01 March, 2010

An insult to our intelligence - Mariam Mokhtar

IT has become something of a ritual lately that when certain Muslim NGOs run scared of a good debate, they eagerly go about making police reports.

Events of the past week have raised urgent questions about the political leadership in Malaysia. When various NGOs and Majlis Agama Islam Selangor (MAIS) lodged a police report against The Star's managing editor, P Gunasegaran, they said that he had no right to comment about Islamic matters because he is not a Muslim.

I disagree. As a Malaysian, his contribution is of immense importance.

In fact, there should be more voices to debate the issue. According to these protesting NGOs, I satisfy their requirements to comment on Islamic matters. However, I wouldn't be surprised to find that they will deem me unsuitable because I am not sufficiently scholarly in Islamic matters or that I am a woman. Therefore, just as Gunasegaran surmised, these issues have to be urgently aired.

Isn't it deplorable that a non-Muslim highlighted the inconsistencies with which our dual-system laws are interpreted? It shows how Muslims in Malaysia have been cowed into submission and have become fearful of taking the initiative.

Islam is also about critical thinking, reasoning and understanding. It was never meant to be by dogma and doctrine. What or who, do these NGOs and MAIS fear? Why are they acting like the class bully? A great debate will do our politicised religion a world of good.

Gunasegaran brought up valid points in his article and it is only by intelligent discourse that we are able to find amicable answers. Lodging police reports just shows the impotence of these NGOs and MAIS. Their apparent failure to act with dignity and intellect, fails Muslims in our country. Our political leaders, including the Minister for Women Family and Community Development, have not been expansive on these issues, and that is deplorable.

We are moving backwards

I remember a time when all of us lived under the one umbrella called Malaysia and got on well enough, regardless of our race, religion or gender. No one's saying we shouldn't move on from those good old days.

We have. Backwards! It seems that in Malaysia today, Muslim women's lives are under a microscope. When compared with their non-Muslim counterparts, they have relatively little freedom. The downside of this is that Muslim women will build up a lot of resentment. Is it any wonder that Malay women go abroad to find their first taste of freedom liberating; that some are unable to control themselves?

Somehow, I fail to see how the article 'Persuasion, no compulsion', would stir discontent among Muslims. Any unease surfaced days earlier, on Feb 9, when it was announced for the first time that three women had been whipped in Kajang.

All along, Malaysians were under the impression that Kartika, who consumed beer in public, was the first woman to be caned. How is it that none of the NGOs and women organisations was made aware of the plight of these women? To date, the only information we have is that they gave themselves up voluntarily, were 'pleased' to be whipped, and repented for their sins.

No information has been divulged about the men with whom these women had sex? Would it be possible for women organisations to have access to these women to check on their well-being? Did anyone know if they had legal representation and were able to exercise their full-rights? Or were they like lambs to the slaughter, and made show-case examples in a vain attempt to show us the might of the male sex, the might of the religious authorities and the authoritative indefatigable stamp of Islam in our society?

The furore and the international condemnation that ensued have caused a lot of backpedalling from our authorities, with a conference of caning to be hastily arranged. Taxpayers' money must not be wasted on this futile exercise. The answers can be found in this country and not from international participants. Moreover, the whipping laws have already been passed. Any discussion should have been done before implementation.

Some of the questions which we asked, but are denied answers, are simple ones such as why the women were whipped because of syariah law, even though civil law forbids it? Why did the women receive the harshest punishment, which is whipping? Why were they not given any consideration as first offenders, with fines or community service as alternatives?

Making a point

Are these religious authorities trying to make a point – that the government of the day is endorsing its Islamic identity? It is pathetic to use four (including Kartika) hapless women as pawns in their power-game. It is equally deplorable to waste police, as well as the Home Ministry's time to search for Gunasegaran's 'hidden motive' for the article he wrote? Do they think these institutions have nothing better to do?

If the ulama have so much time on their hands, they might care to reflect on the comments of Shahrizat that decaying family values and absentee fathers were compounding the problems in Muslim/Malay society. Maybe the state syariah bodies should finally sit down and formulate solutions to address these social breakdowns?

They could also decide when to standardise our syariah laws, which currently differ from state to state, and plug the various loopholes which men take advantage of.

Do they acknowledge the difference in severity: Kartika is to be whipped and fined RM5000 for drinking beer but the man who leaves his wife and kids and mistreats her is only fined RM1000? Do they notice the inconsistencies and injustice?

Furthermore, they could reassess the enforcement and raids of the religious police so they are conducted with less crudity, which strips people of their dignity. They might wish to reflect on individual human rights, too.

There is so much that these Muslim NGOs and the ulama could constructively do rather than be overly sensitive to statements from individuals.

If anyone has insulted the religion and brought it into disrepute, it is these NGOs and MAIS.


Mariam Moktar
Malaysian Mirror

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