Khalwat raids have resurfaced into public attention on news about the death of a
policeman and the injury of another who were trying to escape as the religious
enforcement officers closed in to arrest them. These cases of accidental deaths and
injuries should raise public concern whether such an offence like khalwat (close
proximity) should continue to be criminalised considering that its implementation under
syariah law has often brought embarrassment to the country’s system of justice.
Some ulama have called the khalwat raids anti- Islamic because they give the impression
to society that the religion uses punishment as the only way to uphold moral values.
Malays who have visited or lived in the Gulf states say they have not come across any
Arab country which uses the moral police to conduct raids into the privacy of homes or
hotel rooms in search of khalwat offenders.
The problem about state policing of moral values is that it tends to raise questions about
the priority in the ranking of social ills. It is also a very difficult law to enforce with
fairness because it usually falls on the poorer citizens, while the rich and powerful get
away with bigger sins, especially when they have strong political connections or can
afford to keep their mistresses in posh apartments. It’s a law which can be easily
exploited to spy and report on your nasty neighbour or your stingy friend in order to get
even with him or her.
Our authorities should learn from the failed experience of dictatorial regimes which
criminalised personal thoughts and behaviour to discourage individualism and promote
mass obedience to the state ideology. All their laws and political indoctrinations failed to
save the regimes from collapsing when their people decided to rise against the
In Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom has issued stern guidelines to limit the powers of the moral
police to harass and arrest. The instruction is that the moral police should not take the
law into their own hands and instead, it should advise those committing offences under
the morality laws to change and repent. Their policy makers realise that the Kingdom is
facing a crisis of having to urgently restructure its economy in the face of declining oil
prices. The country's elites are also beginning to acknowledge that its brand of Islamic
fundamentalism is responsible for inspiring religious extremism and terrorism all over
the Muslim world. The religious terrorism which grew from Saudi Arabia is now
returning to threaten the Kingdom. There is concern for the country's internal instability
which could be worse than what the Arab Spring did to neighbouring Arab countries.
These threats are making the country's rulers aware that they have to introduce social
reforms and allow human rights before it’s too late.
Malaysia is facing a different challenge -- becoming a fully developed country by
2020. We already have the hardware for growth, thanks to our favourable resource
endowments, a young educated population, and a good infrastructure and administrative
system. We just need to improve on the software of development - good governance, rule
of law, tolerance for diversity. To develop as a progressive Muslim country, we also need
reforms on the administration of Islam to bring it up to high standards of justice and
facilitate social progress. Above all, we need politics to be free from race and religion so
as to create the space for national unity to grow and inspire all races to work together in
building a prosperous and happy country.