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The Malaysian Insider: We’re not against sultan, says SIS, as fatwas are open for review (6 November 2014)
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We’re not against sultan, says SIS, as fatwas are open for review

Zainah Anwar (centre) of Sisters in Islam speaks during a press conference about an upcoming dialogue with the Global Movement of Moderates at Menara Manulife in Kuala Lumpur today. She said the move to seek a judicial review against the organisation was not a challenge to the Selangor sultan. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Zhafri Azmi, November 6, 2014.
Zainah Anwar (centre) of Sisters in Islam speaks during a press conference about an upcoming dialogue with the Global Movement of Moderates at Menara Manulife in Kuala Lumpur today. She said the move to seek a judicial review against the organisation was not a challenge to the Selangor sultan. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Zhafri Azmi, November 6, 2014.

Sisters in Islam (SIS)‎ today denied they were challenging the authority of the sultan with a judicial review of a fatwa against them.

Their statement comes on the heels of the Selangor ruler's warning to Muslims not to criticise his decrees.

SIS said that‎ fatwas had been reviewed and amended in the past, and what they were doing was not unprecedented.

"First they said the unit trust funds were haram (prohibited). Then it was changed to ‘tidak halal’ (not permissible."So was that a violation of the sultan's authority?" Zainah Anwar, SIS founding member, told a press conference today in Kuala Lumpur.

The fatwa against SIS, which was gazetted in Selangor in July, declared that the NGO and any other similar organisation that promoted "liberalism and pluralism" were deviant to the teachings of Islam.

The Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, urged Muslims not to criticise fatwas, especially those released in Selangor, as he ‎was personally responsible for approving the edicts.

"A fatwa that is issued in Selangor is only valid after it has obtained my approval and consent," said the sultan ‎in his speech at the Multaqa Selangor Sultan event in Shah Alam today.

"I urge Muslims to not be so quick in criticising the fatwas that are issued without fully comprehending them."‎Zainah today explained that a judicial review was not a religious issue, but a constitutional one.

"It is related to our right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religion."She also said that the fatwa, issued by the Selangor state, encroached into federal authority as it ordered the Malaysia Multimedia and Communications Commission (MCMC) to restrict social media websites that violate Islamic teachings and laws.

"How is MCMC supposed to obey that fatwa? Is MCMC going to be charged for violating the fatwa if it doesn't block any of those websites?"Does the federal government understand the enormity of this fatwa?" said Zainah.

Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir (pic, right), who sits on SIS's board of directors, said they were simply seeking an opportunity to defend themselves.
"We are questioning the process of the making of the fatwa, as we were not informed (of it) either before the fatwa was passed or after it was gazetted and made into law.
"How would we know if we were contravening the law if we don't know about it? And we found out about it by accident, too," she added.
She said the group had to act quickly once they discovered the fatwa, as a judicial review had to be filed within three months after it was gazetted.
"If we hadn't filed it, we'd be considered deviant now."According to section 13 of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995, anyone who contravenes a fatwa that is in force can be fined up to RM3,000 or jailed for up to two years.
SIS executive director Ratna Osman said it was a basic right in Islam to seek clarification, and they had sought explanations from Mais and the Selangor Mufti before applying for the judicial review."We wrote a letter to them to get more information on the fatwa which we learned about accidentally, since we have now been declared deviant.
"There is nothing wrong in asking. I feel that we are respecting the history of Islam, not straying from its teachings." – November 6, 2014.
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The Rakyat Post: Did deputy PAS Youth chief clarify with SIS on meaning of signage, asks PAS MP (6 November 2014)
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Did deputy PAS Youth chief clarify with SIS on meaning of signage, asks PAS MP

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PAS central committee member Khalid Samad says reading and translating the phrase 'We are all children of God' without referring to the person who wrote it could lead to many interpretations.

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 6, 2014:Did deputy PAS Youth chief Muhd Khalil Abdul Hadi meet Sisters In Islam for a clarification about a signage prior to accusing them of undermining God?

This is the question PAS central committee member Khalid Samad is asking following’s Muhd Khalil’s remark made after SIS board member Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir held up a sign which read: “We are all children of God.”

The Shah Alam lawmaker explained that the term was not literal in sense.“It means we are his creatures and his servants and we have to obey him,” Khalid told reporters after attending a discussion between SIS and PAS here earlier today.

The dialogue was hosted by Global Movement of Moderates.Khalid said reading and translating the phrase without referring to the person who wrote it would lead to many interpretations and labelling people was a major issue.
He stressed that punishments must be done fairly, adding that according to Islam, hate should not be the reason why someone should be treated unjustly.

“The principle of justice is: Do not punish without giving a chance to the accused to defend themselves.”Khalid revealed that even he did not see eye-to-eye with SIS on a few issues and had argued with them in the past, but he held on to the principle of justice.He also pointed out that humans are prudent beings capable of thinking and acting according to their conscience.

Khalid said that although SIS had its own opinions, it still referred back to Islam and tried to act within its constraints.He also said that SIS had only met with the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) in 2012 to discuss its activities, such as helping in Muslim women’s divorce cases and how the fatwa issued portrayed Islam in a bad light.“We want this religious institution to show the highest level of professionalism.

If possible, beat the civil courts, show you are the best.”Khalid pointed out that it was PAS’ intention to see the entire judiciary acting under Islam’s guidance and this incident had resulted in a loss of the people’s confidence towards the faith.

Read more:
The Star - Musings - Silence doesn’t always mean assent (6 November 2014)
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Silence doesn’t always mean assent

Musings by Marina Mahathir
The trouble with silence is that nobody knows what it means, so we can only make up reasons.

I READ a curious piece of news the other day where one of our bigwigs said that by not criticising us, President Barack Obama is actually supporting us with his silence.

I don’t even know where to start with this apart from it making a good Monday morning laugh.

As some people have pointed out, since when do we need the United States’ approval for anything? And secondly, when did we start reading people’s minds that we know what they are thinking when they don’t say anything?

Could it be that we are simply number 1,000th on Obama’s list of priorities?
It just intrigued me, this line of thinking that silence means assent. You can extrapolate it to so many things.

If our leaders say nothing to cases of Bibles being confiscated or threatened with burning, does that mean they approve?

When some people behave incredibly badly, making out that they are superior to other citizens and we hear nothing from our leaders, does this mean they agree with them?

Or when they have absolutely nothing to say about the many abuses of the Sedition Act that are carried out, can we assume that it means they think there is nothing wrong with extending the jurisdiction of the Act way beyond what it is meant for?

This is the trouble with silence. Nobody really knows what it means.

So we can only make up reasons, just as that bigwig is making for Obama.

If I were the President of the US, I’d swat that nonentity away for his presumption.

Maybe there is a culture of “silence is assent” in our society. The best way to assure agreement in this way is by not telling anyone what trouble they are in.

So that if they don’t speak up, it must mean they don’t have any objections.

Hence, perhaps, the reason why a state religious authority kept quiet about their fatwa that named Sisters in Islam as deviant.

If we didn’t find out before the three-month deadline, then surely we must agree to it!

Ta da! Did they actually expect us to then go around introducing ourselves as “Sesat in Selangor”? Silence equals assent speaks volumes, ironically, about the lack of transparency in lawmaking in our religious institutions.

Are laws made from whims and fancies of certain people? Should there not be more ­rigour in ensuring standards of justice are met before they can be passed?

Should it not be so watertight that if it is met with so much negative feedback, the authorities can give their reasons why they passed it without much hesitation?

Or what does silence mean in this case? Oops, maybe? Malaysia is unique in the Muslim world in that fatwa can actually become law once gazetted.

This means that if anyone contravenes them, you can be subject to some sort of punitive action.

Which is why some fatwa, such as those against smoking or Amanah Saham, are not gazetted since it would mean an overwhelming number of people would have to be hauled off to jail.

Someone must have thought that with this fatwa, only a small number of people would be punished so why not?

Except that the fatwa itself is very wide since it covers “organisations, individuals and institutions” that subscribe to “liberalism and pluralism”.

By that undefined measure, just about anybody who thinks differently can be caught by it.

The courts will be kept very busy trying everyone, as if they didn’t already have a backlog of divorces and child maintenance cases that they haven’t dealt with yet.

If the message that differing opinions will not be tolerated is obtuse to some, there are plenty of young people who get it immediately.

And they don’t like it. We get letters and e-mails of support from so many young people who say that they can’t take all this repression any more.

They have the brains to think for themselves, they say, to decide for themselves what they should or should not do in life.

They want to learn more about their faith, but not in this sledgehammer style, through omission or silence, by simply not being allowed to talk about issues.

Every day our religious authorities make themselves less and less relevant to our young by their condescending attitude towards them.

In this case, it would be a mistake to think that the silence of the young means they approve or they agree with all that our authorities do.

If you look and listen carefully, they are speaking in many different ways, not necessarily in the bureaucratic way that our authorities normally do.

Each attempt to clamp down on them only emboldens them more. Perhaps if our leaders did some mind-­reading, they’d see that the silence doesn’t mean anything they thought it did.

> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
SIS Mencabar Fatwa Liberalisma dan Pluralisma (31 October 2014)
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Mencabar Fatwa Liberalima dan Pluralisma

31 October 2014

Sisters in Islam (SIS) telah memfailkan Semakan Kehakiman ke atas fatwa yang telah diwartakan di negeri Selangor. Fatwa ini memaklumkan bahawa SIS Forum (Malaysia) berpegang kepada fahaman “liberalisme dan pluralisme agama”, dan dengan itu, adalah sesat dan menyeleweng daripada ajaran Islam.

Fatwa tersebut juga membolehkan mana-mana bahan terbitan yang dianggap berunsur fahaman “liberal dan plural” untuk diharamkan dan dirampas. Selain itu, fatwa itu memberi arahan agar laman-laman sosial yang bertentangan dengan “ajaran Islam dan Hukum Syarak” hendaklah disekat oleh Suruhanjaya Komunikasi dan Multimedia Malaysia (SKMM).

SIS memandang berat tuduhan yang dibuat terhadap kami dan mempersoalkan asas bagi fatwa ini. Sejak 2003, SIS telah membantu secara percuma hampir 10,000 orang wanita Muslim yang telah datang untuk mendapatkan khidmat perundangan dan juga penyelesaian kepada masalah rumahtangga yang dialami. Kami telah memberi latihan kepada lebih 4,000 orang wanita berkenaan dengan hak mereka dalam Islam melalui bengkel celik undang-undang. Lebih 90% daripada mereka telah menyatakan bahawa ilmu yang mereka memperolehi daripada SIS telah memperkasakan mereka dan mendalami minat mereka untuk mengetahui lebih lanjut tentang hak mereka dalam Islam. Kami juga memberi pengetahuan tentang proses dan prosedur sistem kehakiman bagi membolehkan wanita mendapatkan hak mereka dan juga untuk anak mereka.

Ribuan wanita yang telah kami bantu dan latih seterusnya telah menolong ahli keluarga lain serta masyarakat sekeliling mereka sendiri.

Bagaimanakah aktiviti-aktiviti yang mencerminkan belas kasihan dan kebaikan dalam Islam serta meningkatkan kesedaran wanita tentang keadilan boleh dianggap sebagai “sesat dan menyeleweng”?

Pada tahun 2002, bekas Ketua Pengarah JAKIM, Allahyarham Dato’ Haji Mohamad Shahir bin Abdullah, menegaskan bahawa kerja-kerja yang dilakukan oleh SIS ialah kerja dakwah. Mereka yang datang kepada SIS dengan pengalaman pahit yang mereka alami, bukan sahaja dengan suami tetapi juga dengan pihak berkuasa agama, merasakan seolah-olah Islam tidak memihak kepada mereka, malah mendiskriminasikan mereka. Perkhidmatan yang diberikan oleh SIS berkesan dalam menguatkan lagi semangat mereka dan juga kefahaman bahawa Islam memperjuangkan hak wanita.

Lebih menghairankan lagi, SIS tidak diberitahu atau dipanggil untuk memberi penerangan kepada Jawatankuasa Fatwa Selangor sebelum fatwa tersebut diumumkan. Jawatankuasa Fatwa tidak memberi sebarang justifikasi kenapa fatwa tersebut dikeluarkan dan juga tidak menerangkan apa yang dimaksudkan “liberalism”, “pluralism” serta apakah yang dianggap sebagai bertentangan dengan “ajaran Islam dan Hukum Syarak”.

SIS terjumpa fatwa tersebut secara kebetulan ketika melayari lamanweb e-fatwa JAKIM pada 20 Oktober 2014.

Kami mempersoalkan fatwa ini atas beberapa dasar perlembagaan:

  • Fatwa tersebut melanggar hak asasi kebebasan bersuara, kebebasan bersekutu dan kebebasan agama, seperti yang dijamin di dalam Perlembagaan Persekutuan. ·
  • Fatwa tersebut menceroboh bidangkuasa Persekutuan di mana Parlimen sahaja yang mempunyai kuasa legislatif untuk membataskan hak-hak asasi.
  • Fatwa tersebut tidak mempunyai bidangkuasa untuk memberi arahan kepada institusi Persekutuan seperti Kementerian Dalam Negeri untuk mengharamkan dan merampas buku-buku dan SKMM untuk menyekat laman-laman media sosial.

Malaysia merupakan satu-satunya negara Muslim yang membolehkan fatwa bertukar menjadi undang-undang melalui proses pewartaan dan menetapkan sebarang pelanggaran fatwa sebagai kesalahan jenayah. Mengikut Seksyen 13 Akta Kesalahan Jenayah Syariah (Selangor) Enakmen 1995, sesiapa yang memberikan, mengembangkan atau menyebarkan apa-apa pendapat tentang apa-apa isu, ajaran Islam atau Hukum Syara’ yang bertentangan dengan mana-mana fatwa yang sedang berkuatkuasa boleh didenda tidak melebihi RM3,000 atau dipenjarakan selama tempoh tidak melebihi 2 tahun, atau kedua-duanya. Mana-mana dokumen atau bahan lain [sic] boleh dirampas dan dimusnahkan walaupun tidak disabitkan kesalahan.

Penggunaan kuasa yang melampau oleh pihak berkuasa agama di Malaysia serta persubahatan badan-badan eksekutif dan legislatif boleh membawa negara kita ke arah pemerintahan teokratik.

Mensabitkan kesalahan jenayah kerana tidak mematuhi fatwa merupakan peyimpangan daripada teori serta amalan perundangan Islam. Sesebuah fatwa adalah pendapat berbentuk nasihat untuk membimbing umat Islam untuk menjalankan kehidupan mereka menurut ajaran Islam. Fatwa bukanlah undang-undang dan seseorang tersebut mempunyai pilihan untuk mengikut fatwa tersebut atau mencari fatwa yang lain.

Mengikut Al-Quran prinsip utama dalam pentadbiran dan pengurusan ialah shura, di mana mereka yang memegang kuasa hendaklah sentiasa berunding dengan masyarakat. Dalam Surah al-Imran, 3:159, Nabi Muhammad (saw) diperintahkan supaya bermesyuarat dan berunding dengan umatnya dalam hal-hal yang berkenaan dengan kepentingan orang ramai. Jika perintah ini ditujukan kepada Rasulullah (saw), maka apalagi umat selepas beliau.

Dalam hadith, ada diriwayatkan bahawa Rasulullah (saw), dalam konteks urusan peribadi dan juga umatnya, telah meminta nasihat daripada sahabat-sahabat beliau dan juga telah mengutamakan pendapat mereka daripada pendapat beliau sendiri.

Dalam Surah al-Mujadila, (58:1) berkenaan dengan perbalahan, surah tersebut mengakui hak seorang individu, dalam hal ini, seorang wanita, yang mengadu dengan Rasulullah (saw) tentang masalahnya. Sekiranya umat ketika itu mempunyai hak untuk mengadu dan berbincang dengan Rasulullah (saw), apalagi hak kita sebagai umat untuk mempunyai perbezaan pendapat di antara satu sama lain dan membentangkan hal-hal yang diambil prihatin oleh masyarakat.

Dalam sebuah hadis, Rasulullah (saw) telah berucap bahawa “perbezaan pendapat di kalangan umatku adalah suatu rahmat”. Dengan adanya perbezaan pendapat, barulah seseorang akan cuba sedaya upaya untuk mendapatkan penyelesaian terbaik bagi keperluan masyarakat tersebut.

SIS ingin menyatakan kedudukan kami bahawa jika Islam dijadikan sumber untuk penggubalan undang-undang dan dasar awam, maka semua orang mempunyai hak untuk berbincang dan berdebat dalam hal-hal ini. Undang-undang dan dasar awam mestilah terbuka kepada perbahasan dan perbincangan orang ramai. Tujuan undang-undang Islam adalah untuk memastikan keadilan dilaksanakan dan kepentingan orang ramai diutamakan dan ini hanya boleh dicapai dengan rundingan bersama dan mengambil kira pendapat yang berbeza.

Untuk maklumat lanjut, sila hubungi Pengurus Program SIS, Suri Kempe di 019.3993.886.
The Star - Sharing The Nation - Cut out the charade (2 November 2014)
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Cut out the charade

Sharing The Nation by Zainah Anwar

Malaysia can be a ready-made lab to work out God’s message of diversity and plurality if it is translated into deeds.

IN 2002, Sisters in Islam wrote a letter to the editor in The Star, asking why the rights of those who publicly preach hate, injustice, discrimination, intolerance, and extremism are protected while the rights of other citizens who speak out for justice, equality, tolerance, respect, and moderation in Islam are denied?

The question remains as valid today. Why is Ibrahim Ali’s call to burn the Bibles regarded as protecting the sanctity of Islam, while Syed Azmi al Habshi’s effort to help Muslims overcome their fear of dogs is regarded as an insult to Islam?

The latest fatwa from the Selangor Fatwa Committee to declare Sisters in Islam and anyone, organisation or institution that subscribes to “liberalism and pluralism” in Islam as sesat and menyeleweng (deviant) is yet further representation of this headlong descent into a puritanical, extremist, intolerant brand of Islam in this country.

And to be sure, this state-level fatwa has also ordered a federal institution, the Malaysian Multimedia and Communications Commission, to block all social media sites that are “against the teachings of Islam and Hukum Syarak” – howsoever they define. And no course, no reason, justification or any explanation of terminologies used in the fatwa is given. That this violates the rules of fatwa-making in Islamic legal theory and practice escapes the scrutiny of those who should know better.

And this is coming from officialdom of a country that claims to lead a global movement of moderates and that pledged to take its campaign for moderation to the UN Security Council.

The irony is that when Malaysians boast to foreigners about the moderate Islam of Malaysia, it is Sisters in Islam, the civil society organisation declared as sesat and menyeleweng that is regarded internationally as a measure of its moderation. When some years ago the government brought in a procession of western journalists, academics, political aides and congressional staffers to promote better understanding of Malaysia and repair its dented image in the West, everyone of them was sent to visit Sisters in Islam. Our existence was used as evidence that the Malaysian government was open and democratic and practised moderate Islam. And SIS made quite a bit of money selling our publications, thirsty as the visitors were to learn more about an Islam that is compatible with women’s rights and human rights.

But this Jekyll and Hyde charade the government plays for different audiences in different locations and at different times will eventually fall apart. For there is a runaway train heading towards a crash. For too long this government has given almost a carte blanche to the religious authorities and the belligerent supremacists to take the lead and define what Islam is and is not in Malaysia and who are the good Muslims and bad Muslims. Malaysia’s moderate Islam is only touted for Western consumption. A discordant tune is played on the home front.

But Malaysians know better. Just look at the chatter on social media and you find increasing numbers of Muslims, speaking out, sick and tired of being told yet again of more categories of Muslims and practices to be denounced, hated and declared deviant. How many more Muslims must be hated to satiate the hunger of the self-appointed puritanical representatives of the faith to construct enemies in order to justify their existence and purpose in life?

I wish those in religious authority realise that life is so much easier and work will be so much more satisfying if they spend their time promoting the beauty, love, kindness, compassion of Islam to draw Muslims closer to the faith. Instead, they are turning many Muslims against this despotic institutionalisation of their faith, and into rejecting the Islam as represented by state authority. It is not rocket science to figure out that love and compassion can help to restore the religious legitimacy our ulama seek, much faster than condemnation and punishment.

I highly recommend that they take a break from seeing threats every which way they turn and spend 30 minutes reading and digesting the new Sultan of Perak’s message on Maal Hijrah. He cited the examples of the early Muslim community that successfully spread the message of Islam by being open-minded, magnanimous, moderate, and self-confident, and by rejecting extremist voices, accepting diversity and respecting differences.

He listed the overwhelming change that has taken place in the world over the centuries, not least the new values of transparency and openness, human rights, freedom of expression and political participation. The Muslim mind needs to embark on its own journey of Hijrah to deal with the challenges of today’s worlds as the old governing order has lost its legitimacy.

Can I suggest to the religious authorities that instead of issuing more fatwas to silence more Muslims, let’s exercise the mind and be challenged on how best to understand those wonderfully wondrous verses in the Quran about how God has created us into “nations and tribes so that you may come to know each other”, about how God would have made humankind into a “single ummah” if he had so willed, but he wanted us to be diverse. How can this message of the Quran, which sanctions diversity as a primary purpose of creation, be understood and practised in modern-day Malaysia?

Wouldn’t it be a far more spiritually uplifting journey to undertake and put to test those years of studying Islam in madrasahs and Islamic faculties? Malaysia is a ready-made lab to work out God’s message of diversity and plurality which can be translated into deeds amid the realities of the 21st century. What an exciting journey of possibilities! Is it any wonder then that in the absence of leadership that reflects Islamic values of kindness and compassion, justice and equality, other Muslims have embarked on their own journeys to discover and live the beauty of Islam as they understand it. To find ways to reconcile their faith and their feminism, their faith and their activism, their faith and their everyday realities. For many of us, it is too hard to live a life filled with hatred, conflict and dissonance, forced to make choices between our multiple interests and identities.

The fact that so many Muslims converged to touch a dog and the obvious joy and pleasure on their faces shows what a liberating experience it was to be able to break free from an unnatural constraint on their love for animals and the comfort that hugging household pets brings.

It was as simple and humane as that. The fact that they then did their ritual cleansing showed how much they wanted to remain within the boundaries of their faith. They could exercise their interest in dogs with the teachings of Islam. What Syed Azmi did was to show the kind and compassionate face of Islam.

Just as he did not expect the outpouring of desire among so many Muslims to touch dogs, little did he expect the outpouring of hate from extremist Muslims, and what more the wrath of institutional Islam that befell him.

As many Malaysians have written, the apoplectic response of those in religious authority is really more a reflection of their fear of further loss of power and control over the flock.

If not for anything else, in the interest of self-preservation, really a little love, kindness and compassion could go a long way to bring back the flock.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
Press Statement: Understanding Liberalism and Religious Pluralism by Chandra Muzaffar ( 4 November 2014)
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Chandra Muzaffar

The fatwa issued by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) and gazetted on 31 July 2014 declaring any person or group “professing liberalism or religious pluralism” as “deviants” raises some troubling questions. The group, Sisters in Islam, was specifically named in the fatwa.

Of course, a fatwa in Islamic jurisprudence is only an opinion and does not command mandatory force but when it is employed to castigate an individual or organization as “deviant” it assumes a different connotation. The reckless use of the term “deviant” has created deep schisms and feuds and even caused bloodshed and violence in Muslim history. It is only if a religious authority can provide incontrovertible proof that a person (or group) has veered from the fundamental teachings of Islam should one resort to such a description.

To establish that one has become a deviant through alleged adherence to “liberalism” or “religious pluralism” the authority concerned has to show convincingly how these two ideas contravene the essence of Islam. To start with, MAIS must be aware that the term “liberal” appears in the fourth goal of the Rukunegara, our National Charter. It says that the goal is to ensure “a liberal approach to her (Malaysia’s) rich and diverse cultural traditions.” In its description of this goal, the Rukunegara speaks of a society that is “free to choose religion, custom and culture of their own in line with the interests of national unity.”

It is obvious from the Rukunegara that it regards “freedom” and the “right to choose” as essential to a liberal approach. Freedom and the right to choose as values are in line with Islam as long as their exercise does not contravene the essence of faith. Indeed, the Rukunegara as a whole, both its goals and its principles --- as pointed out by the late Islamic scholar, Ustaz Abu Bakar Hamzah --- reflects the spirit of Islam.

There are other values associated with “liberalism” such as freedom of expression, free and fair elections and the right to private property which are also integral to Islam. True, extreme individualism and the untrammeled accumulation of wealth which are also sometimes defended in the name of liberalism has no place in Islamic Thought. If these aspects of liberalism are the reasons for MAIS’s unhappiness with certain groups and individuals it should say so and provide evidence to show that they have been propagating such ideas. MAIS should enter into a dialogue with them and convince such advocates of liberalism that their views create more harm than good to society. That is the solution, not branding them as “deviants” and banning their writings and activities.

Turning to religious pluralism, the concept has different meanings. Many Islamic scholars equate religious pluralism with religious diversity. For them the harmonious co-existence of the followers of different religions within a specific setting would be an example of religious pluralism at work. They also recognize that while conceptions of the Transcendent or God differ from religion to religion and there are unique and distinctive practices associated with the various faith communities, there are also certain values and principles that they share in common. Living in harmony with nature and the environment, protecting the integrity of the family as the basic unit of society, respecting one’s elders, ensuring that leadership is virtuous and adhering to moral precepts in economic activities, would be some of the values and principles that are embodied in all religious philosophies. Accepting similarities at one level while acknowledging differences in other spheres is what defines religious pluralism.

These notions of religious pluralism are more than compatible with Islamic teachings. That there are different religions and moral codes is a reality that the Quran accepts (109:6). Knowing one another in the midst of this diversity is also a Quranic principle (49:13). Indeed, Allah had deliberately created such a diverse human family to see how we would treat one another which the Quran regards as a test of our spirituality. (5: 48).

Why then is MAIS uneasy about religious pluralism? Perhaps MAIS does not view religious pluralism through the same lens as many of us. From past pronouncements, MAIS, like a number of other Islamic groups and individuals in Malaysia, tends to highlight a particular interpretation of religious pluralism that regards mutually exclusive ultimate truth claims in different religions as equally valid. Of course, for the overwhelming majority of Muslims this is not acceptable. Tawhid (The Oneness of God) in Islam and the Trinity in Christianity cannot both be “equally valid”. Likewise, reward and punishment on the Day of Judgment in Christianity and Karma in Hinduism cannot both be equally valid. If religious pluralism means accepting the exclusive truth claim contained in each and every religion as valid, most people would reject religious pluralism. There is no reason why MAIS should equate religious pluralism with an interpretation that has so little support among religious adherents of whatever hue. MAIS should not use this minority interpretation of religious pluralism to label any group or individual as “deviant.”

It is not just MAIS. Some of the highest office –holders in Malaysia have also been equating religious pluralism with this interpretation, forgetting that there are other more popularly accepted interpretations of religious pluralism compatible with Islam and all other religions. By rejecting religious pluralism because of this interpretation, they have unwittingly given the impression to people everywhere that Malaysia does not accept religious diversity. This has tarnished our image and sullied our reputation as a nation when in reality Malaysia celebrates religious diversity as few other nations do. This is why it is imperative that religious authorities and political personalities cease to interpret religious pluralism as the acceptance of the truth claim in every religion and instead view it as the acknowledgement of religious diversity ---which is what Malaysia is all about.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Yayasan 1Malaysia.

Petaling Jaya.

4 November 2014.
The Star: Sisters in Islam files for judicial review on fatwa (31 October 2014)
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Sisters in Islam files for judicial review on fatwa

by rashvinjeet s. bedi

PETALING JAYA: Sisters in Islam (SIS) has filed for a judicial review on a gazetted fatwa (edict) in Selangor that declared the Muslim women's rights group as deviating from Islam.

SIS executive director Ratna Osman said they only came across the fatwa by chance on Oct 20."We view with grave concern, the allegations made against us and question the basis of this fatwa," she said during a press conference here Friday.

SIS named the Selangor Fatwa Committee, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) and the state government as respondents in the review filed Friday at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

The fatwa titled "Pemikiran Liberalisme dan Pluralisme Agama" declared SIS Forum (Malaysia) as subscribing to liberalism and religious pluralism, and therefore deviating from the teachings of Islam.The fatwa, which was gazetted in July, also allows for any publications deemed liberal and plural to be banned and seized.

In addition, it calls for any form of social media that promotes such content to be monitored and restricted by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commissions (MCMC).

The outspoken group has been regularly criticised by religious authorities and Islamist non-government organisations for its views on Islam.

SIS Challenges Fatwa on Liberalism and Pluralism (31 October 2014)
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Press Statement

Sisters in Islam Challenges Fatwa on Liberalism and Pluralism

31 October 2014

Sisters in Islam (SIS) has filed a judicial review on a gazetted fatwa in Selangor declaring SIS as subscribing to “religious liberalism and pluralism”, and therefore deviating from the teachings of Islam. The fatwa allows for any publications deemed “liberal and plural” to be banned and seized. In addition, it calls for any form of social media that go against the “ajaran Islam dan hukum Syarak” to be blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commissions (MCMC).

We view with grave concern the allegations made against us and question the basis for this fatwa.  Since 2003, SIS has served close to 10,000 Muslim women who turned to us for legal help to seek redress to their marital problems.  We have trained over 4,000 women on their legal rights through our popular legal literacy workshops. More than 90% of them stated that the knowledge provided by SIS has empowered them to know their rights in Islam. We teach women how to access the justice system for themselves and for their children, accompany them to court, and recommend lawyers to represent them. These thousands of women we have helped and trained have gone on to help others in their families and communities.

How could such activities that reflect the compassion and kindness of Islam and raise women’s awareness that there can be justice in Islam be pronounced “sesat and menyeleweng”.

In 2002, the former Director General of JAKIM, the late Tuan Haji Shahir Abdullah, asserted that SIS work was in fact a form of “ dakwah”.  The impact of SIS work has strengthened the faith of many Muslim women whose experience with their husbands and the religious authorities had led them to believe that Islam was unjust and discriminatory towards women.

It is disturbing that SIS was not informed nor were we called in to explain our work before the fatwa committee pronounced SIS as deviant. Neither does the fatwa contain any justification for its pronouncement. Nor does it explain what the terms “liberalism”, “pluralism” mean and what constitutes going against the “teachings of Islam and hukum Syarak”.

We came across the fatwa by chance while surfing JAKIM’s e-fatwa website on 20 October 2014.

We are challenging the fatwa on several constitutional grounds.

·       It clearly violates our fundamental right to freedom of expression, association and religion, as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.

·       It trespasses federal powers as only Parliament  has the legislative authority to make laws restricting fundamental liberties.

·       It has no authority to direct  federal institutions like the Ministry of Home Affairs to ban and seize books and MCMC to block social media sites.

Malaysia is the only Muslim country that enables a fatwa to have the force of law through a mere gazetting process and then criminalises any violations of the fatwa. According to section 13 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995, any person who gives, propagates or disseminates any opinion concerning any issue, Islamic teachings or Islamic Law contrary to any fatwa for the time being in force can be fined up to RM3,000, or jailed for up to 2 years, or both. Any document or other medium [sic] may be seized and destroyed even without any conviction.

These excessive powers exercised by the religious authorities of Malaysia, with the complicity of the executive and legislative bodies are dragging the country down the road to theocratic dictatorship.The criminalisation of non-compliance to a fatwa deviates from Islamic legal theory and practice. A fatwa is merely an advisory opinion to guide Muslims to lead a life according to the teachings of Islam. It is not legally binding and it is optional for the individual to follow it, or seek another fatwa.

A salient principle of governance according to the Qur'an is shura, which requires those in authority to govern through consultations with the community. In Surah al-lmran, 3:159, Allah commanded Prophet Muhammad (saw) to consult the ummah on “all matters of public concern”. This was to a Prophet, so what more to subsequent generations of Muslims.

In Hadith literature, it has been reported that the Prophet (saw), in the context of both private and public affairs, solicited counsel from the Companions and at times gave them preference over his own views.

In Surah Mujadila (58:1) on disputation, the the right of an individual, a woman in this case, to argue her problem with the Prophet (saw) was recognised. If the ummah has the right to engage in debate with the Prophet, what more our right today to have differences of opinion and to raise our issues of concern.

A hadith quoted the Prophet (saw) as saying that "differences of opinion in my community are a blessing". It is only through such differences  and debate that one can strive to find the best opinion and the best solution to meet the public needs.

Sisters in Islam restates its position that if Islam is used as a source of law and public policy, then everyone has a right to engage in a debate on these matters.  Public law and policy must be open to public debate.  The objective of Islamic law is to ensure that justice is done and the public interest is served, and this can only be achieved through consultations and taking into consideration different points of view.

Sisters in Islam
31 October 2014
The Star - Musings - Don’t let hatred lead to injustice (23 October 2014)
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Don’t let hatred lead to injustice

Sometimes it feels like we are being asked to despise an ever-growing list of people and things.

LAST Sunday, an extraordinary young man organised an extraordinary event. Having lived his life being afraid of dogs, he decided to overcome this fear and help others to do the same by inviting people to get to know some dogs.

He got all the necessary permissions, promoted it and on the day, almost a thousand people, Muslims and non-Muslims, turned up.

By all accounts, the event was a success and people left enlightened and happy.

Unfortunately, among those whose role in life is seemingly to keep us all ignorant, there was great unhappiness.

Who is this young man who could get so many people out of their beds on a Sunday morning? How come they all seem to be smiling and, goodness gracious, enjoying themselves?

Thus, to no one’s surprise, they immediately started to condemn him and all those who took part in the event.

Never mind that the intention of those who attended was to learn about one of God’s own creatures and how to treat them kindly.

The organisers had done everything right, including having someone give a talk on the Islamic viewpoint on dogs and having all the ingredients needed for the ritual cleansing after touching wet dogs.

Yet this was not good enough for our authorities. I often wonder if what bothers our “religious” authorities most is not so much the actual religious ins and outs of any event or action, but anything that would challenge their so-called authority and certainly anything that makes someone else popular.

The organiser of the Touch A Dog event did not intend for the event to insult anyone. After all, those who felt uncomfortable about it could always stay home.

I suspect that the response against the event only came about when they realised that quite a lot of people turned up.

They had probably assumed that few would do so because they thought that everybody had already bought their so-called opinions against dogs.

Lo and behold, about 500 or so Muslims did not! Apparently, coming together to learn about animals as well as how to be kind and compassionate towards them will lead everyone down the slippery slope to even more nefarious acts.

I didn’t realise that kindness is now considered despicable but then the world has turned upside down. What’s next, the rabid types ask, Touch a Pig Day? Others ask if this will lead to How to Be An Adulterer classes, though I would suggest that we already have plenty of those.

How is it that nobody thinks that acts of kindness and compassion will lead to more acts of generosity and goodwill? If people can be kind to dogs, then we might just put a stop to things like throwing stones at them or the abandoning of puppies.

Where does it say that it is okay to beat or starve animals? And why should those who are kind to them be condemned? My aunt used to take in stray dogs and cats rather than allow them to be left to the elements.

The couple in Kedah who cares for dogs, however, was forced to move. Ignorance seems to lead to nothing but cruelty.

Are we actually proud of that? I believe that Malaysians, both Muslims and non-Muslims, are just dying for someone to tell them something positive, which is why they responded so well to the event. We all know what the big sins are and we know how to avoid them.

However, we are so rarely told how to get along with one another, how to live in harmony with one another, as well as with other living things in our environment.

All we are getting these days is how to hate an ever-growing list of people and things. How much energy are we to spend on hate?

And how does hating anything and everything make us happy and better Muslims? Why is it that if we are to hate anything, we are not encouraged to direct hatred towards the corrupt, the ignorant and the cruel?

Why are we never taught to revile injustice, rather than revere it as some people in power do? Chapter 5, verse 8 of the Quran says: “O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice.

“Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God; verily, God is aware of all that you do.” (translation by Assad) If hatred can lead us to the sin of injustice, then perhaps it stands to reason that the opposite, love, can lead us to the virtue of justice. Isn’t that what we should be striving for?

> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
The Malaysian Insider: Threats to kill, beat up ‘touch a dog’ organiser surface online (22 October 2014)
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Threats to kill, beat up ‘touch a dog’ organiser surface online


Published: 22 October 2014
Sunday’s ‘I want to touch a dog’ event was a success with almost 1,000 people turning up but many Malays have taken offence at photos of Muslims petting and holding dogs. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Najjua Zulkefli, October 22, 2014.Sunday’s ‘I want to touch a dog’ event was a success with almost 1,000 people turning up but many Malays have taken offence at photos of Muslims petting and holding dogs. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Najjua Zulkefli, October 22, 2014.After receiving accolades from many Malaysians over his charity work, Syed Azmi Alhabshi has now become the subject of death threats and accusations of apostasy by countless fellow Muslim-Malays online.

The Malays, furious at his audacity in organising an event to educate the public on Islam’s stance on dogs, have circulated his mobile number online, while on WhatsApp, messages claiming he is a Christian in disguise have spread like wildfire.

Once easily reachable through his phone or Facebook, Syed Azmi has now gone virtually underground, but on Facebook, his friends, family and neighbours in Taman Tun Dr Ismail have been responding to the threats on his behalf.

However, the threats, most of them posted as comments to a Facebook post by Ustaz Mohd Kazim Elias, which condemned the event, are numerous and filled with hate.

“Saya dgn pandangan ustaz dan saya rasa penganjur ni jenis buta hati dan cetek ugama dan suka merosakkan ugama dan patut rejam sampai mati. He he,” said Ghas Ku.

(I agree with the ustaz and believe this organiser cannot differentiate between what is right and wrong, has a shallow understanding of religion and likes to destroy Islam and should be stoned to death.)
Ustaz Mohd Kazim Elias, who condemned the ‘I want to touch a dog’ event, has seen his Facebook page filled with numerous hate messages for the organiser. – Facebook pic, October 22, 2014.
Ustaz Mohd Kazim Elias, who condemned the ‘I want to touch a dog’ event, has seen his Facebook page filled with numerous hate messages for the organiser. – Facebook pic, October 22, 2014.
“Meh sini aku bagi sedas pelempang baru ada akal sikit penganjur tu,” said Hafizzulnaim Haji Samsuddin.

(Let me give the organiser a beating so that he can gain some reason.)

Another Facebook user, Yusoff Hj Ashaari, said that on top of taking action against Syed Azmi, the public should find the women who posed with the dogs at the event, and pull of their scarves to see if they wore crucifixes or were concealing tattoos.

“Ustaz, this organiser really is a dog,” said Han Khalief.

In his Facebook post, the ustaz had accused the programme of being a subtle attempt to introduce “liberal” and “pluralistic” ideas among Muslims, adding that it would give way to campaigns on touching and eating pigs.

The event, which was held on Sunday in Bandar Utama, proved to be very popular with about 1,000 people participating, and learning compassion for dogs as well as Islam’s views on the canines.

Many who came took the opportunity to touch and pet the dogs of various breeds, including chow chow, husky, German Shepherd and poodle, brought to the event by their owners.

Volunteers at the event also demonstrated how the cleansing process, called sertu or samak which involves washing the affected area six times with clean water and once with earth, was done.

However, many Malays – clerics and ordinary citizens alike – took offence at photos of Muslims petting and holding the dogs.

On popular Malay blog Sirap Limau, Internet user Salsaparila wrote: “Memang celaka bangsat penganjur sial ni. Yang datang pun bodoh bangang takde otak punya orang. Harap2 nanti mamat sial ni mati la kena gigit anjing.”

(This organiser really is damned, nasty, and accursed. Those who attended are stupid and without any brains. I hope this cursed person dies from dog bite.)

A WhatsApp message purportedly from the Putrajaya Religious Council has also been circulating.

It claims that Syed Azmi was a Christian who wants to spread Shia teachings and has been disguising as an ustaz for a year.

“According to a real source, he has paid off all Malay-Muslim organisations in Malaysia so that his actions or campaign could run smoothly. His purpose is to spread a new religion like the Shia but it is done subtly and he will not appear to be behind it,” it said.

Facebook user Terompah Besi regurgitated the same message on his own wall, but did not attribute it the Putrajaya Religious Council.

He had also added one line saying it was “a Jewish agenda to Christianise Muslim-Malaysians through subtle measures using DAP leaders”.
At least two police reports have been lodged over the event, according to Petaling Jaya police chief Assistant Commissioner Azmi Abu Kassim.

"The reports were lodged at the Petaling Jaya police headquarters with the complainants claiming that their Muslim sensitivities had been offended.

It was decided that the police reports would be referred to the Selangor Islamic Religious Department for further action.
The first ever “I waSyed Azmi Alhabshi, organiser of Sunday’s ‘I want to touch a dog’ event, is now subject of death threats and has been accused of being an apostate. – Pic courtesy of Syed Azmi Alhabshi, October 22, 2014.nt to touch a dog” programme may have been declared a success by its organisers, but it has also been criticised by Islamic scholars.

Scholars said that while touching a dog was allowed in Islam under certain circumstances, they questioned the need for the campaign and its purpose.

The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has promised to conduct a probe into the programme, while the Selangor Religious Council (Mais) said that acts of kissing, hugging the dogs were not in line with the programme’s objectives.

Director-general of Jakim Datuk Othman Mustapha told Bernama that the programme should not have taken place, and that the campaign was conducted openly, including for Muslims, without a good reason.
He feared that the organisers might have a hidden agenda and saw it as trying to create a new culture that could lead to insulting Islam.

PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat likened the event organisers to people who have “worms” in the head.

However, former Perlis mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said it was shallow thinking to say that touching a dog was haram.

“There are those who say it is forbidden to touch dogs because they are unclean.
“If that is so, then it is also forbidden for a person to touch their own faeces or that of their children,” he said without making any reference to the programme.

Sisters in Islam has also expressed support for the event saying it was a good initiative that allowed people to overcome their fears of dogs and helped nurture compassion for God’s creatures.
Its programme manager, Suri Kempe, said prejudice and hatred were the result of the fear of the unknown.

"In the case of dogs, it has manifested itself in the frequent reports of dogs being abused, sometimes in the most extreme ways.
“The fact that hundreds of people showed up simply goes to show that this event resonated with people."There is a thirst to reach out and know more about dogs, among both Muslims and non-Muslims,” she said.

On the Taman Tun Dr Ismail Facebook community page, neighbours of Syed Azmi have rallied around him, posting messages of hope and defending him against insulting comments.

“Syed Azmi, you rock, and bless you!” said Nadia Jalil on the community page.Rina M. Shaharuddin said:

“As difficult as it may seem to continue your good efforts right now, please continue. You guys have made a lot of difference and instilled positive values in the community.
“Have faith. Forget the social media judges. At the end of the day, what matters is between you and your Maker.” – October 22, 2014.
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