Ahad, 4 Ogos 2013

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Only in Malaysia: where we have gone wrong with fatwa

Posted: 04 Aug 2013 12:37 AM PDT

Fatwa are only advisory opinions to guide a Muslim to lead a life according to Islam.

Zainah Anwar, The Star

I WONDER how many Malaysians know that under the Syariah Criminal Offences laws of this country, it is a criminal offence for a Muslim to defy, disobey or dispute or to give, propagate or disseminate any opinion concerning Islamic teachings, Islamic law or any issue, contrary to any fatwa for the time being in force.

And that we must be the only country in the Muslim world that has turned the opinion of the ulama into the law of the land without going through the legislative process and then makes it an offence for anyone to challenge that opinion.

That this is a gross violation of constitutional guarantees of fundamental liberties and has no basis in Islamic legal history seem to escape those who drafted the laws and passed them in Parliament and state legislative assemblies.

As long ago as 1997, Sisters in Islam had submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, alerting him to the Shariah Criminal Offences (SCO) federal and state laws.

We pointed out that in Islamic legal thought, fatwa are mere advisory opinions and do not have the force of law; to make it a crime to challenge a fatwa in force is to equate the opinion of a Mufti to the infallible word of God; the legislative authority to make laws in Malaysia lies with Parliament and the state assemblies, not the fatwa committees; the right to restrict fundamental liberties lies solely with Parliament and thus the provisions in the law that punish indecency amounts to an unconstitutional trespass on federal powers.

He ordered the suspension of the law and for the Attorney-General's chambers to conduct a full study. This occurred after the public outcry over the arrest and charging of three young women for violating a fatwa by taking part in a Miss Malaysia Petite beauty contest which drew public attention to the existence of these draconian provisions in the SCO laws.

But when the ruckus died down, so it seems did the review. The public was not informed of any progress.

So these laws remain on the books. Whenever the opportunity arises, the law is revived to threaten and intimidate those who dare to have an opinion different from those in religious authority. So much for Malaysia being touted as the model moderate Muslim country.

In 2005, when another public outcry broke out over the arrest and treatment of 100 young Muslim women and men at the Zouk discotheque, Sisters in Islam yet again submitted another memorandum to the Government calling for a comprehensive review and repeal of the SCO laws.

This time SIS supported its position with research by two legal experts who studied the laws from constitutional and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) perspectives.

How much more does it take for this government to realise that forcing people to believe what they do not believe does not constitute faith?

That is why every time a fatwa is issued that makes no sense to the public or the law is enforced that violates the fundamental liberties of citizens, there is a public outcry. And then those in religious authority get insulted and are befuddled as to why so many Malaysians, even Muslims they say, dare to challenge their views and contradict fellow Muslims.

Not a crime

My friends and scholars I know in the Arab world are stunned that a modern country like Malaysia could be so close minded when it comes to Islam. Everyone, literally everyone I meet, knows that fatwa are only advisory opinions to guide a Muslim to lead a life according to Islam. They are theological and legal reasonings given in question and answer form. If at all it is binding, it is only to the questioner, certainly not binding on a whole population and certainly not a crime to disobey.

In fact, if you don't like the fatwa given by your local mullah, you can go to another one to ask for another opinion and it is left to your conscience to decide which fatwa you want to follow. Everyone understands that in the end it is between you and God.

Truly, only God knows best. The state has no role to play to force you to believe or obey a fatwa and send you to prison or fine you for disobeying the opinion of someone in religious authority. And the media certainly does not sensationalise and incite hatred against anyone for not following a fatwa.

But for some people in Malaysia, this Islamic tradition that has enabled Islam to thrive and grow for hundreds of years in all social and cultural contexts seems an alien tradition.

And yet there are hundreds of fatwa listed in the e-fatwa portal of Jakim and the state religious authorities on a whole range of issues, from whether it is harus (permissible) to dye one's hair black (only for jihad purposes or for a woman to please her husband), to the use of indelible ink on voters' fingers (permissible). Some are gazetted, most are not.

For example, many states have issued fatwa that say smoking is haram; Selangor and Penang gazetted, the others did not. Selangor, Pahang and Penang have issued fatwa that declare Amanah Saham Bumiputra (ASB) and Amanah Saham Nasional (ASN) as haram (forbidden), but the National Fatwa Council states it is harus. Some other states followed suit to state it is harus, but not those three states.

So who is right and who is wrong?

All fatwa are justified in the name of Islam. So when there are so many fatwa on the same issue, some making it haram, some harus, some gazetted, some not, some states have them, some don't, what then is the "Islamic" position on any particular issue?

This would not pose a problem if, like other Muslim countries, the Malaysian authorities have the wisdom to leave it to the conscience of the individual to decide which opinion or which teaching he or she wants to follow and leave it to God to decide in the end whether that person has committed a sin by obeying or disobeying.

But when the state tries to play God, it leads us to the conundrums we are in today. For the public will question the basis upon which some states decide to gazette one fatwa but not another. On what basis is action taken against those who violate a fatwa?

Thousands of Muslims in Selangor and Penang violate the smoking fatwa on a daily basis, and yet none of them has been accused of insulting Islam or charged for violating a fatwa. Why not?

Neither has any tobacco company been charged for propagating and disseminating their opinions on smoking through advertising and promotion that clearly violate the fatwa.

On the scale of wrongdoings, the public wonders why corrupt politicians and officials or the thousands of fathers who fail to pay maintenance to their children are not accused of insulting Islam. It is this selective persecution and hypocrisy that rile public opinion.

Difference of opinion

There is a good reason as to why fatwa never have the force of law in Islamic history. Because to do so is to, in effect, equate the opinion of the ulama to the word of God.

One reason why the doctrine of binding precedent did not evolve in the Islamic legal tradition is due to the belief that the opinion of one mujtahid (a jurist qualified to interpret legal issues) can never be regarded as the final wisdom in understanding the infinite message of the Quran.

Another jurist can give an equally valid opinion based on his learned understanding of the text. In the context of law-making in a democracy, these differences of opinion should be debated in public and the legislative body will then decide which opinion it wants to turn into law to serve the best interest of society. Public law must be open to public debate and pass the test of public reason.

But in Malaysia, disobeying a fatwa has become elevated to insulting God, insulting Islam. Yes, the state religious authority could consider it an insult to what it considers its learned opinion on Islam; but this cannot constitute a crime, nor can it equate its opinion to God as that would be tantamount to shirk (associating others with God).

If it is the Islamic tradition to make it a crime to have differences of opinion in Islam, how then did numerous schools of theology and numerous schools of law develop in Islamic history?

In the canons of Islamic juristic scholarship written by the classical scholars of Islam, no one accuses another of insulting Islam for differences of opinion. Only politicians and those with aspirations to power and control do that.

The tragedy of Muslims today is that while we say we want to restore Islam to its past glory, we are instead doing a grave injustice to our rich legal tradition. We bring the religion into disrepute and ridicule in our obsession to make all Muslims think only in the way the state deems fit.

That the coercive power of a modern nation state is then used to impose this one point of view on a whole community of Muslims is unprecedented in Islamic history. And obviously unenforceable in a democracy as there would be public outrage.

We have abused what is authoritative in our Islamic tradition for authoritarian purposes. And this has no place in a democracy nor in Muslim practice.


Umno polls could spring a surprise

Posted: 04 Aug 2013 12:29 AM PDT

The Umno polls are just another couple of months away but the ground is quiet, the campaigning subdued and the mood is not to rock the boat after what the party went through in the general election.

At another level, some 146,500 delegates from 199 Umno divisions will vote on the posts for president, deputy president, three vice-presidents and 25 supreme council members (Fig 3). This is in contrast to the past when 2,000-plus delegates decided on the leadership line-up.

Joceline Tan. The Star

Figure 1

TAN Sri Mohd Isa Samad looks rather well groomed these days. The Felda chairman has been sporting a more contemporary hair-do and a neatly trimmed goatee. He is also into well-tailored suits and his ties match the folded handkerchief in his breast pocket. But most of all, Isa is glowing with health and contentment.

His previous scruffy grassroots politician image is a thing of the past and according to his friends, the credit goes to his wife Puan Sri Bibi Sharliza Mohd Khalid, the Puteri Umno politician whom he married several years after his first wife died of cancer. It is so sweet to find love the second time around and Bibi has stepped naturally into her role as a politician's wife.

Isa, who is also Bagan Pinang assemblyman, has enjoyed a high profile in the Malay heartland since his 2010 Felda appointment.

The new-look Isa even comes across as rather polished and sophisticated – until he opens his mouth. Then you know that he is the same old Isa – loquacious, full of jokes and as down-to-earth as ever.


Figure 2
But the Umno circle is buzzing with talk that Isa is mulling whether to go for one of the three Umno vice-president (VP) posts.

In fact, Kok Lanas assemblyman Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad has labelled Isa the "dark horse" in the VP race.

This will be his fourth try. He failed the first time in 2000, won the second time in 2004 but had to resign following disciplinary action for money politics, and lost in his third attempt in 2009.

The media has been pressing him for an answer everywhere he goes. His official response is that he has not decided. But those close to him think he is "70% decided".

Some said Isa has been telling Umno people to make sure that incumbent VP Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi wins again before adding with a smile: "If you can, also put me there."

It is a rather clever way of riding on Zahid's popularity without seeming to do so.


Figure 3

It is only two more months to the Umno elections but the VP race has not stirred the sort of excitement or interest that it used to. Those whom the Umno grassroots think might be suitable up there have shown little inclination so far.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman whom many say would join the race is reportedly quite contented to concentrate his efforts on looking after his state.

Education Minister II Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, still flushed from the success of the Kuala Besut by-election, said "not at all" when asked if he was looking at the VP post.

Selangor Umno chief Datuk Noh Omar, who came in No 2 in the last supreme council contest, said he has his hands full as the opposition leader in Selangor.

Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir had not even given it a thought because he had decided early on that his priorities are squarely on Perak.

Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Hasan told reporters he is "not that ambitious."

The Umno rank and file say that they want to see at least one "young face" up there among the seniors but potentates like Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir have indicated that they prefer to concentrate on their new administrative duties.

"I am not feeling it at all," said one Perak Umno official about the party polls.

The dates for the polls have been set. All posts are open for contest and anyone eyeing a post can file his or her papers on Sept 7. All they need is a single nomination, unlike the previous system where aspiring candidates had to canvass for nominations from the divisions and, after that, campaign for votes.

The strange thing is that despite the laissez faire system, very few people have openly stated their intentions. Some have put it down to the Malay trait of segan or reticence. Umno is rarely short of ambitious persons but it was evidently easier to have the Umno divisions nominating them for posts than to be upfront about one's ambition for a post.

Even Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin have been rather circumspect about their positions and it is likely that those down the line are taking the cue from them.

"There is an overwhelming mood not to rock the boat after what we went through in the general election. People are free to contest but the feeling is that this is not the right time for big challenges that may split the party," said Urban Well-Being, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Rahman Dahlan.

One of Umno's most independent voices, Cheras Umno chief Datuk Seri Syed Ali Alhabshee, has urged delegates to vote only for "real party men who will live and die in Umno".

"This is the chance for us to select people who speak up, work hard and are not there just to warm the seat. They must be people who will stand by the party and not up and go if they do not get what they want.

New faces

"I am also appealing to my fellow party members to give the No 1 and No 2 another term. They have worked hard, they work well together, they deserve to be there. As for the posts of VP and below, let the grassroots decide who they want as their future leaders," said Syed Ali.

Alwi has suggested that the next supreme council comprise of at least one-third fresh faces who can help in the Prime Minister's transformation policies while the other two-thirds should include performing ministers and experienced faces.

There are also many in Umno who feel that there must also be leaders who are willing to be vocal on Malay rights, or what they call "Perkasa types", to defend the party's position on Islam, the Rulers and the nation.

The more cynical say the current calm spell is the lull before the storm and that this election may see the biggest number of candidates yet, especially for the 25 supreme council seats.

It will also see thousands of delegates voting, putting the new and radically different election system to the test. The Wanita, Youth and Puteri elections will take place on Sept 28 and the election for the supreme council on Oct 5.

Some 100,000 delegates are eligible to vote in the Wanita election, 70,000 in the Youth election and 50,000 in the Puteri election (Fig 1 and 2).

At another level, some 146,500 delegates from 199 Umno divisions will vote on the posts for president, deputy president, three vice-presidents and 25 supreme council members (Fig 3). This is in contrast to the past when 2,000-plus delegates decided on the leadership line-up.

"It's big and the good thing about it is that money cannot determine the outcome. But those who have a high profile will enjoy the edge," said Alwi.

At the same time, said Alwi, the grassroots know who can deliver and those who work hard.

"Watch out for Azeez," said Alwi.

Umno blogs have been grousing about Datuk Abdul Azeez Rahim's appointment as the new Tabung Haji chairman. There is a great deal of prejudice against Azeez because of his colourful past but, on the ground, Azeez has a reputation as someone who is not afraid of hard work and who helps the disadvantaged.

His efforts for the poor and needy in Baling helped him beat Brig-Gen (R) Datuk Najmi Ahmad of PAS and the younger brother of Datuk Ahmad Nakhaie in the Baling parliamentary seat.

He has spent the holy month of Ramadan traversing the country in his capacity as Tabung Haji chairman, handing out zakat to the poor. He has also been doing other charity work as head of Putera Malaysia.

Last week, Azeez was in Kota Baru where he met up with some of the Kelantan Umno leaders including state chief Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed and Alwi.

Alwi reminded those present that Azeez had squeezed into the last slot of the 25-seat supreme council at the last Umno election.

Then turning to Azeez, he teased: "No more No 25 for you this time. God willing, you will be No 2 or No 5."

It was sheer flattery but Azeez must have left Kota Baru floating on cloud nine.

But apart from the top two posts, the outcome of the Umno elections is hard to predict this time around.

The thousands of delegates who will be voting come from diverse parts of the country and they have their own criteria and priorities in selecting whom they regard as suitable leaders. There may be some surprising results.


The great dog debate revisited

Posted: 03 Aug 2013 10:12 PM PDT


Rusaslina Idrus, The Malaysian Insider

In the mid 1930s, a member of the Kelantan royal family and his sister had a disagreement over him keeping a pet dog. She felt that dogs, and in particular their saliva, were polluting according to Islamic law. The issue quickly became a matter of public debate with Islamic experts in the state weighing in with different opinions.

In order to resolve this issue, the Tengku (the dog owner) called for a public council of debate (a majlis mudzakara) with both sides having the space to present their arguments regarding dog keeping in Islam.

In January 1937, the mudzakarawas held in Istana Sri Cemerlang and attended by two thousand members of the public. It was reported to be the event of the year for the people in Kota Bahru and it continued to be the talk of the town for many years to come.

On team pro-dog were ex-Mufti Wan Musa Wan Abdul Samad, Haji Abbas b. Muhammad Taha, a qadi from Singapore and Burhanuddin Muhammad Noor1, a young man who studied in Delhi and Aligarh.

On the otherside were the mufti of Kelantan Haji Ibrahim bin Haji Yusof, chief Qadi Haji Ahmad bin Ismail and leading Islamic scholars and members of the Kelantan Islamic council Haji Abdul Manan and Haji Abdullah Tahir.

The two teams presented their arguments drawing from a range of sources including the Quran, the Prophet's (PBUH) hadiths and tradition and studies on Islamic jurisprudence.

Both teams composed of highly learned scholars with extensive Islamic training abroad and locally.

At the end of the debate, the Sultan did not declare a winner butleft the people of Kelantan having heard both sides of the arguments to make their own informed decision2.

In the meantime, the Tengku wanting to have a clearer outcome submitted a query to the Fatwa Committee of al-Azhar in Cairo regarding this matter.

In May 1937, the Syaikh of al-Azhar issued a fatwa affirming the permissibility of dog keeping3. While the matter remains controversial in Kelantan, the differences in opinion were accepted.

I bring this historical moment up not to be seditious, but because it illustrates a time in our country where there was space for a public debate on such religious matters.

Read more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/the-great-dog-debate-revisited-rusaslina-idrus 

Kredit: www.malaysia-today.net

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