Promoting an understanding of Islam that recognises the principles of
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The Star - Musings - A lesson in real harmony (7 November 2013)
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A lesson in real harmony

Musings by marina mahathir

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Sarawakians are used to living with such religious diversity and have no time for the sort of angst that we over in the peninsula have.

WHEN I was a little girl in Alor Setar, I thought that Malaya did not extend any further than my home state. I did eventually learn that in fact it was much bigger when we visited my grandparents in Kuala Lumpur. But for a long time, my child geographical imagination was severely limited.

As an adult, of course I have been all over the country. And despite being a pretty small one, there are distinct differences in environment, atmosphere and attitudes in dif­ferent parts of the country, not to mention different dialects and food.

There is enough variety already within peninsular Malaysia without us even experiencing what is on offer over the water, in Sabah and Sarawak.

It is this diversity that makes our country wonderful.

Recently, I was invited to Kuching to speak to some young people about social media and whether it contri­butes to social cohesion.

I always jump at the chance to cross the water and it was a bit of a shock to realise that I hadn’t been to Kuching for some five years.

Besides the many culinary joys to be found there, it is always interesting to check out what Sarawakians are up to.

My hosts were two NGOs – Angkatan Zaman Mansang (Azam) and the Islamic Information Centre (IIC) – both coincidentally run by women.

Azam was set up 30 years ago to do development work among Sarawakians.

Today, they focus a lot on youths and support young people to do many things, including volunteering to bridge the gap between urban and rural youths.

The IIC is only five years old but it was set up with some particular missions in mind. The first is to educate Muslims about Islam, the second is to educate non-Muslims about Islam and the third, and most interesting of all, is to educate Muslims about other faiths.

Muslims make up only 30% of Sarawak’s population, so it would be difficult to avoid other faiths in daily life.

So IIC set out to build relationships between the different faiths so that they may understand each other better.

The centre itself strives architecturally to be inclusive, borrowing elements from the housing styles of different ethnic groups in Sarawak, including the Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Malay and Chinese.

Their surau holds Friday prayers in English and provides translations in various local languages so that no one feels alienated in those surroundings.

Their resource centre contains many books on religion, particularly Islam, but their CEO was very proud to inform me that it contains a Bible as well.

Besides talks and panels for Muslims on Islam, they also often hold talks for non-Muslims on various aspects of the faith. And to educate Muslims about other faiths, they take groups of Muslims to visit other houses of faith to learn about them.

Last year, they organised a forum with Azam on fasting, and how it is found in every religion.

This year’s forum on social media was organised by both NGOs in the Christian Ecumenical Worship Centre and was attended by young people of every faith, including a visiting group of Muslim students from a public university in the peninsula.

Everyone was very relaxed, ate lunch together and the programme was designed so that those who had to go off to Friday prayers had ample time to get to the mosque.

While such a forum may have raised eyebrows in the peninsula, or may even not have been organised out of fears of vocal criticism from certain parties, these types of events are not at all unusual for Sarawak.

Sarawakians are used to living with such religious diversity and have no time for the sort of angst that we over here have.

Some families have members of different faiths, so excluding some people from family events and festivities is simply not an option.

I listened with astonishment the big-heartedness of the local religious authorities.

For instance, every year at the Maal Hijrah (Muslim New Year) cele­brations, alongside the usual Muslim recipients of the Tokoh Maal Hijrah awards, there is always a non-Muslim, one recognised for his or her efforts to foster better relations between the different faith communities.

What’s more, the Maal Hijrah parade also includes a contingent of non-Muslims.

For someone from KL, used to the ever greater segregation on the basis of religion, this information was jaw-droppingly awesome.

But it is also sad to think of such harmony as being unusual.

Once upon a time it was not uncommon either in our part of the country.

We respected and lived with each other and did not claim names and beliefs to be exclusive to us.

But with changing attitudes, I feel as if I need to go to Kuching just to breathe.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
The Star - Musings - The cost of telling the truth (24 October 2013)
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Thursday, 24 October 2013

It takes courage to stand one’s ground, but the greatest reward is the ability to sleep at night, knowing that one’s conscience is clear.

WHEN parents try to teach their young children certain values and behaviours, consistency is the key.

When you tell children that lying is wrong, then they must never catch you telling untruths.

If you say there’s no money to buy some fancy new toy, then you can’t come home with a brand new car without them wondering how come you can afford that.

Children have natural radar for hypocrisy. It is tuned to catch any inconsistencies, white lies or complete untruths that parents spout because these grate against the natural sense of fairness that kids have.

And every time they catch their parents out, a small bit of parental authority erodes.

This anti-hypocrisy radar is only maintained if the child doesn’t then learn that to be hypocritical is more rewarding than to be true to one’s own conscience.

If they find that there is nothing to be gained from telling the truth, and everything to gain from fudging facts, then the children grow up with their moral compass askew.

They learn not to take responsibility for their own misdeeds but to blame others for it.

Thus you get stories, for example, about kids who blame their maids for not putting their homework in their schoolbags on the day they are meant to pass them up.

Unfortunately there are more and more adults behaving in this way these days.

I can only assume that once they did have a conscience, believed in certain things but along the way grew to learn that being true to that conscience is no way to get ahead in life.

As children, they might have had a strong sense of justice, of instinctively knowing when something is unfair.

But when they become adults, that instinct is put aside because it’s not a ticket to advancement. Besides if everyone else is doing it, why be the exception?

To be the exception requires the strength of moral character that is able to withstand the pressures that come from others, whether family, colleagues or bosses.

It also requires the courage to take whatever blowback that might come from standing one’s ground, some of which undoubtedly will have implications to more than one’s self.

But for those with such courage, the greatest reward is the ability to sleep at night, knowing their conscience is clear.

These days I find myself wishing I knew more people of such moral fortitude because they do seem thin on the ground.

I see people who have no qualms about making themselves popular by preaching the oppression of those who have no voice.

I shudder to read of people who blithely believe that the rule of law should only apply to themselves but not to others.

If one were ever to accuse them of any crime, they immediately plead that they are innocent, but they accord no such consideration to those they don’t like.

They say that those of us who open our mouths in protest have no respect for the law, when they themselves barely hesitate to override those very same laws.

The tragic thing is that these types of people think they are leaders, because in the popularity contests they indulge in, they win.

Never mind if their means of winning would hardly fit a child’s description of fairness, what matters most is that they win.

I look at the lineup of the so-called leaders we have and I have to despair.

Not a single one of them would be anyone I would look up to.

None are names that would come immediately to mind as those who could take us confidently into the future, to take our place among the best in the world.

Instead I see people whose minds remain in an ancient age where might is always right, and the majority always wins. And a fat wallet is everything.

Many years ago I was in a country much poorer than ours where I met a young politician who seemed just the type of dynamic leader the country needs.

There were rumours that he would stand for election as the mayor of their capital city.

But when I asked him, he replied that he was not going to.

“It takes a million US dollars to have a running chance of winning that post,” he said.

It wasn’t that he did not have the money because he came from a wealthy family but he did not feel that was the right thing to do.

Today I saw a quote about how much it takes to stand for party elections in our country.

It costs four times more to run for elections in a party of three million members than to stand for mayor of a city of 18 million.

Enough said.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
Violence against women clauses must be improved, withdraw bill and consult public (22 October 2013)
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Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)

Press Statement
22 October 2013

Violence against women clauses must be improved, withdraw bill and consult public

This morning, the government withdrew two problematic clauses in the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, on vandalism and insulting the national flag. This is not enough – the Bill should be withdrawn in its entirety.

Bad bill

Extremely dangerous clauses remain, including the proposed section 203A, under which someone can be fined up to one million ringgit for disclosing information obtained under any written law.

The proposed amendments on domestic violence also fall short, and must be improved. The proposed section 326A penalises certain types of abuse between married spouses with specific punitive measures. But this section should be made consistent with the Domestic Violence Act 1994.

The proposed section 326A should recognise abuse by former spouses and other family members for example siblings and siblings in-law, which in 2012 accounted for 54 per cent of reported domestic violence cases. The section should also be amended to apply to all types of violence recognised in the Domestic Violence Act, including sexual and psychological violence. Judges should maintain discretion in deciding the length of imprisonment term and the type of punishment given to those convicted of domestic violence.

Numerous amendments to sexual offenses have been proposed, including increasing jail terms for various offences. But important amendments have been left out. Nothing has been proposed to penalise rape within a marriage, an act criminalised in 104 countries according to the United Nations Secretary General, and something the expert Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) has asked the Malaysian government to do.

Bad process

The manner in which the Bill, and the ten other bills, was drafted and introduced has not only been secretive but rushed.

No consultations were held in drafting the bills, and no prior notice was given on its introduction, to civil society, opposition Members of Parliament, or the Malaysian Bar, the Sabah Law Association, and the Advocates Association of Sarawak.

Members of Parliament have described how they arrived in their offices in the morning to discover a stack of amendment bills on their desks. A week later, at nearly one in the morning, the Prevention of Crime (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Dewan Rakyat. The Penal Code (Amendment) Bill looks set to follow.

Without proper consultation, flaws in the Bill will remain unaddressed. This is now seen in the numerous concerns raised by various parties.

Withdraw the bill

The good news is that there have been signs of support from both sides of the political divide for the withdrawal and revision of the Bill. This, combined with the public pressure it generated, has led to two problematic clauses being removed.

But we need to go further and demand that the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill be withdrawn fully, and for meaningful consultation to be held before the Bill can be reintroduced.

Ask Members of Parliament to support withdrawing the Bill. Email or call them. Send them a Tweet or post a note on their Facebook wall.

We should not accept bad laws that are drafted in secret and rushed through Parliament hastily.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) consists:
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Women’s Centre for Change Penang (WCC)
All Women's Action Society (AWAM)
Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)
Sisters in Islam (SIS)

For more information: Yu Ren Chung, (010) 225 7971 /
The Star - Child marriages on the rise (6 October 2013)
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Child marriages on the rise
by Hariati Azizan

Sunday October 6, 2013

PETALING JAYA: In Malaysia, girls under the age of 16 cannot legally drive or buy cigarettes. They can’t even watch certain movies or go clubbing. But they can marry – lawfully at that.

And many are increasingly doing so, according to statistics from the Malaysian Syariah Judiciary Depart­ment (JKSM).

In 2012, there were around 1,165 applications for marriage in which one party, usually the bride, is younger than the legal marrying age. The Syariah Courts approved 1,022 of them. This is an increase from the 2011 record, when some 900 marriages involving at least one Muslim minor were approved.

As of May this year, JKSM received 600 marriage applications, of which 446 had been approved.

In Malaysia, the legal minimum marriage age is 18, but it is 16 for Muslim girls. Those aged below 16 can marry with the consent of the Syariah Court.

Malaysia, along with over 90 other countries, adopted a United Nations resolution to end child, early or forced marriages, at the Human Rights Council last week.
However, JKSM’s data shows that child marriage is very much rampant in Malaysia.

Sisters in Islam said it was shocking that child marriage still existed in the country because of loopholes in the marriage laws and a con-tinuing belief that girls should be married off once they reached puberty.

“We stand by the UN findings that child marriage is harmful to children and girls, in particular, are vulnerable to abuse, health problems, difficulty in accessing education and loss of childhood and adolescence,” said SIS legal officer Kartina Mohd Sobri.

Given the significant number, the Government needed to review the provisions in secular, customary and Syariah law that currently permitted girls under the age of 18 to marry, said United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Malaysia programme adviser Saira Sha­meem.

“We need to develop alternatives and more progressive options that will allow our young to achieve the fullest extent of their potentials.

“There is also a risk to the physical health of girls who marry and conceive too early.

“As a result, we have underaged girls in Malaysia today who die of maternal health complications during delivery,” she said.

“This is unacceptable, and efforts must be taken to provide genuine alternatives and life-saving choices to these young people.”

According to Islamic Development Malaysia Department (Jakim) director-general Datuk Haji Othman Mus­tapha, getting married at an early age “is not forbidden in Islam but the marrying couple have to be mature enough to understand that with matrimony comes great responsibility”.

“The couple has to know if they are prepared for married life and if they are equipped with the right knowledge, especially what it means to be a husband or wife in Islam. Most importantly, they need to understand the real reason why they are marrying,” he said.

“If it is just to satisfy their sexual desires, they need to know that it will not lead to a happy and lasting union.”

He pointed out that Section 8 of the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act stated that the minimum legal age for Muslim boys is 18, and Muslim girls is 16.
“Those younger are allowed to marry with the written permission from the Syariah Court after both sets of parents put in an application to formalise their nuptials,” he pointed out.

“Marriage and starting a family is a big responsibility, one that is not to be taken lightly,” Othman said, conceding that the question of whether young people today were able to handle marriage at an early age did arise.

“But the Syariah Court will do a thorough assessment of their readiness,” he said, adding that the Syariah Court would also do a check on the parents before giving its approval.

Chief Syariah Judge and Malaysian Judiciary Department director-general Tan Sri Ibrahim Lembut declined to comment.
The Star - Musings - Where's the justice now? (10 October 2013)
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Thursday, 10 October 2013

Many Muslims are quick to defend their religion as one of peace, but very often words are not enough because the actions that many Muslims do in the name of Islam are neither peaceful nor just.

WHENEVER Islam is attacked for being violent and oppressive, many Muslims are quick to defend their religion as one of peace.

At each attack, the same words are trotted out as if these alone would be evidence of such truth. In fact, very often the word are not enough because the actions that many Muslims do in the name of Islam are far from being peaceful or just. Worse still, that the injustices and violence are mostly inflicted on other Muslims.

How is it possible to classify the burning of houses of worship of other faiths, or the abuse, and sometimes killing, of people of other faiths or other Muslim denominations as peaceful? How do we classify the rape of Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani woman given to another family because of an alleged wrong done by her brother, as just? Or the shooting of Malala Yousufzai?

Nearer home, how do we proclaim Islam as a just religion when the poor disproportionately are unable to obtain justice in our courts, when women have to spend energy and money they don’t have going in and out of court to get what is rightfully theirs and their children’s from irresponsible husbands?

What sort of justice is it when a woman who, fed-up with the long drawn out process, insists that the court punish her by whipping her is seen as a good Muslim woman, while men who repeatedly ignore court orders are not seen as bad Muslim men?

What sort of justice is it that women are invariably blamed for all of society’s ills but never men?

This week, a gross act of injustice has been done by the Federal Territory syariah court to a young woman who had the misfortune of being female and Muslim when confronted by Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) officials looking for someone to arrest.

They could not arrest her non-Muslim boss nor could they charge her employers.

So they picked on her and subjected her to unabating harassment to this day.

Never mind that the civil courts found that they had no right to raid the bookstore before the book they sought was even banned. Never mind that the civil courts lifted the ban on the book.

If the conditions for her arrest no longer exist, it stands to reason that whatever charges against her must be withdrawn.

After all, the courts have said that the book is not banned, therefore, how can she be charged for selling a banned book?

Here is where hubris trumps justice. Instead of gracefully withdrawing the charges against her, Jawi did a duplicitous thing.

In order not to be cited as being in contempt of the civil High Court’s order to lift the ban, they said they respected the court’s orders.

But then they said that the syariah judge had the power to make his own judgement on the case.

And he duly did, by refusing to withdraw the charge.

In what universe is this justice? In what world does this contribute to the image of Islam as a religion of justice and of peace? And what are the implications of this incredible judgment?

Firstly it means that no bookstore, except perhaps those selling Islamic books, may employ any Muslim at all since they will be held responsible for the content of each and every single book in the inventory that may contradict Islamic teachings. Does this mean that all bookstores must now summarily fire all their Muslim employees?

What about other employers that may have in their workplace things that are also considered unIslamic, such as alcohol?

Does this now mean that no Muslim may be employed in hotels, restaurants, even on our national airline? At a time when jobs are already hard to come by, how do we help anyone with this ridiculous judgment?

And it’s ridiculous because it makes no sense.

The court session was only meant to be a formality to withdraw the charges against the woman, since logically speaking, there is no reason to charge her. But the judge decided to prolong the case, make it even more controversial and perhaps even trigger a constitutional crisis. All for what purpose?

Meanwhile a young woman, who has worked hard to get to where she is, has to continue living with this charge over her head. That she has done so with great equanimity is testimony to her fortitude and courage.

Or perhaps, as a Muslim she knows this verse better than the judge: “Behold, God enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards [one’s] fellow-men; and He forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, as well as envy; [and] He exhorts you [repeatedly] so that you might bear [all this] in mind.” (Surah An-Nahl, Verse 90, translation by Muhammad Assad).

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
Borders Statement: Borders deeply regrets Syariah Court’s decision (7 October 2013)
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Statement by the COO of Berjaya Books Sdn Bhd, Yau Su Peng

Borders deeply regrets Syariah Court’s decision
Refusal to drop criminal charge on store manager Nik Raina despite High Court ruling

This morning, 7.10.2013, was supposed to be a happy day for our store manager, Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz. But it was not to be.

Nik Raina was wrongfully and illegally charged by JAWI on 19.6.2012. Since that day, she and her family had to suffer great humiliation and trauma. She is a Muslim and like many Malaysian Muslim women, she wears the tudung as respect for her faith. However, her image as a respectable Muslim woman was severely tarnished because the charge made by JAWI against her was that she distributed a book that defiled Islam. In a majority Muslim country like Malaysia, an allegation that a person has defiled Islam generates all kinds of negative implications.

Thus, on 22.3.2013, Nik Raina was elated when the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that the actions by JAWI in arresting and prosecuting Nik Raina was “unreasonable and irrational” and that the Syariah criminal charge against her in the Syariah High Court is “an infringement of Article 7 which is a provision concerning fundamental liberties, guaranteed by our Federal Constitution.”

Concerned over the psychological impact that this long drawn case was having on Nik Raina, we immediately instructed our lawyers to seek a discontinuance of the Syariah criminal charge; our lawyers proceeded to discuss with JAWI and the Attorney General Chambers on the best
way to cause a withdrawal of this case in a manner that would preserve the integrity of all parties concerned.

After several adjournments, the Syariah criminal case was eventually called this morning. Naturally, Nik Raina and all the staff and management of Borders were looking forward to an end to this long drawn unnecessary episode.

Therefore, we were surprised that after the JAWI prosecutors informed the Syariah Court that they were seeking a withdrawal of the charge, the JAWI prosecutors made subsequent submissions that were contrary to their withdrawal application. Consequently, the Syariah Court
decided that it would not allow a discontinuance of the Syariah criminal charge because it felt that it needed to uphold the independence of the Syariah Court from any interference by the Civil High Courts.

Borders deeply regrets JAWI’s insincerity in the withdrawal application. Borders further regrets the Syariah Court’s decision in refusing to drop the criminal charge against Nik Raina despitehaving been brought to its attention that the Civil High Court had ruled in the Judicial Review proceeding that the Syariah criminal charge brought by JAWI was invalid, illegal and unconstitutional.

The incident this morning is unprecedented. Normally, when the prosecution has intimated its withdrawal of any criminal charge and has conceded that the charge is invalid and illegal, the Court would not prevent such withdrawal and would in fact on its own motion strike down the charge. Thus, the decision by the Syariah Court was quite out of the ordinary. It is to be noted that the case had not started. In fact, Nik Raina had also declined to make a plea when the charge was read out to her on 19.6.2012. There was no prejudice to anyone if the criminal
charge was withdrawn today and the whole criminal case be brought to a swift end. There was no interference whatsoever on the Syariah Court’s jurisdiction.

Nik Raina is since speechless and deeply shocked. “I have been truly victimised and can only hope that my employers will continue to assist in clearing me of the baseless and unfair charge.”

It is unfortunate that the caution given by our legal counsel Rosli Dahlan, during the proceeding this morning “that there should be wisdom in handling this matter to avoid conflict of laws and a constitutional crisis” was not given due regard.

There is now uncertainty. What else must we, Borders, do to help Nik Raina gain her freedom?

Berjaya Books Sdn Bhd, as owner of the Borders brand in Malaysia, hopes that our governmental authorities will intervene to seek a resolution to this matter so as to end this confusion and that might bring chaos to our multi racial society.

Meanwhile we remain steadfast in protecting and standing by its staff and will not be altering our hiring policy in order to prevent future “mishaps” and continue to have faith in the Malaysian justice system

On a final note we would like to record our thanks to all those - friends, fans and media alike - who have supported Nik Raina throughout her trying and traumatic journey and hope to have their continued support.


For media enquiries, please contact Liza Ramli on +6019 387 4612 or e-mail
MalaysiaKini - 'What of domestic violence between unmarried couples?' (1 October 2013)
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'What of domestic violence between unmarried couples?'
1 October 2013

While proposed amendments to the Penal Code attempt to address domestic violence, it would still leave many perpetrators untouched, says a coalition of women's rights groups.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) said this is a cause of concern as 54 percent of domestic violence cases last year did not occur between married couples.
Such oversight, including other proposed amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (PCA), may have stemmed from the lack of consultation, JAG said in a statement today.

"With this in view, JAG calls for the proposed amendments to be halted immediately, so that civil society and other stakeholders can be consulted meaningfully on these proposed amendments before they are passed into law," it said.

According to JAG, police data show that domestic violence more commonly involves former spouses, parents, children, siblings and other members of households.

"The proposed amendments need to be extended to former spouses and other family members as defined in the Domestic Violence Act," it said.

According to the Penal Code Amendment Bill tabled in Parliament last week, the maximum penalty for causing physical hurt is doubled if the perpetrator is found to be married to the victim.

For example, if a person is convicted for grievously hurting someone, he/she can go to jail for seven years under Section 325. However, if the victim is his/her spouse, he/she can go to jail for 14 years.

Severe penalty useless if enforcement is lax

In their lengthy preliminary comments on the amendments, JAG said mandatory jail terms for spousal abuse may also discourage victims from reporting domestic violence.

"JAG proposes mandatory rehabilitative counselling instead, and for judges to have discretion on imposing imprisonment."

It also called in question the failure to introduce marital rape into the Penal Code, despite it being recognised by the World Health Organisation.

Commending the attempt to penalise violence against women more severely,  it said, however, that such efforts would be in vain if enforcement of the already existing laws was lax.

"Poor enforcement results in, among others, low conviction rates. No matter how heavy the punishment, non-implementation of enforcement will not deter perpetrators.

The Star - Musings - A question of security or insecurity (26 September 2013)
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Thursday September 26, 2013

While it is true that security is a constant issue, I wonder if the real reason behind it is that feeling of uncertainty or a lack of confidence and anxiety about ourselves.

SINCE we are all worried about security these days, I decided to look up the meaning of “insecurity”.

Besides the feeling of being constantly in danger or under threat, insecurity also means “a feeling of uncertainty, or a lack of confidence and anxiety about yourself”.

While we worry daily about the many crimes being committed in our neighbourhoods with no real solution in sight, sometimes I wonder if we have a security crisis or an insecurity crisis.

While it is true that security is a constant issue, I wonder if the real reason behind it is that feeling of uncertainty or a lack of confidence and anxiety about ourselves.

These feelings of security and insecurity are of course related.

On the one hand, the very people who should make us feel secure are in fact making us insecure.

How certain do we feel about our future when we see hesitant and sometimes absent leadership at times when we most need it?

How can we not feel anxious when the leadership is silent on the things that matter to the citizenry?

As a citizen, I want a decent life for my family, my fellow citizens and myself. This, anyone would think, is quite basic and common to everyone.

I want to be able to have a roof over my head, education for my kids, the opportunity to earn a decent living and affordable healthcare when I need it.

When a human being is unable to have these basics, then they start to feel that most normal of human instincts, insecurity.

If enough people feel that way, then that’s a recipe for instability and mass insecurity.

It is not possible for any country to be stable if many of its people feel hungry or deprived of the most essential ingredients to lead a normal life.

Countries rise and fall based on these simple facts. Once inequalities start to spread, then it is only normal that insecurity, in the sense of danger, follows.

I was talking to a friend who has been working abroad a lot about a situation that he found very stark since he’s been back.

There are people who seem to be caught in a quagmire of debt that they simply cannot get out of.

The vicious cycle of inability to access what a person needs which leads to overuse of credit, which leads to an inability to pay, which then leads to getting loans at high interest rates from unscrupulous persons, seems never ending.

It leads to insecurity not just for the original borrower but also for all those within his or her family circle.

Recently, two leading religious figures have spoken about this terrible crisis that many face, of easy credit and crushing debt.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, warned that the ease at which money, in its virtual form, not in exchange for actual goods and services, is available has led to much misery among people.

Most recently, Pope Francis talked about the same thing, how the pursuit of money for its own sake has brought with it “a culture where the weakest in society suffer the most” and often, those on the fringes “fall away”, including the elderly, who he said were victims of a “hidden euthanasia” caused by “neglect of those no longer considered productive”.

I have yet to hear the Muslim equivalent of this, of concern for a global system that is increasing insecurity of people everywhere.

Instead, I hear a different insecurity, of one where there are constant so-called moral attacks, usually by imagined assailants. Where limited interpretations of religion are to be enforced because otherwise the religion will disappear, despite evidence to the contrary.

In some ways, these self-appointed guardians of religion have reason to worry.

Every action of theirs is self-defeating. For every cruelty they inflict on those who are weak, they lose more adherents.

For every injustice they perpetuate, there are people who leave disgusted. For every justification they give to inequality, people baulk and root for equality.

When we look at the most unstable countries in the world, inevitably they are also the ones with masses of poor people.

Economic injustice breeds problems not just within countries, but externally as well.

It leads to mass migration of people to look for work, and sometimes it brings violence.

It thus makes sense to prioritise dealing with such injustice.

Instead, we see our leaders behaving like people anxious about protecting their own comforts rather than anyone else’s.

This they do by distracting us from real issues, by telling us that some small groups of people, even dead ones, are a threat, by refusing to let some people speak or even be seen in our media.

So I have to ask: Who’s the insecure one?

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
The Star - Musings - The value of human dignity (12 September 2013)
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Thursday September 12, 2013

The importance of respecting a person’s dignity is also tied to respecting their bodily integrity.

ONE of the things that we try to impart to our children is the value of human dignity, where we try and teach them to respect others, never to shame others in public and to always conduct ourselves with decorum.

Our pity is often cast on those whose lives have fallen apart and who have to bear the indignities that society can wreak on the indigent and the ill.

We know that the importance of respecting a person’s dignity is also tied to respecting their bodily integrity. Hence our concern – some would say, obsession – with the way people, especially women, are dressed.

The ostensible reason is that it protects a person’s physical integrity.

A dignified person is therefore a whole person, respected and respectful.

Imagine therefore my horror and shock at a story of an ustazah in a school who, disbelieving her female students who said they could not pray because they had their period, decided to check their underwear to see if they were telling the truth.

It must be a special kind of sick sadist that thinks that checking another person’s underwear is a viable way of carrying out their duties. It is a blatant abuse of power over those who are unable to refuse the command.

Mothers rarely ask to look at their young daughters’ underwear except with very good reason, such as if they suspect they are ill. Why then does a teacher who otherwise has no business to touch the bodies of our children feel she can do this with impunity?

Imagine the effect it will have on the students. It is bad enough not to be believed but to be violated in this way must surely have an effect on their self-esteem.

Do we not care if we bring up children with low self-esteem or is that the idea, to create a whole generation of subservient girls?

More insultingly, it is done in the name of religion.

It just points to the sheer ludicrousness of public ritual as an indicator of piety.

I don’t know what KPI the ustazah had that she had to ensure that every single girl under her charge prayed every day.

Yet for all the praying, which presumably she does too, she still could not trust her own charges. If they say they cannot pray that day, then really she should just trust them and leave it in the hands of the Almighty.

Apparently this sort of thing is not uncommon in our schools and even in Muslim schools elsewhere. A friend told of how when she was in school, girls had to indicate on a chart when they had their period. If their period lasted more than 15 days, then this was cause for speculation that they were lying and therefore liable to be subject to punishment for not praying.

I have to wonder what punishment is reserved for boys who try to excuse themselves from prayers since there are no similar indicators for them. Should girls be punished merely because of biology?

The reaction of most of my friends who heard this story is that the parents of the girls should sue the teacher and the school.

Schools are after all meant to be spaces that are safe for our children.

Safety does not just mean physical safety but safety from the sort of mental abuse that this sort of physical “inspection” causes.

But the chances are that the parents won’t. Firstly, they are likely to feel embarrassed about the whole thing and secondly, who are they to dispute a teacher, and a religious teacher at that, who has power over their child for most of the day? They are also likely to be shamed for not keeping tabs on their daughters’ prayer schedules themselves.

In other words, such abusive teachers are likely to carry on this behaviour knowing that nothing much will happen to them.

What do we teach our children when we behave like this? We teach them that power over someone weaker is everything, that the powerful can do anything, especially humiliate a powerless person.

We teach our children that their bodies are not theirs, and yet at the same time we scold and punish them if they allow the “wrong” people to touch them. Is an ustazah, even if she is of the same sex, the right person? Some people will say she was only looking and not touching. That’s splitting hairs really.

It is things like these that make parents lose trust in our schools and our teachers. Schools are where our children should be able to grow as human beings, to fulfil their potential to be contributing members of society.

Instead, we are turning them into humiliated people who may well turn into future abusers themselves.
Malaysian Digest - 'They Have The Right To Wear Headscarves' (12 September 2013)
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KUALA LUMPUR: Every Muslim women, like all women in the country, should be treated equally and this include the right to wear headscarves to work.

Sisters In Islam program manager Suri Kempe said the 'no tudung'-type of employment policy was discriminatory and have no place in a country with diverse cultural and religious background like Malaysia.

"This is discrimination against Muslim women. Like all women in Malaysia, they have the right to be treated equally," she said when asked to comment on Malaysian Digest's report yesterday on a woman, known as Ira, who faced multiple rejection when applying for a  job at several branded stores in KLCC because she wears a headscarf.

Suri said Muslim women should be allowed to practise their religious belief, including the wearing of headscarf.

She also called on the Human Resources Ministry to look closely into Ira's case, and address discriminatory policies against women at the workplace.

"We should be free from discrimination and prejudice, and no restriction on what a person should and should not wear. This does not apply only to Muslim women, in fact non-Muslims too should be allowed to practise their religious beliefs," she said.

Suri said cases like Ira's should not have happened because clothes after all does not reflect a person's ability to execute a given task.

Independent Islamic preacher Datuk Daud Che Ngah was appaled that such incidents, which he described as discriminatory to Muslim women, still occurred in the country.

"What have they done wrong and why the need to differentiate someone who wants to adhere to their religious belief?," he said.

Daud said companies should respect the country's diversity and described such move as un-Islamic.

"If they can't respect that then they should not be doing business here,"

"Although some may say it is company policy, but such move (of not allowing women in headscarf at work) is still discriminatory against Muslim women who are just adhering to their religious belief,"

"Working, is part of ibadah in Islam but Muslims must also observe to the rules of the religion,"

Daud said similar issue popped up during the 70s where most Muslim women working in factories in the Klang Valley were not allowed to wear headscarves.

"Tabung Haji and I spearheaded a discussion with the factory owners and nowadays you can see that most factories, including the foreign owned ones, have allowed the practise. This means they are can be respectful to their Muslim workers."

Dewan Muslimat PAS spokeswoman Ustazah Rosiah Salleh however felt the stores' move was not discriminatory.

"The applicants do have the right to choose and should not use this as an excuse. As a worker, we have to adhere to companies' rules and regulations. If they can't accept women wearing headscarves working for them, then go find soomeplace else to work," she said.

She said there were many other job opportunities that are open to women wearing headscarves.

"This is not discrimination. They still have a choice to gon elsewhere," she said when contacted yesterday.

However, Rosiah said employers in an Islamic country like Malaysia should learn to respect women who wears headscarves as it was part of their religious obligations.

In the meantime, mD's report yesterday received more than 50 comments, most of them condemning the stores for the discriminatory practise.

One of them, Manjalara went on to described her own experience when she was applying for a job at a hotel.

Pak Pandir meanwhile said the policy adopted by the three stores are backward thinking and out of date. He urged the owners to be more open.

Yesterday, mD reported that 24-year-old Ira, who was looking for a part-time job as a retail assistant was turned down by several branded retail stores in KLCC for wearing a headscarf.

She had highlighted her 'predicament' on Facebook and her status update has reached close to 9,000 shares on the social media site.

mD went to checked out the stores she mentioned and found out to be true.

Meanwhile, Esprit has offered their sincere apologies for the ordeal Ira had gone through.

"At Esprit, it is our company Code of Conduct to ensure 'equal opportunity in employment' and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind," Esprit PR officer Joyce Wong wrote in a press release, yesterday.

Wong wrote, as a global organization, Esprit believes that diversity in their staff is important for the company's success.

Workers Should Adhere To Dresscode Set By Employer

THE Malaysian Employers Federation chief Shamsuddin Bardan says dress code at work is under the employer's discretion.

The employer, he said, in principle can come up with a dress code of  their own and job applicant had accepted the job offer should adhere to it, including rules on the wearing of headscarf.

"If one is offered a job but unable to follow the dress code, then he or she can always choose not to accept the offer. If they accept it, then they are bound to the company's policy," he said via an email reply yesterday.

Shamsudin said although the wearing of headscarf is a religious obligation, the decision lies in the hands of the job applicant whether they could adhere to the company's policy.

"It can't be described as diiscrimination because the person still have a choice to accept or refuse the job offer," he said.

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