Islamic enforcers need a big dose of accountability

APRIL 24 — It is hard to find the justice, or even the wisdom behind several recent escapades of our state religious enforcers.

On April 3, the Federal Territories Islamic authority JAWI raided a fundraising dinner in a hotel attended by around 200 transgenders, even though it was a closed-door affair.

Their excuse? They had received a complaint lodged two months ago that a “beauty contest” was being held there. It is forbidden for a Muslim woman to participate in a beauty pageant after a fatwa, a religious decree, was issued in Federal Territories in 1996, as part of similar decrees nationwide.

Therein lies the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the Islamic enforcers. What kind of a beauty pageant, even if it was indeed one, is held as a closed-door event?

But trans women are not even recognised by Islamic authorities, labelled instead as “men who pose as women.” Now suddenly they accept trans women as “real women” just so they can find an excuse to persecute them under another offence?

The mistake JAWI made was raiding a function where firebrand lawyer and human rights activist Siti Kasim was present, leading to a shouting match captured on video.

In an interview with Star Online, Siti explained that her hostile demeanour was sparked by a female JAWI officer who barked at her after she started asking questions about the raid.

“They did not adopt a friendly attitude. They disliked my questioning their right to be there and wanting to know on what basis they had come in,” Siti said in the interview.

“I think they have never faced this before. They have never had the right of their presence questioned before, so they became defensive and were not happy about it.”

According to Siti, JAWI did not even have a warrant to conduct the raid and seal off the venue to prevent the crowd from leaving. Not only that, the enforcers actually believed that they did not need one.

JAWI also did not bring any police officers with them. By right, JAWI officers do not have the authority to arrest anybody.

Such was JAWI’s confidence that they had even invited several media to witness and report their act of superiority. They probably did not expect to hit such a snag, and were planning to haul each one of the trans women up.

For questioning and calling out JAWI’s unlawful behaviour, Siti was instead investigated under the Penal Code for criminal intimidation and obstruction of public servants. Siti has since vowed to sue JAWI and others involved for wrongful arrest.

In a separate incident on April 10, the Selangor religious authorities Jais raided the family home of actress Faye Kusairi in the wee morning hours at 2.30am.Their excuse? They had received a complaint that Faye was committing “khalwat”, the offence of being in close proximity with any forbidden member of the opposite sex.

The complaint was obviously false. Faye was not even at the residence, she was with a female friend at another house. There were only her father, mother and brother at the raided house.

Their house was broken into by Jais officers; the door grill was smashed.

Actress Faye Kusairi’s home was broken into by Jais officers in the early hours of April 10... after a false complaint of khalwat. — Instagram picture/Faye Kusairi
Actress Faye Kusairi’s home was broken into by Jais officers in the early hours of April 10... after a false complaint of khalwat. — Instagram picture/Faye Kusairi

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According to Faye, the complainant had offered to Jais to pay for any damages incurred during the raid. That should have made Jais suspicious but the enforcers played along anyway. Such is the low threshold for the enforcers to act.

Faye has since lodged a police report against the break-in incident. She claimed to know the person who lodged the false complaint.

But nothing is likely to come out of it. In a public relations exercise, Jais announced that it would merely form an internal investigation to determine whether the enforcers had broken any laws when they broke into Faye’s family home.

By now, you should probably see a recurring pattern in the way Islamic enforcers work in the name of their God.

Behind the raids are shoddy accusations, sometimes false, inaccurate, and downright fabricated.

Because they ultimately do not matter, as the enforcers are aware that they do not need to justify their raid, even when it is unlawful and illegal, when they can catch Muslims under some Shariah offences and later arrest them.

In the middle of this month, the Saudi Arabia Cabinet stripped its own religious forces of their powers to arrest offenders, in addition to urging them to act “kindly and gently” in enforcing Islamic rules.

The official Saudi Press Agency reported that the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice must report violators to the police and drug squad officers instead, and can no longer take laws into its own hands.

The decision came as the enforcers’ tactics resulted in harm and death, such as an assault against a woman outside a Riyadh shopping mall in February, and a car chase in 2013 that left two dead.

Now, Saudi is hardly the best role model, but consider that Malaysia’s moral police never had such powers in the first place. And yet, many are hurt and some have even died while resisting arrest by Malaysian Islamic enforcers.

The moral police can act in such a way with impunity, but only because few people dare to question their actions.

The transgenders were lucky to have Siti defending them (it was the exact reason she was invited to the event). Faye was brave enough to lodge a police report and talk to the media who was supportive of her because she is a celebrity.

For every Siti and every Faye, there are many more clueless victims of the state religious authorities’ moral crusade. Some might even be innocent. Many more are not even committing any crime in the civil system. Yet, they will suffer anyway.

As for the state enforcers? There is nothing stopping them, no incentive to “encourage virtue and forbid vice kindly and gently”, like the Saudis.

Ultimately, governments and the majority of the public believe that the State has a duty and responsibility to uphold the Islamic code by any means possible. With God on their side, this has gifted our authorities the licence to act with impunity.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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