July 26, 2012
To Overzealous JAWI: Be Sensible and Drop Your Case against Nik Raina
by Azrul Mohd Kalib@http://www.themalaysianinsider.com
Here we go again. The holy month of Ramadan has just started and instead of taking advantage of this opportunity to focus on how to be better Muslims by doing good deeds for oneself and for others, we are already having to grapple with overzealous religious officials who are more focused on bringing down, shaming and persecuting other Muslims through the enforcement of what they have determined to be the Islamic way of life in this country.
The news that the Federal Territories Islamic Department (JAWI) was successful in its application to bring forward its case against Berjaya Books staff Nik Raina Nik Aziz over the distribution and sale of Irshad Manji’s controversial book “Allah, Liberty and Love” was disappointing to say the least. The case, which was initially scheduled to be mentioned in the Syariah High Court on September 19, will now be on August 7.
There will be many of us who will be there, in body, soul and spirit, in support of this brave young woman whose case is becoming yet another example of the injustice, lack of fairness and tyranny which exists in the implementation of syariah law in our country.
For those catching up, here are the facts of the case:
● She was charged in the Kuala Lumpur Syariah High Court for distributing and selling the book on May 23 under the Federal Territories Syariah Criminal Offences Act of 1997, which carries a RM3,000 fine or a maximum two years’ jail or both.
● The Home Ministry only gazetted the ban on the book as well as its translated version “Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta” on May 29. The gazette was only published and publicly available on June 14.
A person has been charged in court for the alleged offence of distributing and selling a book which, at the time of the so-called offence, was not yet officially banned, and was not identified or announced to Berjaya Books to be banned. Oh, by the way, book banning is also under the purview of the Home Affairs Ministry not JAWI. Yet, JAWI, for some reason only known to it, is hell bent on going after this young woman.
If you cannot understand why JAWI is going ahead with this case, neither can I. It just doesn’t make any sense.(I still don’t understand why the book was banned in the first place. Nobody has been able to explain it to me. Must be one of those books, which tengok aja, terus jadi lesbian.)
There is a saying: “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” From several reports, based on their own admission, they had not read the book and had no clue as to its contents. What they were sure of was the author’s support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual issues.
So they assumed that whoever published, distributed and sold the book must be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual themselves. “Are you a lesbian?” Yes, this was one of the questions demanded to be answered by those who were interrogated by the JAWI goon squad. Not only was this outrageous, humiliating and stupid, it was also a form of discrimination and institutional persecution.
The staff who was interrogated by JAWI was also denied access to legal counsel, a right guaranteed under the Federal Constitution. Examples like this bring shame on how Islam is practised in this country especially when we keep harping on the moderation of religious practice. It demonstrates the failure of our Islamic religious authorities to understand that they too need to abide by the law.
JAWI’s application to the Syariah High Court to bring forward their case with the excuse that it needs to answer to bloggers and the media would have been laughable (they never cared a hoot about bloggers and the media before) if it hadn’t been successful.
It is now becoming evident that it appears that JAWI is trying to circumvent the hearing of the stay application filed by Berjaya Books which the civil High Court has fixed for July 30 and the judicial review hearing for September 5.
This case and the conduct of the religious bodies bring into question whether JAWI, or the Kuala Lumpur Syariah Court for that matter, respects the civil courts or the separation of jurisdictions. In case anyone needs to brush up on their Federal Constitution, the syariah court is subordinate to the civil court.
We must question and hold our religious bodies and authorities to the same standard that we would like to hold our civil institutions. The arrogance that JAWI has demonstrated implies that a mindset continues to persist amongst our religious authorities that they don’t break the law because they are the law. That they are not accountable to anyone and are a law unto themselves.
JAWI’s persistence and arrogance in wanting to find someone to go after in the case of this book is perplexing to onlookers, and dismaying to us Muslims Even more so when it was clearly evident that JAWI was actually looking for a Malay Muslim to persecute.
Businesses in this country are observing this case very closely. Make no mistake; this case has tremendous implications to the different industries which employ Muslim employees. This was not even a shop selling religious contraband (e.g. deviant books, pictures of haloed bearded personalities, prayer beads, teapots) or selling substances that are forbidden or haram to Muslims (e.g. cigarettes, alcohol). This is a bookshop.
If a bookshop can have its staff and its business tyrannized by religious officials for supposedly selling a banned book, how about other businesses? Whether you are working in an airplane as a flight attendant, behind the counter at 7-Eleven, mixing drinks at a restaurant, at the front desk of a hotel, or on the production line of a factory, are we all at risk of persecution simply because we are Muslims? Are we sending a message to businesses that Muslim employees are a liability?
In the Berjaya Books case, the religious authorities couldn’t go after the business (owned by non-Muslims) so they went after the next best thing, the manager of the bookshop outlet who is a Muslim when they raided it. Whether we would like to admit it or not, such arbitrary actions, as demonstrated by this case, will result in depriving Muslims of the opportunity to work and be employed.
There is a continuing naiveté amongst the Muslim population in our country that because these are the religious authorities, what they do must be right and just. That they can’t do anything wrong. That is not always true. Injustice exists in many shapes and form. This Nik Raina case is one of them.
This is part of an on-going conversation about how Islam is perceived to be practised in Malaysia, how we would want ourselves to be perceived as Muslims, and how Islam as a way of life should be about fairness, justice, compassion and humanity. Islam is not a truncheon to bludgeon others into submission.
Such arbitrary application of syariah laws not only makes a mockery of the laws themselves but also reduces the credibility of the religious bodies. JAWI, you give Islam and Muslims a bad name when you behave in such a manner.
We have a duty as Muslims and as stakeholders of this country to stand up and put a stop to this nonsense. What does this say about us as Malaysians and Muslims if we allow such injustices to continue?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.