KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 26 — G25, which has been accused of being deviant over its criticism of khalwat laws, says it is not aiming to “reform Islam”, but only to review Shariah legislation that is unconstitutional and which violate Islamic legal principles.
Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, a former Sessions Court judge who represents the group of Malay retired senior civil servants, points out that fatwa (religious edicts), for example, are gazetted into binding rules in Malaysia, even though they are merely a voluntary and optional concept in Islam.
In an exclusive interview with Malay Mail Online here, Noor Farida talks about the support of the royalty for G25’s work, her fears for Malaysia amid extremism, and how she is weathering the storm of attacks.
1. What do people say to you in their attacks?
“Mampus lah; murtad; you’re almost six feet underground, should not be making noise; repent” — I would advise them the same.
In Islam, although they want to call us ‘murtad’, only God, that is ‘urusan Allah’; only God can do that. Unless a person himself renounces Islam, nobody else can call you an apostate.
It’s really shown me the ugly face of Muslims in the country. I am just shocked.
In my naivete, I never thought a simple call for reform of a law, which is a man-made law, which exists in no other Muslim country because they respect the Quranic injunction to respect people’s privacy and not to expose concealed wrongdoing...We’re the only country.
And my God, the storm it’s created, the abuses we’ve been subjected to, the filthy language used, the false allegations, it’s just — my God — mind-boggling.
If I’m not a strong woman, I would have collapsed under all this weight. But as I said, God is my protector because we believe in what we’re doing. We’re trying to create a better Malaysia.
We’re trying to salvage the image of our religion as good Muslims, which is being hijacked, tarnished by all these people claiming to be the champions of Islam.
2. Do you think the government should endorse your call to reform unconstitutional Shariah laws?
Yes, to make sure that those which trespass on the Constitution, the criminal laws which trespass on the Constitution, that they be realigned, that they should be harmonised with the Constitution. We’re calling for harmonisation of Shariah with the Federal Constitution.
3. What Shariah laws should be reviewed?
Provisions in Shariah Criminal Offences laws which overlap federal criminal offences, example, Section 7, 8, 18, 25, 26, 30, 32, 43, 46 of the Penang Shariah Crimes Enactment 1996, on matters such as insulting or bringing into contempt the religion of Islam, indecency, gambling, ‘liwat’ (sodomy) and ‘musahaqah’ (lesbian sex), giving false evidence, defiling a mosque, and abetment may well overlap similar provisions in the Penal Code and Gaming Tax Act.
Laws that trespass into federal jurisdiction: The Shariah Criminal Offence (Hudud and Qisas) Terengganu Enactment 2002, and the Shariah Criminal Code (II) Enactment 1993 of Kelantan seek to punish crimes of theft, robbery, carnal intercourse against the order of nature, homicide, causing death, injury, pain, harm, disease or injury. All the above are federal offences and therefore outside the powers of the State to legislate.
The right to restrict fundamental liberties is specifically prescribed under the Federal Constitution: Several provisions in the Shariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act restrict citizens’ right to freedom of speech and expression, example Sections 9 and 12, which have the effect of imposing a blanket ban on freedom of speech, is unconstitutional as the provisions make no reference to any of the eight grounds provided under Article 10(2)(a) [of the] Federal Constitution on which restrictions to freedom of speech may be imposed.
4. Does Islam permit various interpretations?
In Islamic history, differing opinions have always been accepted. That is why in Sunni Islam, we have the four recognised schools — Shafi’i, Hanafi, Hanbali and Maliki, but it’s not on matters of faith, not on, say, the five pillars of Islam. That is inviolable.
We’re not seeking to reform Islam.
Those who accuse the G25 of being deviant are using the language of ISIS. That is why they attract the ISIS sympathiser to issue a death threat against me. I wonder whether our detractors are also ISIS sympathisers. Perhaps the police should look into this.
5. The Selangor Islamic Religious Council issued a fatwa against Sisters of Islam calling them deviants. Are you afraid G25 may go the same way?
We don’t issue statements on religious matters. But whatever it is, it’s been challenged. They’re asking for judicial review. Whatever it is, people can take whatever action. Let the courts decide.
6. You said in March that G25 has met several rulers. Were they supportive of your work?
Yeah, they were supportive. What we’re doing is to uphold the rights of Sultans as the head of religion in respective states. We don’t want any encroachment on their rights by the federal authorities.
7. You said in March G25 was working with the government to set up this consultative committee, but at the recent forum, you said you’ll only involve civil society. So what happened?
We went to see the PM [in February or March]. He was supportive when we went to see him, but when we said “council”, he said it’ll be very difficult, so he suggested we form it on our own.
He said if it’s a council, you’ll need Cabinet decision and all that, it’ll be very protracted, it’ll be very bureaucratic, so he suggested that we form on our own.
Yet his own religious adviser said you’re deviant.
They use these words very loosely. They were diverted by this ‘khalwat’ (close proximity) issue, which was just an example. They have mixed up khalwat with ‘zina’ (adultery). We are not calling for the legalisation of zina, for heaven’s sake. What we’re objecting to is the snooping and spying.
8. What does an ideal multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia look like?
Basically respect for each other’s cultures and religions.
There’s this story about the Prophet, a funeral procession passed by, non-Muslim, and he stood up out of respect. His companion asked, “Why do you stand up, he’s a non-Muslim?” He said, “He’s a human being, isn’t he?” That was the response of the Prophet.
9. How can G25 fight for decreased moral policing, seeing that Islamic departments like Jakim (Department of Islamic Development) get so much money and they may not want to give up their funds?
They have to ensure there’s no abuse and there’s no injustice, no targeting of political opponents. Do it in a just way.
10. What are you afraid Malaysia will turn into if Islam is increasingly institutionalised?
We have no problems with institutionalisation, it’s already institutionalised, but when extreme views prevail… not so much institutionalisation, but because extremist views seem to be prevailing.
It’s how the Taliban started — the intolerance, the very narrow interpretation. Very narrow, intolerant, because the Talibans are Wahhabis, where — to them — non-Wahhabis are non-Muslims, and therefore, their blood is ‘halal’ (permissible), just like al-Qaeda, ISIS and whatnot.
Do we want to be like them? And you look at Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, anybody with a differing view, they kill them.
If we don’t watch it...I don’t want us to be heading in that direction, it’s scary. If it’s not arrested, this intolerance, it can get worse.
11. Aside from the few conservatives and extreme groups who criticise you, Malay-Muslims in general don’t seem to say anything. How do you plan to engage them?
We have to work with other Muslim groups, with rural and semi-urban outreach to get our message across, message of tolerance. We need to engage, but we cannot do it alone.
12. I understand four people have left G25 since it was set up?
We’re a loose group. People can come and go. We’re not registered, so calling for us to be banned and whatnot, what’s there to ban? We’re just a group with ideas.