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1Malaysia pageant vs fatwa

Map of Muslim-majority countries. Darker shades indicate higher percentage of Muslims (Map source: Wiki commons)

DURING a press conference in 2003, then Perlis Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim tried to defend the state’s decision to loosen conditions for polygamy. Perlis had decided that Muslim men did not need to seek their first wife’s consent to marry another woman.

At the press conference, which Jacqueline Ann Surin covered, the Perlis mufti stressed that according to hukum syarak, men were allowed to be polygamous. He would not answer the question by a women’s rights activist about whether such a move by the state was fair and just.

Nearly all of the Muslim journalists were silent. In fact, after the press conference, one woman journalist declared loudly that the women’s rights activist had no business asking the question about justice and fairness. Presumably, hukum syarak could not be questioned.

When Surin asked her Muslim colleagues what hukum syarak meant, she was told not to worry if she didn’t understand what it meant. “Even as Muslims, we sometimes don’t understand,” was the reply.

That was the moment Surin decided that if Muslim journalists were not going to step up to the plate to understand their religion, then it was critical for non-Muslim journalists to do so. This was especially when Islam was being used to determine public policy and life.

Furthermore, how did it come to be that Muslims in Malaysia believe that questioning the administration of Islam amounts to questioning, or even insulting, the religion?

Stark differences

This was clearly demonstrated during a Sisters in Islam workshop for the media in 2004, where only three journalists indicated that they were comfortable reporting on Islam. They were Surin, Shanon Shah (a Muslim), and another non-Muslim senior journalist from a traditional print publication. Many of the Muslim participants would have left the room if they could. One of them explained, “I cannot question my religion, because I answer to Allah, not my editor.”

What is amply clear to us, having written about Islam in Malaysia, is that syariah laws and fatwa are products of human interpretation. They are not divine truth, as the Muslim authorities in this country would have us believe.


For example, if it were such a crime for Muslim women to participate in beauty pageants according to a fatwa gazetted as law in Selangor, how is it that Muslim women could participate in a 1Malaysia pageant in Putrajaya?

If it was so Islamic to cane Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno for having drunk alcohol, how is it that the Quran doesn’t actually stipulate the penalty for alcohol consumption?

And if polygamy was such a God-given right to men as claimed by the likes of Shahidan and the then Perlis mufti, why have other Muslim countries banned or restricted it?

It follows that if human interpretation is involved, shouldn’t such interpretation also be subject to human critique and criticism?

Here is what Egypt’s highest official fatwa-making authority, Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa, concludes about a fatwa:

“[The] conclusion of a mufti is one of opinion and therefore always open to dispute. This follows a principle of Islamic law that whoever is in tribulation due to an issue in which there is a difference of opinion, they are allowed to follow whichever opinion takes them away from their tribulation.”

Furthermore, Gomaa stresses that a fatwa is but “a non-binding legal opinion that serves to guide [Muslims] out of their difficulty”.

How flabbergasting, then, that in Malaysia, a fatwa, once gazetted, carries the force of law. Indeed, that was how five Muslim women were arrested by religious authorities for participating in the Miss Malaysia Petite contest in 1997. They were subsequently charged and fined in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur under syariah laws. The incident created an uproar, and a memorandum was submitted to then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad over the need to reform syariah laws that undermined fundamental liberties.

Despite the memorandum and advocacy, however, little has changed. In fact, to question or disagree with a fatwa remains a crime under the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act. But why the stark discrepancy between fatwa in Malaysia and Egypt?

Reclaiming the debate

What is clear is that there are differences in opinion and interpretations of Islam throughout the world, even among Islam’s highest authorities. What needs to be constantly pointed out, therefore, is that it is a fallacy to talk about what “Islam” says, or what “Islam” preaches and forbids. “Islam” is not monolithic or homogeneous, whether in intellectual history, current practices, or political systems.

The truth is that people with different interests often speak for Islam. And so it is important to question exactly who is speaking for Islam when they say “Islam forbids this” or “Islam prohibits that”.

Thus it bears asking, are the people who claim certain absolutes about Islam representatives of certain Islamist political parties? Or are they state-appointed Islamic functionaries? Are they even independent Islamic scholars and ulama?

Ali Gomaa (Public domain)

Furthermore, to extend Gomaa’s logic, if public policies and laws are determined based on certain interpretations of Islam in Malaysia, why should there not be open public debate and deliberation on them?

Self-styled guardians of Islam will label these debates an insult to the religion. On the contrary, these debates could actually help identify and clarify the gaps between the ideals and actual practices of Islam, and will help name the various interest groups that use “Islam” for particular agendas.

Hence, shouldn’t lay Muslims be able to participate in these discussions? Shouldn’t non-Muslims be able to participate as well? Isn’t it our collective responsibility in the interest of upholding the spirit of Islam?

Imagine how much embarrassment and misconception about Islam could have been avoided if Muslims were allowed to contest the fatwa on beauty pageants. We definitely would not have the contradictory situation we do today with regard to the 1Malaysia pageant and the previous Miss Malaysia Petite contest.

What is even more troubling is that Muslims are repeatedly told they cannot question even when the most atrocious decisions are made in the name of God. And when non-Muslims speak up in the interest of justice and compassion — the core ingredients of Islamic teaching — the mob is ever ready to lynch. No wonder then that most Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia feel disempowered to question the imposition of Islamic law and ill-informed fatwa as laws in Malaysia.

But if we remain silent, it only means that Islam will continue to be held hostage by those who claim to have the power alone to interpret it for others. No matter that their interpretation could appear illogical and unIslamic, even to other Islamic experts.

Disclosure: Shanon Shah is an associate member of Sisters in Islam.

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71 Responses to “1Malaysia pageant vs fatwa”

  1. sam says:

    This is just like the dark ages for Christianity where only the church was allowed to interpret the Holy Bible. A lot of misleading rules and damaging laws were imposed on the believers and whoever questioned the authority of the church were banished as heretics. This was the scenario in the 16th century before the Protestant Reformation. It is just unbelievable in the 21st century with all the advancement in telecommunication, science and literature, people are still not able to communicate with God directly but have to go through some mediators that contradict themselves from times to times. How sad…

  2. Reza says:

    Bravo, authors. Excellent article. I share your sentiments exactly. I suspect that rigidity of religious pronouncements by so-called religious authorities have very little to do with God, but more to do with power and control over Malaysian Muslims. They like having the feeling of inflated self-importance. As the Malays like to say: “gila kuasa”.

  3. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Of course you can challenge fatwas etc. BUT in the proper manner and through proper channels. What you cannot do is to put Islam in bad light publicly and then claim that you are merely questioning certain fatwas.

    Editor’s note: “Putting Islam in a bad light” appears to be in the eye of the beholder, specifically state authorities that regulate the expression and practise of Islam in the case of Malaysia. So, who makes this call?

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  4. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    To add further – I need to point out that what is not in the Quran – is in the Hadith. And just because some Muslim countries prohibit polygamy – that does not make it Islamically right to ban polygamy.

    Yes – I agree with you that certain fatwas can be challenged. But in what manner and how? Certainly not by making Islam look ridiculous. To challenge a fatwa – you must get support from the ulama class. You must swing their opinions to your favour. You CANNOT go around making fun at Islam.

    Editor’s note: “Support” from which “ulama class”, exactly? In Malaysia, even state-appointed ulama pit themselves against each other – witness the JAIS arrest of former Perlis mufti Dr Asri Zainul Abidin.

    And your appeal to the hadith is misleading. Even during the classical period of Islam, there were stringent guidelines for the kinds of hadith that qualify for lawmaking. This is because there are different standards of reliability of hadith, developed by classical compilers of hadith themselves – based on the reliability of the transmitters, for example, or based on the soundness/logic of the very content of the hadith. In fact, many hadiths were classified as weak or even fabricated by the compilers themselves, yet there is very little critical analysis of these different categories of hadith now. Therefore, hadith are not divine text – they are the product of human effort to compile the practices and sayings of prophet Muhammad after his death.

    The Muslim countries that prohibit or restrict polygamy (namely Tunisia and Morocco) have done so *on Quranic grounds*, by reading verse 4:3 alongside verse 4:129. Who are you to insinuate that they are unIslamic? Did you obtain the “support” of the “ulama class” to make your pronouncement? What ulama credentials do you have? Or are you disqualified from commenting on this by your very own subjective criteria? Or do you somehow escape scrutiny? This is the danger of setting arbitrary and ambiguous criteria for open public debate.

    In short, your arguments are vague, unsubstantiated and ambiguous.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

    • Azhar says:

      If you deem it best for the orphans, you may marry their mothers – you may marry two, three, or four. If you fear lest you become unfair, then you shall be content with only one, or with what you already have. Additionally, you are thus more likely to avoid financial hardship. 4:3

      You can never be equitable in dealing with more than one wife, no matter how hard you try. Therefore, do not be so biased as to leave one of them hanging (neither enjoying marriage, nor left to marry someone else). If you correct this situation and maintain righteousness, GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful. 4:129

      Verse 4:3 makes it clear that the only condition for polygamy is for the sake of orphans, while verse 4:129 discourages polygamy even for that one exception. A law which allows men to marry a second time without meeting the condition of orphans stands in violation of the Quran.

      Extracted from

    • KC Ng says:

      Bravo reply from Shanon Shah, bravo!

  5. Azizi Khan says:

    I was wondering about this the other day : Has anyone noticed the similarities between Islamic politics and Communist-run countries where a few dictators claim to have all the knowledge to run the whole country – even if it means removing fundamental rights?

    Let’s leave the poor Communists alone, they have enough bad PR. What about the similarities with Christianity hundreds of years ago… It seems like it was yesterday when there was the Spanish Inquisition…How do government-endorsed, fatwa-churning organisations in Malaysia differ? They too claim to be working on God’s side.

    Malaysian Islamic laws are designed to serve those in power. The underprivileged and the needy seldom gain from all these holy cleansing rituals.

    Remember – those who are good see good in everything. Those who are filthy see dirt everywhere. Now how about you fatwa that!


  6. babablacksheep says:

    If only education is free, the majority sedated, and everything was based on what was learnt in school. That’s what the govt does. If the majority are stupid it’s easier to control them and religion is the best medium. Obey.

  7. phang says:

    Only in Malaysia: need a ridiculous, insanely oppressive “law” passed? Fatwa it.

  8. preem says:

    Excellent article! I worry, however, that many Malay [Malaysians] reading this article will automatically put up a defense mechanism, seeing only a criticism of Islam, and therefore be unable to understand the message. From what I’ve seen, people are unwilling to question or even think about their beliefs and the policies of the country. Why? It’s clear to me – brainwashing. It begins the moment you are born Malay [Malaysian]. They tell you, you are Muslim, Allah is your God, there is nothing else, from the moment you come out of your mother’s womb. And you have no choice in the matter. You are taught not to question, you are taught, in fact, that you are NOT ALLOWED to question.

  9. Z00L says:

    …”putting Islam in a bad light” reminds me of the “Miss USA” caricature a few days back…

  10. Reza says:

    “And your appeal to the hadith is misleading. Even during the classical period of Islam, there were stringent guidelines for the kinds of hadith that qualify for lawmaking. This is because there are different standards of reliability of hadith, developed by classical compilers of hadith themselves – based on the reliability of the transmitters, for example, or based on the soundness/logic of the very content of the hadith. In fact, many hadiths were classified as weak or even fabricated by the compilers themselves, yet there is very little critical analysis of these different categories of hadith now. Therefore, hadith are not divine text – they are the product of human effort to compile the practices and sayings of prophet Muhammad after his death. ”

    I think these facts Shanon put forth should be food for thought for all Muslims. I am of the opinion that most of Islam’s more fanatic rulings come from the hadith, not the Quran. Another example is the fatwa that Muslims cannot apostate, which is nowhere to be found in the Quran.

    [Many hadith have been demonstrated even by early Muslims to be false and/or derogatory], and yet the ulamas, who are supposedly Islamic experts and vehemently demand that they be the sole authority on the subject, are unable to differentiate the good fatwas from the bad ones. As a result, they blindly adopt these hadith into fatwas which is what has led Islam and Muslims to be in the sorry state that they are in today.

  11. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Shanon and other readers,

    Ushul Hadith, Ulum-ul-Hadith i.e. the Hadith sciences – are well established. Of course there is a classification of hadiths. For example – most experts would agree that Bukhari and Muslim’s compilation of hadiths are Sahih – strong. The Muslim world has many experts who are aware of this. And certainly TNG has none among its ranks who are experts on hadith. So what’s your point? Are you saying that there is NO Sahih Hadith regarding the issues concerned? Or are you throwing a red herring here?

    Editor’s note: It is you who brought up the hadith, and I am clarifying that hadiths are not as absolute as you claim they are. Even Bukhari and Muslim recorded incomplete hadiths and themselves admitted to the varying degrees of reliability of the hadiths they compiled. By the way, sahih does not translate as “strong”, it translates as “true” or “sound”. Not “infallible”, by the way.

    You seem to be confusing journalism with positions taken by experts. An expert quoted in this article is Ali Gomaa, from Egypt. As journalists, we have pointed out Ali Gomaa’s position on fatwa, which is public information anyway since he has posted it on his official website. As journalists, we also note that his position is glaringly different from the position taken on fatwa in Malaysia. A journalist therefore is in a position to ask – why this discrepancy?

    You, on the other hand, appeal to closed debates and to “experts” as the final arbiter of decisions in the public interest. That flies in the face of democracy for one, and also the principle of maslahah in Islamic jurisprudence, which is basically to take into account the public interest. But what I was also pointing out was that it was curious that suddenly *you* were assuming the right to order everyone else to leave the discussion to the “experts”? On what authority are you ordering people? God’s? That is the question.

    Here is part of what journalists do – we have a professional code that calls upon us to report comprehensively, truthfully, to monitor those in power, and to be loyal to the public in reporting on the public’s interests. This includes reporting on the administration and politicisation of religion and its impacts on society.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

    • Lynn Cheang says:

      Presicely, thank goodness there are still Muslim journalists brave enough to call a spade a spade! This is an eye-opener for me too!

  12. Tecky says:

    “put Islam in bad light publicly”
    “not by making Islam look ridiculous”
    “CANNOT go around making fun at Islam”

    It appears that the writer of the above seems more concerned about Islam’s image than its teachings. But if Islam’s true teachings are based on justice, reason and compassion (and they are indeed), it can neither be ridiculed nor insulted. The interpretations of the teachings, on the other hand can.

    So if you can’t defend your position and it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, what better way to shut people up than to accuse them of insulting the faith, and organise a “tunjuk perasaan” in front of the offending party’s office.

  13. farouk says:

    Good write. Enjoyed the read. Thank you.

  14. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Shanon and the other readers,

    I am a nobody and I do not think that I am ordering you around. This is a feedback and comments column. I guess being a concerned person, I am certainly entitled to voice my objections towards how TNG portrays Islam. I have no problems with the intention to reform Islam. I myself believe that Islam is in need of a modern re-interpretation on account of the passage of time as well as the vast changes in social structure. HOWEVER – where I differ from TNG & you – is precisely the manner in which one ought to approach this idea of a reform or a re-interpretation of Islam. This is a huge task. I think that one should take the proper channels and discuss the issue in a scholarly, respectful manner. NOT by making cartoons, wild suggestions etc. If indeed you are sincere – then write scholarly articles, books etc. Get into the lecture circuit. Address your scholarly articles towards the ulama class. Speak their language. Don’t provoke the Muslim community unnecessarily. By doing so – you are doing a disservice towards all those who sincerely want to see Islam PROPERLY modernised. Because of your action, all those sincere modernists and reformists get tainted with the same brush and get accused of merely wanting to insult Islam. Think before you act. ASEAN is NOT the USA. If you want freedom of speech a-la the First Amendment – then I am sorry to say that you will never get it this way. You must first learn to be responsible for what you say.

    Editor’s note: I do not think you have demonstrated in any way that what we have said is irresponsible, and again, you are using subjective criteria by talking about things like “proper” modernisation of Islam and “speaking the ulama’s language” and “provoking” the Muslim “community”. I also think you have misunderstood the principle of freedom of expression, information, public debate and the very foundations of democratic society. But yes, certainly you are entitled to your view, and we are happy that you care enough to contribute to the discussion here 🙂

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  15. cina babi says:

    Cina babi engkau dok sibuk pasal org lain apahal? Cuba aku cakap kau dok sembah patung itu kerja gila…bodoh…babi.

    Editor’s note: An example of berdakwah dengan hikmah, this comment?

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

    • Azhar says:

      “SHALL” = expressing a strong assertion or intention or instruction or command.

      How to Spread God’s Message
      [16:125] You SHALL invite to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kind enlightenment, and debate with them in the best possible manner. Your Lord knows best who has strayed from His path, and He knows best who are the guided ones.

      Maintaining the Status Quo: A Human Tragedy
      [2:170] When they are told, “Follow what GOD has revealed herein,” they say, “We follow only what we found our parents doing.” What if their parents did not understand, and were not guided? [2:171] The example of such disbelievers is that of parrots who repeat what they hear of sounds and calls, without understanding. Deaf, dumb, and blind; they cannot understand.

  16. Zen says:

    Dr Syed Alwi — I don’t think “it may make our religion look ridiculous” is ever a good reason to oppose fair and free debate. Nothing that is true or wise or noble can be made to look ridiculous; those who ridicule such things end up putting only themselves in a bad light. Any religion that claims to be true, wise and noble should have nothing to fear from public discussion.

    This isn’t to say I support people maligning any religion. But the way to respond to that is to disagree with them, not to shut discussion down entirely.

  17. Ellese A says:

    There are a number of issues raised:

    1. The writer must appreciate that the root of the confusion is epistemology. The basis of knowledge and the logic of it is different from Western philosophical foundations. Thus the confusion raised by the writer on why caning Kartika is Islamic though not found in Quran. The answer lies in the science of usul fiqh which is base on Quran, hadiths and other principles like Shanon said such as maslahah. The key thing that you must undestand is that there are many many views out there even by highly respected scholars. But they have argued from different epistemology or basis. This is the best summary I can explain as it’s much more complicated than this.

    2. Second thing you have to understand is the historical legacy of our nation. We have different states with their own autonomous Islamic councils. Most peculiar is Perlis. Most other states practice the Shafie school of [jurisprudence] but Perlis does not. Thus they have different juridical interpretations than other states. Their fatwas only applies to Perlis.

    [Editor’s note: Actually, in Malaysia a fatwa issued by a mufti, which is then gazetted, only has jurisdiction in that particular state. Perlis is not peculiar in this way. Also, other states incorporate other schools of jurisprudence as well. Can’t dig up details at the moment, but I’m pretty sure the regulations on zakat in Malaysia are modeled after Hanafi, not Shafie, jurisprudence. The doctrine of ijbar (forced marriage) in Kelantan’s Islamic Family Law also follows a minority view in the Maliki school of jurisprudence, and is not Shafie.]

    3. Under usul fiqh, only ijma’ is considered indisputable source of law. Ijma’ is the consensus of all ulama’. This is very few and far between. Now fatwa is the opinion of jurists issued which has legal backing. It normally has to go through a process of muzakarah (consultation with various experts) and once concluded it is considered a fatwa. Under the current regime it must or should be followed.

    [Editor’s note: The issue is, Malaysia is peculiar in this sense. Not even in neighbouring Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, is a fatwa legally binding. Also, the Grand Mufti of Egypt himself makes a distinction – muftis are *not* jurists. Jurists deal with the law, muftis deal with legal *opinion*. Easy to confuse the two, but the difference is important.]

    4. Another point to note is that local custom is part of source of law under usul fiqh. So is maslahah (public interest). Thus you will see different fatwa for Egypt than here. It’s respected but not necessarily applicable here. (The Allah issue is relevant here but for another day). This also applies for Perlis fatwa.

    [Editor’s note: True – even Imam Shafie changed his views when he traveled first to what is now Iraq and then to Egypt. Contexts change even within an alim’s lifetime. But then the question remains – should the public be able to freely debate issues of public interest?]

    5. Now the main issue i.e. the value of fatwas. My personal view is that the Muslims should follow it. I think it’s required to provide eludicity and guidance on certain points based on Islamic epistemology. As a state or country, on principle, we should follow it. But I also believe it’s not a strict adherence if you have different views based on Islamic epistemology. That’s why certain fatwas in other countries and states are not applicable here and vice versa. Under usul fiqh one is thought to be critical and if one has a different basis and belief it’s better for him to follow that basis.

    What is complicating here now in Malaysia if I may say is that generally we were not taught to be critical based on Islamic epistemology. Thus the inability to argue and the lack of knowledge to opine. Thus most of us have left these views to the experts. Thus the value of these fatwas then are very real and significant in the Muslims’ life. Hence you hear comments that we should leave it to the experts.

    Our society is at that flux. My suggestion going forward for the betterment of Muslims and the nation is that we must strive to provide people with these critical Islamic thoughts. But the kink is always on the implementation. Our children are already burdened with too much. I note the Islamic, Arabic and fardhu ain classes are much better than my time but still a long way to go. Even then I feel it’s already too burdensome for them.

    [Editor’s note: Yes, what you say is accurate. In my interviews with several Islamic scholars and imams, they do say that the fatwa is *personally* binding upon the person who has asked for it as guidance to solve a particular tribulation. It’s to help the believer out of his or her difficulty. And if the believer feels a particular fatwa does not truly reflect his or her circumstance, he or she can ask for another fatwa from another mufti. But this article is trying to address a separate issue, though – it is an issue of the opacity of fatwa-making and administration of Islamic law in Malaysia. Not only is the system arbitrary and prone to abuse, the public is further prohibited or at least discouraged from even discussing it critically. That is unfortunate, seeing that in its days of glory, Islamic civilisation prized knowledge, debate and information very dearly.]

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  18. Sonia says:

    Thank you to the authors for showing the compassionate and just face of Islam, one far too often hidden in Malaysia.

  19. Neo Zypher says:

    I find Dr. Syed Alwi’s statement “Hadith sciences – are well established” rather disturbing. Religion is not science. Religion is a combination of faith, philosophy and a way of life. It is a choice that every individual makes.

    I strongly agree with some of the comments on the similarity between communism and the dark ages of Christianity with the current situation in Malaysia. Religion has been hijacked to be used as tool to make people conform or face persecution or even prosecution. I guess this is Malaysia’s Zaman Jahilliyah.

  20. Reza says:

    Dr Syed Alwi wrote:

    “What you cannot do is to put Islam in bad light publicly and then claim that you are merely questioning certain fatwas.”

    In a true democracy and as long as the criticism is CONSTRUCTIVE, no one can claim that the object/subject of criticism is being insulted/humiliated/put in a bad light/etc. If certain parties are overly sensitive about being criticised then that is their problem, but that is how a democracy works.

    “To challenge a fatwa – you must get support from the ulama class”

    This is like putting a murderer on trial and asking the murderer to pass his own sentence. If I need the ulamas’ support to challenge a fatwa, chances are they will not approve because they are the ones who passed the fatwa in the first place. There is a clear conflict of interest. In a true democracy, there has to be a neutral forum in which to voice out and challenge that which we do not agree with.

  21. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear readers,

    I am going to end this debate with one simple statement :

    The best way to teach a fool is to let him have his own way.

    Editor’s note: If readers wish, they can continue to debate without Dr Syed Alwi’s participation. I’m sure he meant that he is ceasing his own participation in the debate, and not ending it for the rest of the commenters per se.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

    • kysofian says:

      I remember someone said: It’s better to debate without settling the matter than to settle the matter without a debate. Thanks. Malaysians are gradually maturing as I see these kinds of articles and debates. Salam.

  22. DL says:

    Fantastic article and comments. This is precisely what every civilised society needs. Open debate left, right, front, back and center. In this way knowledge and truth will prevail. Those who want to leave it to the experts and hide behind close doors do not want people to know.

  23. TLP says:

    “Cina babi engkau dok sibuk pasal org lain apahal? Cuba aku cakap kau dok sembah patung itu kerja gila…bodoh…babi.”

    Shanon tak makan bak kut teh, dia tak makan char siew pau. Dia pemakan haiwan Salleh, ayam, kambing yang disembelih.

    P.s. Kami amat gembira apabila orang menggunkan istilah Bahasa Malaysia “Babi”, bukan “Khinzir”.

    Bahasa tiang bangsa!

    Editor’s note: Lagipun, Jacqueline Ann Surin juga bukan Cina menurut kategori rasmi. Malah, dia boleh dikira pribumi! Tapi mungkin dia makan char siew pau. Saya tak pasti dan tak sibuk nak tahu.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  24. ashraf says:

    Maybe, what Syed really mean in that Najib’s 1Malaysia is supreme, it is even above national fatwa, and we citizens can’t question it.

  25. Hoyohoyo says:

    Sometimes I wonder, can’t a non-muslim Malaysian questions if he/she thinks that his/her Muslim brethren are being unfairly treated? If we are talking about 1Malaysia, then why can’t a Malaysian (from a side of the “1”) ask the state whether it has done correctly in interfering another Malaysian’s life?

    Ultimately all issues in the country affect every single person who calls himself or herself Malaysian, as a whole.

  26. MLP says:

    In a civilised, modern society, NOTHING should be above mockery or ridicule. Mockery, ridicule and satire are powerful tools of social commentary.

  27. Reza says:

    “The best way to teach a fool is to let him have his own way.”

    Insulting others for having a different opinion than yours only demonstrates how small you really are. No one in this discussion has insulted you. Civilised people having civilised debates do not insult each other. Or perhaps you are frustrated that you can no longer argue your case rationally.

  28. Ellese A says:

    To Neo,

    Just to rectify certain misconceptions. Hadiths sciences is actually in short a discipline or methodology to determine veracity of a hadith. It’s correct to call it a science and contrary to your understanding such sciences are not about articles of faith. It’s a methodology of verification. Just wikipedia on this matter for elaboration.

    To azizi and neo,

    To liken the Muslims here to the period of communism and medieval Christianity clearly shows ignorance. Please refer to my earlier postings so that I don’t have to repeat. What I wish to add is that in Islam there is no sole authority like Roman Catholics. Thus you see differences of opinion between Nik Aziz and his deputy Harun Din or the highly respected (Perak Mufti) Harussani.

    If you do a simple check most fatwas are non-political. Perak’s mufti Hairussani has been highly critical of Mahathir then and was often quoted by PAS members then including Nik Aziz as a highly independent mufti. The role of mufti by virtue of our legacy is to serve the sultan. This arises due to the fact that Islamic matters historically have been the domain of sultan. Thus you see why Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor takes a different view from the very liberal Khalid Samad.

    [Editor’s note: Actually, to give a fairer account of Harussani, he has had his share of public ridicule and controversy as well. E.g. when he said people with HIV/AIDS should be left on an island to die. Or when he spread the false SMS rumour that a church in Ipoh was converting Muslims to Christianity, resulting in the church being attacked by Muslims – the ceremony was the Holy Communion of a group of Christian children.]

    If you care to read my writing, fatwas in a state are not applicable in another state. Even then based on Islamic epistemology and basis you should be entitled to depart for your own practices. It’s difficult to enforce anyway. But if it involves public interest I believe it should have the force of law. For example a fatwa say on certain aspects of Islamic banking should be followed for it creates certainty uniformity and order.
    Jurisprudentially, only ijma’ is binding. Fatwas are part of a number of jurists’ opinions and in Malaysia has a legal backing.

    [Editor’s note: It’s not “legal backing” – fatwas actually become the law once they are gazetted, and it then becomes a crime to even disagree with them.]

    Further, to arrive at a fatwa in Malaysia, if you care to follow normally there is a muzakarah. There’s a wide debate by various personalities. Once concluded it becomes a fatwa.

    [Editor’s note: But even on issues of public interest, the muzakarah is hardly public in nature.]

    Thus fatwas can hardly be described as communist or olden Christianity’s despicable tools. To liken them as such only degrades the accuser.

    [Editor’s note: True, it is unfair to draw inaccurate parallels. But the only way to help the public engage in more intelligent and critical debate is to ensure that all views get a chance to be heard and discussed in an open debate, rather than having them silenced as the Malaysian state is prone to do.]

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  29. @Dr Syed Alwi

    Hmm, so now the rest of us who do not agree with you nor with the state’s interpretation of what Islam is are “fools”. How does that convince anyone that your arguments are cogent, rational and logical?

    Name-calling is the laziest trick in the book. How about you argue why there is such a stark difference between what the ulama in Malaysia say about fatwa and what Egypt’s Grand Mufti says.

    Malaysians have a right to question policies which affect public life that are made in the name of Islam especially if these policies are unjust and unIslamic. It is precisely because the state relies on citizens to be fools that it gets away with the most atrocious policies and laws in the name of Islam.

    I’d rather not be a fool, thank you and surely it is those who don’t question and probe who are the real fools.

  30. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Jacqueline Anne Surin and the other readers,

    You people are making a straw man fallacy. I have categorically said that fatwas can be questioned. Go read my postings again. What I dispute is the manner in which TNG goes about doing this. By making Islam look ridiculous? Is that how one questions or challenges fatwas? No – my friend – thou art the fool. You wait and see.

    Editor’s note: But that’s an even weaker argument. How is TNG making “Islam look ridiculous”? Are you saying that the administration, application and politicisation of Islam are one and the same as the religion itself? Our writings are clear to differentiate between the religion itself and human interpretations and applications of it. And you just called us fools again, with the qualifier, “You wait and see.” What does that mean? Are you threatening us? Or are you predicting divine retribution? Again, your claims are too vague, badly written and speculative.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  31. DL says:

    @ Dr. Syed Alwi

    And I thought you ended the debate?

  32. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Shanon,

    No – it’s not a threat. I am a physicist. Newton’s Third Law holds. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If TNG goes on portraying Islam negatively and continues to provoke the Muslim community – I am sure there will be repercussions. That’s all. When that happens – you only have yourself to blame. I do not make threats.

  33. Hang Jebat says:

    The debate in the comments section between Dr. Syed Alwi and TNG editors is a microcosm of the debate going on in wider society between those who believe that religious law is subject to human interpretation and implementation failure and those that hold it sacrosanct and unquestionable.

    History is strewn with tragedy, tears and blood when an ideology (e.g. Nazism, Communism, or even a particular religious edict/interpretation) is deemed unquestionable and is forced down peoples throats under threat of violence by the state or mobs.

  34. Peter says:

    @Dr Syed Alwi,

    LOL. I think you are doing great by letting others have a feel about how inclusive Islam is as a religion.

    Perhaps you should consider before further postings if you are helping to clear the air or just muddling it up more … for the sake of the religion and other Muslims here.

  35. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Peter,

    Yes, Islam is inclusive. But Islam does not need people whose agenda is to ridicule it. Islam is not desperate for adherents. Those who want to ridicule Islam are free to leave the religion.

  36. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Hang Jebat,

    You are making a straw man fallacy. If you read my postings – you will see that I support the questioning of fatwas and I support a re-interpretation of Islam, etc etc. I do NOT view Islam as being a monolithic, unquestionable absolute truth. Far from it.

    HOWEVER – what is the correct way of doing all that ? Certainly not by mockery and ridicule of Islam. Because I believe that if Islam is to reform – then it must be done in a scholarly and respectful way. Not by making fun of Islam via cartoons etc.

    • andre das says:

      I do not see any mocking or belittling of Islam as Dr Syed Alwi says. He is obviously associating the religion with the people speaking for the religion as one and the same.

  37. Peter says:

    Dear Dr Syed Alwi,

    I disagree. Your later posts do not show that Islam is inclusive and as a representative Muslim, you’ve done Islam a disservice.

    Perhaps you are getting a bit too emotional about the topic. What we need are people who can show us clearly and objectively why this article is right/wrong without resorting to outbursts and the familiar “Don’t question if you don’t understand” followed by a “Just wait and see”.

  38. Iqa says:

    @ Dr Syed Alwi

    No one is ridiculing anyone here, what more ridiculing Islam. The TNG editors took pains in differentiating between the inherent divine principles of Islam, and the various fatwas (which are results of human interpretation) which add to them. I’m guessing your defensiveness kicked in until you’ve overlooked that very fact.

    It’s alarming how most Muslims in this country brush off questions about their faith, the dodgy excuse being that “it’s not our business, leave it to the learned ones to discuss”. What the duck? Such a statement clearly implies that most do not even have the drive to know about their own beliefs, apart from what have been fed to them. Even if you read extensively about Islam in the quest to fully embrace it, real discussions about the many different facets of Islam are almost always dismissed as attempts to confuse Muslims into doubting their faith.

    Young Muslims, like myself, often get frustrated at how difficult it is for me to discuss religion with my peers, because they fear the subject, or even with the elders, because they snub me and automatically warn me against asking “such questions”. As if I’m about to declare myself an apostate just by being curious!

    Highlighting the many flaws in our country’s administration of Islam does not equate ridiculing the sacredness, and the sanctity of Islam. In fact, it’s encouraging readers to get themselves better informed about the subject so that they won’t just rely blindly on what the “pious” say.

  39. kinkylala says:

    @dr syed alwi
    “No – it’s not a threat. I am a physicist. Newton’s Third Law holds. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. ”

    funny, I thought physicists would only apply Newton’s laws to PHYSICAL phenomena.

    well, maybe you don’t believe cartoons are a valid form of social critique, but some of us folks do, enjoy lah

  40. Reza says:

    “Those who want to ridicule Islam are free to leave the religion.”

    Yeah right. You make it sound as though apostasizing is so easy in Malaysia. This is another area where Islamic interpretation and implementation has gone wrong. Religious freedom in Malaysia, it seems, only applies to non-Muslims. But Muslims should also be given the right to chose to leave the religion if they want to.

  41. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Peter & Iqa,

    The problem began with the TNG publishing an offensive cartoon regarding Miss USA visiting Malaysia. Its an offensive cartoon. Many times – I find the TNG ridiculing and mocking Islam. Look – if you want to reform Islam – there is a way of doing it. Making fun of Islam is NOT the way to reform Islam.

  42. YPP (Yoga-practicing Pengkid) says:

    Kudos to Jacqueline & Shanon on pointing out the stinkin’ hypocrisy of how Islam is imposed on Malaysia. I don’t get the knee-jerk defensiveness by people who think questioning Islam equals to shaming and ridiculing it. As pointed out, Islam is not homogenous, nor is it immune to bias, and since Islam plays such a big role in Malaysian public policy, we all – Muslims an non-Muslims alike – have the damn right to question it! Perlulah kita sebagai manusia mengunakan akal yang diberi.

  43. TheRamohds says:

    How predictable, self righteousness and an exaggerated sense of self worth, name calling, then threats of repercussions.

    If this is the modern, reformed muslim, I don’t see the difference from any previous versions.

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      Dear TheRamohds,

      It’s NOT a threat. If you go around mocking the religious practices of others, you ought to expect and anticipate the consequences. That’s life.

      [But who was mocking Islam? Anyone reading this article surely can tell who it is who is making a mockery of Islam.

      Way too often, valid criticisms against human interpretations of Islamic codes are labelled insulting or mocking Islam. Unless you can spell out exactly what about the article or comments were mocking of Islam, I think we should drop the charade.

      Jacqueline Ann Surin
      The Nut Graph]

  44. Chode says:

    I have to stress that the Quran does [not] even permit polygamy at all unless it is best for the orphans (of war/strife).

    The hadith encourages polygamy openly. Remember that the hadith is effectively oral history written down over 300 years after Muhammad died – Person X told person Y told person Z who told a historian a story about Muhammad who then wrote it down 300+ years after Muhammad died. The hadith is oral history, myth, legend and quite likely, lies.

    Different sects have different collections of this hadith and that is why the Sunnis and Shias can never reconcile.

    It must also be noted that when people use the term “Islamic”, it is almost always about what the hadith says…

    The Quran does not define a religion. It is pure monotheism at it’s finest, most universal form…applicable to all of humanity. The hadith on the other hand…which is what all mainstream interpretations of Islam is based [on]… promotes the idea of religion and proselytism. This is why Sunnis vehemently defend the hadith – because without it, Islam as a “religion”/way of life simply doesnt exist.

    Gone is the universal principle of God/Allah/Yahweh/Jehovah/ShangTi guiding whom [God] wills. “Islam” today, according to the followers of the Hadith (Sunnis in Malaysia), is a threat to civil society and common sense.

  45. Ghoul says:

    I am reading Catch 22 (the book) and the situation seems awfully familiar… (well, this is not a Catch 22 situation, but you know…)

    “Don’t talk/ask about Islam as you will be regarded as questioning its sanctity. But then again, how would one understand and learn about the religion if one was not allowed to ask and question?”

    Some groups are saying that “we should not question what you do not understand”. But if I can’t ask my questions, how will I ever understand?

  46. Silencers says:

    Dr Syed:
    For some reason Malaysian Muslims are extra sensitive [about] every little thing that disagrees with how Islam is practised/preached/enforced here. Is Islam such an insecure religion that it can’t handle some humour and constructive criticism?

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      Dear Silencers,

      Islam has its own value system. In the Islamic moral code, it is NOT proper to satirise or make a humorous cartoon of Islamic practices. That’s not accepted in the Islamic moral code. Adab dalam Islam menolak segala bentuk persendaan terhadap agama. In Islam, religion is sacred and holy and must not be viewed lightly.

  47. nasih says:

    It’s not that questioning Islam can’t be done. You can but in an appropriate manner. I believe that what Dr Syed Alwi wants to share here is questioning Islam can be done but not into particular matters in which there are ample [and] strong evidence from the two sources of hukum syarak; the Holy Quran and al-Hadith.

    You shouldn’t question certain ‘hukum’ just because you don’t know/understand the ‘hukum’ while there are [proofs] saying that the hukum are fair enough to be conducted.

    You shouldn’t question a ‘hukum’ that’s already established just to point out your self-judged ‘hukum’ which is based on logic and modern mentality in order to disqualify the previous established one without referring to the two holy sources in Islam.

    Once again, I believe that everyone, especially Muslims have the right to question something that he/she doesn’t really understand in order for them to get a deeper understanding. And this will also give [the] opportunity to non-Muslims to get to know Islam better.

    But when it comes to a certain point where questioning is done to shame Islam or ridicule it, then the debate should be stopped, or find an alternative method of debating the issue in a more comprehensive way, not here.

    @Reza, you can argue [an] ulamak’s personal opinion, but you have no right to question what Allah has said. If you’re a Muslim, you should’ve learned in Islamic studies in schools/universities that there are reasons why things are allowed/prohibited. Even during secondary school, it [was] taught in the subject Agama Islam why a Muslim can’t apostate. And you can’t argue fatwa which has been made based on the consensus because it’s made based on dalil which has been obtained from the two holy sources of hukum syariah; the Holy Quran and al-Hadith. If you’re a non-Muslim, then that should explain why there are certain things that you can’t argue and question.

    • Reza says:

      “…you have no right to question what Allah has said”

      @nasih, where does it say in the Quran that Muslims cannot apostate? The Quran, however, does state that there should be no compulsion in religion, which means that religion cannot be forced on anyone. I believe this ruling about Muslims not being allowed to apostate comes from the hadith, not the Quran. So please don’t make false statements that Allah said Muslims cannot apostate, because I would seriously doubt any God that does not allow religious freedom.

      “And you can’t argue fatwa which has been made based on the consensus because it’s made based on dalil which has been obtained from the two holy sources of hukum syariah; the Holy Quran and al-Hadith.”

      In my personal opinion, the Hadith, being man-made unlike the Quran, is flawed. As I stated in an earlier post, most of Islam’s more fanatical laws come from the Hadith, not the Quran, so I do not hold it in high regard. As such, I do not think much of fatwa based on Hadith. Similarly, I do not trust any fatwa declared by our so-called religious experts as they have consistently demonstrated a lack of intelligence and an excess of ignorance (eg. ban on yoga, tomboys, etc.). And please don’t tell me that I am not in a position to comment on fatwas because I am not a religious expert. For the most part, all you need is just logic and common sense, two things which seem to be absent in many of our fatwas.

      “If you’re a Muslim…”

      Yes, I am a Muslim, but I am not religious, and it is my right whether or not I choose to be religious. After all, I did not choose to become a Muslim. I am only a Muslim because my father is a Muslim. And since this country does not allow its Muslims to apostate, it is tantamount to being born into a religion, in much the same way someone is born into slavery. This I CANNOT accept. Religion should always be a personal choice. Forcing a religion onto someone is nothing less than OPPRESSION.

      I think people take religion way too seriously anyway. I am of the firm belief that what makes a person good is how he [or she] treats others and the absence of malice from his [or her] intentions, NOT how often he [or she] prays, goes to mosque/church/temple, fasts, abstains from alcohol,etc. I am a staunch believer in the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would want others to do unto you) more than any religion. I believe in God, but I also believe that you can be an atheist and still be a good person if you adhere to the Golden Rule. I also think that those who judge and condemn others just because they do not share the same religion are small-minded and have primitive sensibilities. These are the people who think “he/she is not going to heaven because he/she is not a Muslim/Christian/etc.” and these are the same people who cause strife and suffering in this world with their intolerance and false morality.

      • Dr Syed Alwi says:

        Dear Reza,

        This is one area of Islam which I feel is in urgent need of reform and re-interpretation.

        Your arguments, by the way, apply to any and all organised religions. Not just Islam.

        Yes, I do agree with you that there are problems here. Reform is needed. But it will take a very long time before reform in this area becomes possible.

        • Reza says:

          Dear Dr Syed Alwi,

          I am glad we at least agree that Islam needs to be reformed. But the only way religious reform is going to come about, or any other type of reform for that matter, is when people are allowed to openly and publicly question the matter without reproach. Otherwise, the status quo will never be motivated to change. Right now, as is typically the case with status quos, those in power will try to control the situation by censuring those who disagree with them so that they can continue doing things the old way. That is why the ulamas condemn those who question their fatwas and give pathetic reasons such as “only Islamic experts can give their opinion on fatwas” so as to circumvent challenges to their authority. This HAS to change. We need to be more vocal. And forums like TNG are a good starting platform for those who want reform.

          • Dr Syed Alwi says:

            Dear Reza,

            Here I totally disagree with you. TNG is NOT neutral. It has a political agenda. They censor quite a few of my postings but I never raise that issue before.

            If you want to debate Islam – then you must do it in a respectable, scholarly way. You do NOT make satirical cartoons about Islam. You do NOT insert a political agenda like Malaysian Malaysia into your arguments. And so on.

            The point is – yes debate Islam by all means. BUT do it in a respectful, scholarly manner. Not by making fun of Islam and then claim that its satire !

  48. the reader says:

    I don’t think TNG ever meant to ridicule Islam…look closer…

  49. watever says:

    While I do agree that we must be allowed to debate any fatwa rulings, I do believe that the debate/discussion must be done in a manner to seek truth and all parties must be opened to accept the final rulings derived from the debate.

    And having said that, from my observation of SIS (since Shanon Shah is actively participating in the debate), I do have my suspicion that they think and believe only [that] their […] interpretation of [the] Quran/Hadith/moral/reason is correct. So my question, is SIS ready to accept any final rulings derived from any debate with the conservatives in the future if ever there was one?

    • Firdaus says:

      Who’s to be the judge for the debate? A Muslim from Malaysia, or a Muslim from Iran?

      We already know that this is one of the oldest tricks in the book of Mahathir, in Chapter X: How To Select A Judge Who Is On Your Side.

  50. Lainie says:

    @Syed Alwi: That you find a cartoon offensive to your delicate sensibilities does not mean the cartoon itself was offensive, or mocking Islam. It was just the use of satire to show one inefficient aspect of political Islam.

  51. born2reign says:


    Another job well done [by] Jacqueline and Shanon for exposing the hypocrisy of Muslims and their “judges”.

    As for shaming Islam, the Muslims are doing a fantastic job themselves showing their true colours and encouraging hypocrites!

  52. Srikandi Islam says:

    As a Muslim, I don’t believe in questioning ‘hukum syarak’. If they are mentioned in the Quran, Hadith and also qias (providing more guidance), then we have to follow them.

    I would like to point out a bigger issue.The reason for different fatwa given by different scholars/states in Malaysia is due to Malaysia not being an Islamic country. If it were an Islamic country, there will be no differences as any fatwa would be done on a collective basis (ie taking into account various scholars’ expertise and views). I think we need to understand the difference between an Islamic country and a Muslim country.

  53. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Lainie,

    Maybe you think it’s satire. I don’t and along with me, many other Muslims don’t find it to be satire. When you deal with the sensitive issue of Islam in a Muslim country – you had better be more careful than that. Muslims do not satirise Islam. That is off-limits.

  54. Reza says:

    @Dr Syed Alwi

    “TNG is NOT neutral. It has a political agenda. They censor quite a few of my postings but I never raise that issue before.”

    TNG’s style of journalism tends to lean a bit more towards western-liberal, where everything is discussed openly and there are no holds barred. This is how it is in the western media, where nothing is considered taboo. Being a liberal myself, this is what has attracted me to TNG. If you are more on the conservative side, I can understand why you may take offense.

    I will agree that direct attacks on Islam (or any other religion) are disrespectful and should not be permitted. For example, “Islam is an evil religion” or “All Muslims are violent people”. But, I find it acceptable to debate or question interpretations or implementations of Islamic law. Since these interpretations are made by humans and not God, they are, for the most part, subjective and susceptible to human error in judgment and, therefore, are not above being ridiculed or satirised.

  55. Hohoho says:

    “What you cannot do is to put Islam in bad light publicly and then claim that you are merely questioning certain fatwas.”

    I implore all you secular, liberal, non-Muslim Nut Graph readers: STOP PUTTING ISLAM IN A BAD LIGHT!

    The muftis are handling this just fine.


  56. john luther says:

    Islam is the way of life. I’ve read the Quran it is verbatim of God

  57. Norasyikin Stephens says:

    Why haven’t Muftis advised Malay Muslim political leaders to get their wives to wear tudung even just for show for the sake of setting good examples to us minions? Owh yeah, I forgot, Muftis work for politicians.

    Thank God there are Malay men like DYMM SPB YDP Agong and his beautiful Permaisuri. Baginda is an accomplished equestrian, intelligent, good looking and pious too….something most Malay politicians can only dream to be.

  58. Suguna Papachan says:

    I am concerned that those Muslim journalists who did not question the polygamy issue and hukum syarak issue were most likely journalists who were educated in this country and those who dared to question were educated overseas. Our education system does not allow the student to question as it is very teacher-orientated and not learner-centered which is very unlike the many overseas educational systems like in Singapore or even Thailand. When we change this concept, we can have more people using their own cognitive skill to know what is right or why is it necessary to question. Unless we change the policies of the education system we will continue having students who are unable to reason which is a cause of the high unemployment of graduates in this country. Cheers.

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