Court ruling affirms religious authorities are limited by law

30 December 2014

There is the law and no one, including religious authorities, can overstep the limits of the law even if they invoke religion as a right.

For too long now, some state religious authorities in Malaysia have issued fatwas (opinions) and treated them as immutable regulations that can be imposed at will and without recourse.

Today, the Court of Appeal affirmed that these state religious authorities have no such power when it upheld a lower court’s ruling that the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) was wrong in raiding and seizing copies of a controversial book from a Borders bookstore in Kuala Lumpur.

The book, “Allah, Liberty and Love” by Irshad Manji, was seized before a fatwa banning it was issued and, as such, Jawi’s actions were deemed illegal and unconstitutional.

A three-man bench led by Datuk Mah Weng Kwai held that Jawi’s action against the Borders store manager, Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz, was unconstitutional and illegal and said her arrest and prosecution must be quashed.

“Jawi had acted beyond their powers against Nik Rainah (third respondent) and the bookstore,” Mah said.

Nik Rainah is not the first or the last to face arbitrary action of these religious authorities. There have been many cases and the latest was IDEAS think-tank chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan whose hotel room was raided for suspected khalwat (close proximity) at 3am.

He was with his mother in the room in a Perak this month when religious officers came in without a warrant and left when they found nothing amiss.

Do these officers think Malaysia is a theocracy? Because the country is not. It is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy.
There is a supreme law that rules Malaysia and it does not say that religious authorities have more rights than others.

The Court of Appeal ruling today is a strong reminder of that law – that religious authorities should not abuse power and act beyond their authority.

They cannot justify what they do with a fatwa later. And that fatwas are not law. Malaysian laws are approved by lawmakers who are elected to Parliament, not a group of people paid by the state to regulate our lives, our likes and dislikes according to their moral and religious standards.

Because Malaysia is a democracy, not a theocracy, where the rule of law exists. – December 30, 2014.

  1. #1 by good coolie on Wednesday, 31 December 2014 - 12:30 pm

    No one loses if we insist of keeping administrative decisions within the limits set by the Federal Constitution, the supreme law of the land. God’s law is supreme in so far as it informs and guides our conscience. To live as a society, however, we have to obey the Law that constitutes that society. If our conscience directs us to change the constitution, let us do it by the means set out in the Constitution itself, not by insidious and subversive ways.

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