Categorised | Letters to the Editor

Fatwa on tomboys is regressive

Protestors outside KLCC
Fatwa protestors outside KLCC (photos by Lainie Yeoh)

DOES Malaysia have serious morality and social problems? Definitely. To name a few: corruption, money politics, draconian laws like the Internal Security Act (ISA), abuse of power, violation of citizen’s rights, environmental problems, failure to reduce the high crime rate, rampant snatch theft, domestic violence, and failure to chase after errant fathers who do not pay maintenance.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) urges the government, political and religious leaders, including the National Fatwa Council, to give more focus to the effort of upholding justice, equality, civil liberty and democracy in Malaysia, which are intrinsic values in Islam.

Malaysia has made some good progress in the advancement of women’s rights.  Thus, it needs to ensure that women’s movement, the freedom to live our own daily lives, and the ability to define women’s identity and lifestyle are not curbed and controlled by those who have narrow perspectives. The Malaysian government and all political parties have to enhance their efforts in creating gender awareness among civil servants, and political and religious leaders.

Protestor outside KLCC
Placard says “Berhenti mengawal pemakaian, pemikiran dan
tingkah laku rakyat!”
SIS is concerned with the continuous sexist and discriminatory approach towards Malaysian women, especially Muslim women. Sexist remarks issued by our Parliamentarians, instructions by political leaders for women not to wear high heels and lipstick, prioritising non-beautiful women for jobs, prohibiting women from singing in public, and now a fatwa on tomboys, are all alarmingly regressive trends.

The fatwa on tomboys can lead to arbitrary arrests and undue harassment towards Muslim women and girls. How do the authorities define a tomboy? A woman with short hair? Who wears pants? Wears shirts? Has no make-up? Many Malaysian women sport short hair, wear pants, shirts and don’t wear make-up. It is culturally normal for Malaysian women to be body comfortable with each other – many women hold hands, hug their friends or kiss their friends on the cheek.

And how do the authorities define manly behaviour? Not gentle and demure enough? Talking too loudly? Who would and how could one define and determine whether a woman is a tomboy or a lesbian?

Women who do not dress or behave in ways that are perceived by certain quarters as “not feminine” are not a menace to society. In fact, many of these women hold respectable positions and actively contribute to society.

Women being targeted

An important question that needs to be raised is why is the fatwa only imposed on women? This is yet another example of selective prosecution in Malaysia. In 2000, the Selangor religious department (JAIS) charged a woman singer who sang in a premise that served alcohol for “insulting Islam” while the male members of the band were not charged.

Lawan semua fatwa menindas perempuan
Banner declaring “Lawan semua fatwa menindas perempuan”

In 1997, JAIS also arrested three young Malay girls, charged and fined them for indecent dressing and for taking part in a beauty contest. But it took no action against the Malay men in skimpy swimming trunks who paraded their glistening bare bodies in the Mr Malaysia contest that was held at about the same time. Is it because women are deemed as easy targets?

SIS believes it is not Islam’s obsession to police people’s morality, find people’s fault or to spy on its followers. Islam is also totally against defaming one’s character. In fact, Islam regards privacy and preserving one’s dignity as an intrinsic basic right. Thus any human-made law cannot violate these basic rights enshrined in Islam.

All Malaysian citizens should uphold our Constitution that promises justice and equality for all, and prohibits discrimination based on gender. Hence, if any injustice or discrimination is perpetrated on any group or segment of society, every Malaysian citizen, Muslim and non-Muslim, has a right to speak out against such unjust laws and policies.

In Malaysia, unlike some Muslim countries, a fatwa is enforceable by law once it is gazetted. Therefore, any fatwa or ruling that discriminates against any segment of society, especially minorities, will be detrimental towards gender justice in Malaysia.

Norhayati Kaprawi
Programme Manager
Sisters in Islam

See also: Yes minister. Let’s meet

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5 Responses to “Fatwa on tomboys is regressive”

  1. Xan Man says:

    I hope all our MPs, State Assemblymen, Exco members, Govt leaders and corporate leaders pay all their attention to our sagging economy, fight corruption, fight money politics and increasing crime instead of focusing on all these petty petty issues. Can you guys wake up!

  2. greenbottle says:

    Give the fatwa council a break. They are just doing their job explaining what is halal or haram. If SIS disagrees with the fatwa give your valid Islamic justifications why it is so.

    PS – I personally find tomboys and lesbians sexy but at the same time I respect fatwas.

  3. Girl-Girl-Action-is-Hot says:

    There’s something wrong with the Majlis Fatwa men.

    All straight men love the idea of two hot chicks getting it on.

    Go lesbians!

    Straight men of Malaysia will fight for your right to get it on!

  4. rin says:

    Tomboys are not necessary lesbians, nor do lesbians necessary look like tomboys. They are NOT the same. (Why do people always think they are the same or similar?) If the council is trying to curb lesbians by issuing this fatwa, they’re going about it in a weird/wrong way.

    And I agree with SIS, this fatwa is so OPEN to abuse, how do you define a tomboy? I shudder to think the harassment my Muslim friends, some who unfortunately look like tomboys though they may not behave like it, and some who behave like it though they might not look like one, will be facing when this fatwa is enforced. *shudder shudder*

    p/s: SIS has already give their Islamic justifications in their letter several times, read properly before you comment, greenbottle. And yes the fatwa council is doing their job, a bad job in this case if I may say. Btw, why didn’t they issue a fatwa against guys who like to dress like women too if they are really FAIR, as they should be since this is the first and foremost principle in Islam? Why target only the women? Because they’re easier to bully?

  5. Girl-Girl-Action-is-Hot says:

    “Why target only the women? Because they’re easier to bully?”


    Those fatwa council nancy boys wouldn’t dare break up a male body building show – well actually, those homos would probably be ogling lecherously at the muscle boys.

    So they’ve got to compensate by pushing girls around.

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