Opinion

The Kedah amendment that should never have happened

Azrul Mohd Khalib

Azrul Mohd Khalib works on HIV/AIDS, sex and human rights issues. He is becoming cynical and is in danger of losing his sense of humour and mind. He also runs and is battling an addiction to the "A Song of Ice and Fire" book series. Azrul can be contacted at azferul@gmail.com.

APRIL 26 — Last week’s amendment made to the Mufti and Fatwa (Kedah Darul Aman) Enactment 2008 by the Kedah state government and passed unanimously by the Kedah State Legislative Assembly was nothing short of breathtaking in its lack of wisdom, humility, accountability and Islamic values.

As far as I can see, for the moment there are two problems inherent in the case of this amendment being passed. The first one being the Kedah state government and the religious authorities represented by the Mufti and the Fatwa Committee.

If the Mufti and the Fatwa Committee requires this unthinking, unblinking and blind obedience from those of the Islamic faith in Kedah, then I say that these learned gentlemen have wondered off the path of enlightenment and lost their way.

The amendment, which makes any fatwa decided by the state Mufti or Fatwa Committee, whether gazetted or not, unable to be challenged, appealed, reviewed, denied or questioned in any civil or syariah court, smacks of supreme arrogance and self-bestowed righteousness.

Fatwas are, in essence, form and function, opinions espoused by religious figures or bodies. They are precisely that — opinions. Somehow, in Malaysia, in stark contrast to Islam in many other countries around the world, fatwas tend to take on a legal form.  Their inconsistent enforcement is dependent on selective interpretation, whim and fancy. For example, if fatwas were to be strictly adhered to as law, there would be fewer smokers in Malaysia today (a fatwa in 1995 decreed that smoking was haram). As those who conceptualise fatwas are human, they are neither infallible nor free from bias or prejudice.

When a crude instrument such as this amendment is proposed and utilised, besides confirming the perception of arrogance and the belief that these religious figures feel themselves accountable to no one, it also signals laziness by those involved to engage in rational and substantive debate.

The amendment implies that the adherents to the religion must subscribe to unquestioning compliance and obedience. Islam, in fact, requires from its ummah to practise a culture of intellectual discourse, discovery and argumentation. Early Islamic civilisation is filled with the discoveries of science, arts and culture, the results of which we utilise until today in our daily lives.

The first word that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (who was illiterate) by the Angel Gabriel was “Iqra”, which means read or recite. It implies the need to learn. There should neither be blind adherence nor blind faith or belief. For therein lies the potential for abuse, exploitation, prejudice, bigotry and injustice.

Any sort of fatwa requires justification, consultation and engagement in learned debate discourse. Resorting to such an arrogant instrument such as this amendment to silence opposition or contrarian opinion is, I believe, unIslamic and is against the spirit and proud tradition of scholarship in which this religion has excelled in the past.

The second problem lies in the Kedah State Legislative Assembly in whom the trust of the people has been placed in and, in this case, forgotten. How can the members of the assembly ever support, much less pass, an amendment which allows for a religious opinion to be above the law, to be never subjected to judicial or legal review, or to be immune from being challenged or questioned? In short, approving a measure which would effectively put a fatwa above the law and above the Federal Constitution.

The fact that this amendment is unconstitutional and will now need to be repealed is secondary to the fact that such a measure was allowed to be passed with such a large measure of support and little opposition in the first place. Malaysia is not and will not be a theocracy. Perhaps our representatives need a bit of education on this subject.

It is a pity that this has happened in the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s home state. But it serves as a reminder to the royals who are the head of Islam in the different states that religion can and will continuously be exploited by those who are unscrupulous and who will take advantage of our complacency and blind obeisance. It has happened in Selangor and now it has happened in Kedah. We look to the royal institutions to safeguard the interests of all citizens, be they Muslims or non-Muslims.

We are all tired of the arrogant brushing off by people in power that such measures will not affect non-Muslims.  Nothing exists in a vacuum. Anyhow, what makes it acceptable to abuse or deprive Muslims of their rights in such a manner?

To quote Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak, Kedah is the first state to make such an amendment. Let it be the last to do so and while we are at it, let’s get this abomination repealed.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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