Jawi wants its pound of flesh

JANUARY 23 — I was saddened to hear of the Federal Territories Islamic Department’s (Jawi) decision to file an application with the Federal Court to reverse the Court of Appeal’s ruling favouring intellectual Kassim Ahmad. I really don’t understand how the Malaysian public, taxpayers and Muslims in Malaysia in general are served by the religious authority’s incessant (two years and counting) pursuit of this frail, 82-year-old scholar.

Explain to me, Jawi, why this should be considered nothing but the actions of a bully whose only interest is to win and not to seek justice?

Justice? Sorry, Jawi is not interested in justice. What can be surmised from Kassim Ahmad’s case and others like it, is that what they are interested in is the persecution of people whom they deem to be threats: individuals who speak their minds, question injustice and unjust actions, and have the courage to speak up.

Muslim intellectual Kassim Ahmad  at the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya, December 21, 2015. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Muslim intellectual Kassim Ahmad at the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya, December 21, 2015. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

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A three-man panel at the Court of Appeal unanimously found Jawi's actions against Kassim to be illegal. Yes, it is illegal to conduct a cross-border arrest using a defective warrant. It is a violation of Article 5 of the Federal Constitution for him to have been under detention for more than 24 hours without access to a lawyer. It was even a violation of the state’s own Shariah law for him to have been shipped from his home in Kulim, Kedah to be brought before a kadi in Putrajaya!

The enforcers of Shariah law clearly do not even understand the laws that they are supposed to enforce. Ironically, perhaps they even think that the law does not apply to them and that they are not answerable or accountable for their actions. What does it say to you when the self-appointed and self-anointed guardians and enforcers seem to act as if they accountable to no one. Except perhaps, God.

While Jawi had a right to file its appeal of the Court of Appeal’s December 21 decision within 30 days, their incessant pursuit of this frail, 82-year-old scholar speaks volumes of the kind of mind-set which percolates in the leadership of this supposedly religious institution. They are sore losers who have very little respect for the law.

Islam requires the utmost prudence, caution and compassion in the enforcement of the law and prosecution of cases. The enforcement of Shariah laws is dependent on a clear understanding of the basic legal principles of justice, fairness and compassion. Religious authorities must also be open to dialogue, criticism and debate. They must be accountable, transparent and exercise prudence and care in enforcement of the law.

Yet Jawi's actions have, on at least one other occasion, been wrought with illegality, irrationality, procedural impropriety, unconstitutionality, ultra vires or acting beyond powers, abuse of discretionary power and unreasonable exercise of power. Why?

Consider the case of Nik Raina who was pursued relentlessly by Jawi despite a defective charge. Jawi's  actions were determined by three courts of law (two civil and one Shariah) to be illegal, of bad faith and unconstitutional. Yet they pursued her for three years. Spending taxpayers’ money, wasting time and causing much humiliation and grief onto Nik Raina and her family. They didn’t even apologise after they finally dropped the charges.

The Islamic religious authorities appear to have a need to incessantly conduct moral policing and persecution of its own ummah. What is Jawi so afraid of? People actually thinking? Or people asking them questions which they cannot answer?

Rather than being open to learned and rational discourse, listening to arguments and opinions from intellectuals such as Kassim Ahmad, and making an effort to at least consider both sides of an argument, Malaysian religious authorities have time and again resorted to the bodoh sombong position that “might makes right.” They tolerate no dissent, no argument and demand an unthinking, unblinking and blind obedience from those of the Islamic faith.

Just as it was in that case, Jawi has been dependent on the tactics of bullying, intimidation, fear and oppression in the hope that they can beat Kassim Ahmad into submission and defeat.

I can tell you now that they will not succeed. We stand with Pakcik Kassim against religious tyranny and oppression of intellectual expression.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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