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High Court decision in Borders bookshop case lauded

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If we are to live with a dual justice system, for whatever reason, there must be clear delineation of the powers the officers are entrusted with to enforce the system upon the public, writes Ridfan Abdul Hamid.

Photograph: Malaysiakini
Photograph: Malaysiakini

My wife and I welcome the recent High Court judgment regarding the illegal actions of Jawi in seizing the books of the author Irshad Manji from a Borders book store, and their arrest of the book store manager, Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz, for distributing banned material (when the Home Ministry had not yet issued the ban).

We do not question the existence of the syariah system, nor the right of the states in regulating Islamic issues. The syariah courts were originally created to settle mainly inheritance and family issues. These are complicated in themselves, but instead of concentrating on these, recently they have entered a no man’s land of moral policing.

In the papers we can read of cases where private premises are intruded upon for suspected khalwat (close proximity), remains seized after cremation because of undisclosed conversions, a church being raided for suspected proselytisation, and the most recent being the charging of the bookstore manager for distributing unIslamic books. These are the ones that are reported; there are many more that are not, cases where many of the accused are pressured to plead guilty and pay fines to the syariah courts. Some quarters have perceived the syariah system to have become more and more intrusive (even to non-Muslims) that it is affecting the everyday lives of people in this country.

This no man’s land has allowed the religious authorities of each state to act without due process, and without clear understanding of how their actions serve the Islamic concept of justice. This should be the basis of their standard procedures, forming clear guidelines as to what they are legally allowed to do. Instead, doors of private homes are breached, possessions are seized, and guilt is assigned without due process.

This must stop.

If we are to live with a dual justice system, for whatever reason, there must be clear delineation of the powers the officers are entrusted with to enforce the system upon the public. They must be held responsible for any wrongdoing. This is just taken as a general rule, what more for those who believe they are guardians of religious law, something taken as from God? Abuse comes easily to those who believe they have a higher power.

We laud this brave decision by the Malaysian court to start creating those boundaries for the syariah system. Many judges and courts are reluctant to make judgments on issues such as these, due to the sensitive nature of religion/Islam in our multiracial multi-faith country. However, this is necessary to ensure that the officers involved in the ever-growing industry that is the syariah system (syariah law graduates from UIA, more funds towards Islamic/religious organisations, etc.), understand their duty is not to impose their own interpretation of their idea of Islam, but an execution of a duty for justice, which is also the main reason why the syariah system was created.

If this is not done it will be justice by lynch mob. This is no justice at all.

Ridfan Abdul Hamid is an Aliran member based in Penang.

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