Kuala Lumpur – Accused of being a religious deviant, rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) said today it had once met with the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais), which had recently issued a fatwa against it.
The non-government organisation now at the centre of a religious storm added that it had introduced itself as a Muslim women’s advocacy group in the 2012 meeting and that there had no mention at all of “liberalism” nor “religious pluralism” until the state Islamic authority issued the religious edict against them, which they have since challenged in the civil court.
“We had no idea we were being assessed for anything. We just thought it was a good opportunity for them to get to know us firsthand,” SIS board member Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir told Malay Mail Online in a series of text messages when contacted today.
Marina said during the meeting attended by its executive director Ratna Osman and its board members, SIS presented its activities and mentioned the problems met by Muslim women in the Shariah courts.
SIS also explained to Mais its Telenisa legal advice service, the training it gives on women’s rights, and the study it did on the impact of polygamy on families.
“Since then we haven’t heard from them, certainly not to tell us they have issued and gazetted a fatwa that declares us ‘deviants’. They never told us that was the purpose of the dialogue,” Marina added.
Mais had gazetted a fatwa on July 31, 2014 that singled out SIS by name as “deviants”, in addition to “any individuals, organisations or institutions”.
It also deemed any publication with elements of liberalism and religious pluralism as haram, or prohibited, and can be seized by religious authorities.
SIS then filed its challenge in the Kuala Lumpur High Court last month together with several individuals previously labelled as “liberals”, including prominent feminist Zainah Anwar and former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.
They named Mais, the Selangor fatwa committee, and the Selangor government as respondents.
SIS claimed it was not consulted or given a chance to defend itself before the fatwa was decreed, but the detractors have since pointed out that Mais had set up a meeting in January 12, 2012.
“I think even if they regarded that dialogue as our opportunity to ‘defend’ ourselves, should they have not told us of their decision to issue this fatwa and gazette it?” Marina asked.
Instead, Marina recalled that the religious authorities had responded once during the meeting, insisting that SIS could not deny “a man’s right to polygamy” to allegedly continue his lineage.
SIS has since faced backlash from Selangor Perkasa, Selangor PAS, PAS Youth, and the Selangor Sultan itself for challenging the fatwa.
Fatwas are opinions issued by Islamic clerics on a multitude of issues. Although these are advisory in nature, Malaysia occasionally gazettes some into law.
Malaysia’s religious authorities have long derided liberalism and pluralism, with Friday sermons nationwide claiming a conspiracy by “enemies of Islam” to manipulate Muslims through ideas like secularism, socialism, feminism and positivism, in addition to the two.