guaranteed under the Constitution with additional ifs, buts and caveats.

But I suspect that the original framers of the Federal Constitution never expected or anticipated that religion would be used as a tool to inflict tyranny or oppression on its citizens of a particular faith.

Because this is what this is. Religious tyranny and oppression with a touch of Islamofascism. 

Consider the book in question, the Bahasa Melayu translation of Allah, Liberty and Love. How and where Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta is contrary to Islamic law has never been fully explained, articulated or even rationalised by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais).

After three years of following the Nik Raina-Borders case which only ended this year and involves the same book, I can say with confidence that in the case of this publication, the religious authorities have very little understanding of what they have deemed as being against Islam. In fact, I doubt that they have actually read it. Jakim’s supposedly had a report on the book but it was never made publically available.

If they did read it, they would find that it contained the author’s personal reflections of Islam and not a book of religious instruction intended to deviate Muslims from their faith and insult Islam, as it is claimed. In fact, the English version was in circulation for a couple of years before it was published in Bahasa Melayu.

But then the content was never the real issue. This has always been about the author, Irshad Manji. She is a Canadian Muslim who is also a lesbian feminist and an advocate for LGBT issues. A Muslim woman. Liberal. Feminist. Lesbian. An advocate for the protection of sexual minorities. 

Five things which are enough to make a few sphincter muscles oscillate and get jubahs in a twist. The living embodiment of all those boogeymen khutbahs which demonise those values which Irshad Manji champions and lives by. 

From this case, it can be presumed that Section 16 of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995 provides absolute power to the religious authorities to determine whether or not a publication is deemed un-Islamic. 

The power is arbitrary and as we have seen from examples in the past, often subjected to the whims and fancies of those who are proud to be holier than thou.

Maybe one day the Brothers Grimm stories and books of fairy tales might be banned. After all, it has The Three Little Pigs (babi, enough said), and Snow White and her seven dwarves (khalwat, with not one man but seven!). 

The religious authorities have rarely been in the habit of explaining, rationalising or justifying their actions. In fact, they have worked hard to ensure that they won’t have to. One such example can be seen in the existence of laws such as the one in Kedah.

In April 2012, an amendment was made by the Kedah state government to the Mufti and Fatwa (Kedah Darul Aman) Enactment 2008 and was passed unanimously by the state legislative assembly. The amendment, makes any fatwa decided by the state Mufti or Fatwa Committee, whether gazetted or not, unable to be challenged, appealed, reviewed, denied or questioned in any civil or shariah court. There is a version of this arguably unconstitutional law in most states in this country today.

Our religious officials are not wanting to be held accountable, are acting with impunity and are forcing others into unthinking and unquestioning submission, compliance and obedience. Many of them actually believe that they can do no wrong if they act in the name of Islam.

The reality is that there is very little to provide a check and balance of the religious authorities. 

As long as Muslims in this country continue to allow themselves to be led like sheep, refuse or lack the courage to challenge and ask questions, and permit intimidation and fear mongering in the name of religion, they will be vulnerable to religious tyranny and curtailing of their freedoms as a citizen of this country. 

We must discard this naïve belief that anything clothed in the language and done in the name of Islam cannot possibly be wrong. After all, those who are the self-anointed and self-appointed champions are themselves human and not infallible.  

The paternalistic mentality and feudalistic mindset in this country continue to permit the erosions of our institutions and fundamental freedoms which are at risk of being trampled under the jackboots of those who claim to act in God’s name.

In this situation of ZI Publications and Ezra Zaid, as was true for the Nik Raina-Borders case, the issue of enlightenment and rational behaviour takes a backseat to the need for the religious authorities to dominate and to win. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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