Categorised | Letters to the Editor

Dear fatwa council and Malaysians…

ON 23 October 2008, the National Fatwa Council of Malaysia issued a fatwa saying that tomboyism, where a girl behaves or dresses in what is seen as a boyish manner, is forbidden by Islam. According to the council chairman, Datuk Dr Abdul Shukor Husin, this decision was made because — in their reasoning — young women who behave like men will engage in lesbian sex.

We, as rakyat Malaysia, reject these views and wish to express our solidarity and sympathy with those affected by such declarations. This letter is a statement of our principled stand as the people of this nation, regardless of religion, gender, ethnicity, or political belief.

1.  My body, my choice

This is simply another attempt to control women’s bodies and how women express themselves. Each and every woman has the right to express herself freely, as does everyone else, as guaranteed under human rights standards our country is bound to fulfil.

2.  Regressive and impractical policies

Telling a woman that she cannot wear certain types of clothing because she will look “masculine” is an archaic notion. Furthermore, who decides what is “masculine” or “acceptable” in society? 

3.  Discriminatory stereotypes

Do we still tell women that they have to be “feminine”, quiet, demure and modest? We may as well tell women not to vote, that their sole responsibility is to take care of the home and raise their children! The fatwa is an example of how women continue to be subjected to discriminatory stereotypes of how they should look and behave. The state should not regulate the private lives of individuals. By continuing to perpetuate discriminatory stereotypes, the government is not promoting, fulfilling or respecting its commitment of equality between women and men.  

4.   Appearance is not an indicator of sexual orientation

A person’s outward appearance and his or her sexual orientation are distinct and separate. The council’s views are misinformed and based on outdated stereotypes. A woman who has short hair and [is deemed] “masculine” may be a married mother of two, and a feminine woman may be a lesbian. 

5.   Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual persons

The views expressed by the council reflect a deeper discrimination against anyone who does not conform with what is considered “mainstream” and also anyone who does not fit into a stereotypical heterosexual relationship. Everyone has the right to form loving relationships with the person of their choice, regardless of their sex and the sex of their partner.

Signed by,

Food Not Bombs Kuala Lumpur
Cecilia Ng, Malaysia
Cheneille Neo Ming Yi, Malaysia
Dahlia Martin, Malaysia
Eugene Ch’ng, Malaysia
Lainie Yeoh, Malaysia
Lee Wei San, Malaysia
Lee Jia Hui, Harvard College, USA
Leow Mei Chern, Malaysia
Mohd Rizman, Malaysia
Nurul Amani Faizal, Malaysia
Poodien, Malaysia
Puan llli Farhana, Malaysia
Puan Azreen Madzlan, Malaysia
Shikeen Arif, Malaysia
Thilaga Sulathireh, Malaysia
Wan Azhar Bin Wan Ahmad, Malaysia
Wong Chai Yi, Malaysia
Yusmar Mohd Yusof, Malaysia
Zedeck Siew, Malaysia

Note: Lainie Yeoh and Zedeck Siew are staff of The Nut Graph.

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32 Responses to “Dear fatwa council and Malaysians…”

  1. Are we still living in the Stone Age? I wish to express my solidarity and sympathy with those affected by such declarations. Where are we heading to? Taliban govt?

  2. Eskay says:

    Why can’t we just run our own lives and stop trying to interfere with other peoples’ private lives, regardless of gender, race and belief?

  3. promufti says:

    My religion, my choice.

    Katagender, stay out of it. Please respect Islam.

  4. Tiara says:

    I’ll like to add my name to the signature list.

    Also, apparently in Muhammad’s time women would have short hair and men would have long hair. How would that fit into the fatwa now?

  5. Ralph says:

    Promufti, that is such a double standard. I’ve always respected all faiths but it’s getting increasingly difficult to respect a religion that seems to have no respect whatsoever for others.

  6. Naydeah says:

    My peers consider my hair short. I almost never wear skirts, long or short, except in school where I wore baju kurung. I occasionally played goalkeeper for the guys in my last year of high school when we had PE and the time to play futsal.

    But I’m straight.

    What right have they to declare supremacy over all else?

    We’re all human, even if you want to question the trait of what’s human and what’s not.

    But I guess this is what we get in a country where equality is suppressed by the government itself.

  7. ehem says:

    This rule only applies for Islam only. Please respect Islam. You guys don’t have the right to say that. Please respect my religion’s views. “Dulu masa mak hantar belajar sekolah agama, main-main. Mulut jage sikit. Jangan main sedap je.” Please respect ISLAM!!!!

  8. Zedeck says:

    Hello ehem:

    I’m curious about the rationale behind your admonishment:

    “This rule only applies for Islam only.”

    The thrust of my curiosity is this: do you think the interpretation of Islam currently dominant in Malaysia is infallible, and not deserving of the questions posed to it? What gives it special status, as opposed to other permutations of the faith (of whichever mazhab) available?

    As was described to me, the point of the varying schools of Islamic jurisprudence is that judgments may be flexible, responding to the times and social contexts in which the faithful reside. Fatwas are, by definition, legal opinions given by muftis, who are supposed to be legal consultants rather than pope-like figures. This implies a system that accommodates and encourages opposing opinions. In other words, there is a tradition of debate within Islam, which is supposed to keep the faith intellectually fresh and relevant.

    Do share. However, I understand if answers aren’t forthcoming — after all, according to Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, “[I]t was unfair to challenge or dispute a fatwa issued by the council purely on logic because it could create confusion among the people.” Far be it for me to confuse you.

  9. Nurul says:

    Thank you.

  10. pagarmerah says:

    I think anyone can respond if they see any sort of discrimination taking place. I don’t think we need to belong to a certain group in order to do so.

    The bottom line is no one should be able to control the way you dress, the kind of hairstyle you prefer, and so on. I think my mum stopped picking out my clothes once I masuk kindergarten. Tak masuk akal lah, if someone were to say that if you wear pants, or have short hair then you will probably indulge in lesbian sex.

    And sexual orientation and identity are two very different things. It needs to be understood that sexual orientation is something that you are born with. There is a lot of research to prove this. Whereas our identity is such due to socialization.

    there is nothin wrong with being androgynous. you see, we are all trying not to conform to the social construct of girls having to be feminine and boys having to masculine. does it make me less of a girl if i am more masculine? and define what is feminine and whats masculine? who decided benda-benda ni?

    ntah la…..

  11. kanchil says:

    Promufti asks Katagender to stay out of Islam. Islam is not the target here. It’s the fatwa council who are being criticised. People who make stupid statements and impinge on the rights of people outside of their religion/political party must expect a rebuttal. Islam respects contrary views. Islam does not force views of individuals on others, especially individuals who have no “akal”. Leave Islam out of this. Concentrate on the stupid people who make stupid laws affecting other people’s rights.

  12. Aloysious Mowe says:

    There are instances of Muslim women dressing as men in Islamic history that are cited with approval by the chroniclers.

    Al-Maqrīzī tells us that Sitt Zubayda organized a group of “boyish girls”, ghulāmiyya, to seduce her son, the Caliph al-Amīn, from his homosexuality. These women were dressed as men to attract the Caliph’s attention and wean him from his desire for men.

    During the Mamluk period there was a trend for women to adopt male dress. Al-Maqrīzī explains this fashion as a reaction to the widespread homosexual behaviour of the men at court. The women dressed as men in the hope that they would thus be able to draw their husbands back to their marriage beds.

  13. Sue Dara says:

    Living in one country means that we are not mutually exclusive from each other. What does not affect us directly will affect us indirectly. A fatwa might only affect Muslims, but when one makes a law/rule/policy/statement that discriminates against women, then that person/body is actually discriminating against all women.

    Some non-Muslims choose to stand-up against this fatwa because we have people around us who will be affected by this. Our friends and family, and their friends and their family.

    Why do we speak-up for things “as a Muslim”, “as a Christian”, “as a Malay”, “as an UMNO member”, “as a man”, but what about “as a human”? We are first and foremost, humans, aren’t we?

    As a human, I believe that one has the right to express themselves freely without violating the rights of other. As a human, I believe that everyone should have the right to love and be loved.

  14. Ozgur Azad says:

    I’m a volunteer of Lambdaistanbul LGBTT solidarity association.

  15. a Malaysian says:

    It is unfortunate that this issue has been twisted to be an attack against the religion of Islam, whether as a political tool or because of fear and intolerance. The letter has been supported by Muslims and non-Muslims, as was the protest undertaken by people of different religious (including Islam) and non-religious backgrounds.

    It is a stand against tyrannical rules and regulations against a group of persons. And I am for one, happy to know that we, of whatever religion (or no religion), are standing together for the human rights of one group, even if it does not affect us.

    “When the Nazis came for the communists,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a communist.

    When they locked up the social democrats,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a social democrat.

    When they came for the trade unionists,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not a trade unionist.

    When they came for the Jews,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a Jew.

    When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out.”

  16. Liyana says:

    I agree most definitely. The problem stems from the fact that many Malaysian women themselves who are Malay actually like and want to be dominated by men. The problem is about other people. Fatwas have been historically for example used to justify just about everything under the sun, from Islam that allows only four wives, the fatwas during the Turkish times that allowed a harem-ful of women. Fatwas are HUMAN interpretations of what is stated in the Quran, they are not reality and DIFFERENT cultures at DIFFERENT times and spaces will definitely interpret them variably. The key to this problem why Umno is allowing such and such to happen IS BECAUSE they are losing out on supporters, now they have to depend on support from Sabah and Sarawak’s population (who deserve more than they get, especially the REAL aboriginal natives) by amalgamating PAS and Umno = MORE VOTES to remain in power. This is all politics high and dry and nothing about religion at all. These are the masks that use religion for their own means and purposes. Say Pro-Mufti I wonder if you yourself realize the implications of said actions? Take the Pakistani national dress the kurta for men, women wear salwaar kameez, aren’t men imitating women for wearing a dress? Where is the fatwa for that? And what makes you so sure that the Mufti is the ‘light’ to heaven? (lol)

  17. Mohamed isa says:

    To Muslims who agree please refer to Al Quran Surah Al Kafirun. And to all non-Muslims you can call on all your family members to become pengkid if you think this is better.

  18. oakinn says:

    Absolutely 1000% agree with Mohamed Isa

    Muslims who disagree, please know the intimate details of the Quran and Hadith, the governing principals of our faith – then, once knowledgable, you can have a discourse with the fatwa council.

    Don’t simply rely on your logic, rational thinking and “My Body My Choice” mentality.

    For the non-Muslims, carry on…carry on, you body your choice, yup…your bottom, too.

  19. Zedeck says:

    Hello oakinn:

    Not really a refutation. In fact, I would like to agree with:

    “For the non-Muslims, carry on…carry on, you body your choice, yup…your bottom, too.”

    Especially the last clause. I wouldn’t want what is done to my bottom to be anyone’s choice but mine. Now, my question: would you?

  20. Zaki says:

    It only applies to Islam. Other than that it’s ok if you want to engage with goats.

  21. pemerhati says:

    Why must we support people who are against ‘nature’ (gay n lesbian)? Corbett vs Corbett in English case also does not recognize same sex marriage.

    Adakah terdapat kebebasan mutlak untuk hak asasi manusia?(Sekiranya ya, cuba nyatakan atau sejarah yang menyatakan kebebasan mutlak ini berjaya dan mengikut peraturan alam.)
    Apakah tujuan utama manusia dicipta?
    Apakah tujuan utama lelaki dan perempuan itu dicipta?
    Apakah perilaku gay dan lesbian itu mengikut norma-norma hukum alam?

  22. oakinn says:

    Zedeck…apologiies for simplifying the matters, my last statement makes light of this heavy issue.

    Your bottom, your choice…well, literally, not. Unless you are a non-conformist of all major religions in this world or if you have elevated the “human rights” thingy to become your religion.

    For most of us, we choose to conform to our religion, mine is Islam. Therefore, I am bound by the rules and principals of my religion. Many however should reassess their position in their religion. Having a Muslim name and even having been to Mecca doesn’t mean a thing if one does not practice the religion according to its required tenets. Hence “my body my right” mentality doesn’t (literally) apply here if you are a Muslim.

    Human rights is not a religion. However I reckon that all major religions take care of human rights.

    Now, it is our right to believe and conform to our religion and the fatwas that guide us as Muslims. I am not arguing based on facts extracted from the Quran and hadith, for I am not knowledgeable enough to read the laws. Therefore, I listen to the ones who know, my ulama. If you are Muslim, I suggest you do the same, unless you can extract some strong basis of argument based on your understanding of the Islamic laws. Then,you’d be contributing positively to the religion.

    For the Non Comformist or one who practices the western style ‘my body my right’ human rights ‘religion’…yup, your bottoms too.

  23. Zedeck says:

    Hello oakinn:

    “Your bottom, your choice…well, literally, not. Unless you are a non-conformist of all major religions in this world or if you have elevated the “human rights” thingy to become your religion.”

    You seem to imply, further on in your reply, that what you do with your bottom, as a Muslim (and, by extension, the bottoms of all Muslims), is at the discretion of some ulama, by virtue of his / her claiming to be an expert at Islamic dogma.

    I’m sorry, but I must admit this bothers me.

    It is a question of human fallacy. The institution of religion is as guilty of this as any other thing, as the only way we know about the wishes of our distant high-power minders are through the interpretation and editing of human agents. These individuals (ulamas, reverends, and various other holy men) are qualitatively no different from you and I — merely quantitatively in measure of “virtue”, a nebulous concept in itself.

    As long as this is true, I would maintain that religious belief is merely equal in value to the belief in human rights – the belief that one should treat another human being with the dignity and respect both parties deserve. Your assertion that “all major religions take care of human rights” is only correct insofar as the mosque / church / temple feels the rights of human beings are important.

    You see, I like to be responsible for my actions. I keep my bottom hygienic, safe, and haemorrhoid-less because I recognise, through my rhyme and reason, that this is good for me (and the people I come into contact with) physically, mentally, and emotionally – not at the behest of a minister who orders me to. I did the thinking myself.

    I cannot understand why you would so easily subjugate your will / mind (“I am not knowledgeable enough to read the laws. Therefore, I listen to the ones who know, my ulama,”) to some other person – but it does help me understand why you are so quick to want other to subjugate themselves (“If you are Muslim, I suggest you do the same,”) in the same way. Perhaps you disrespect yourself, so it is easier to disrespect other people?

    If you think you are submitting yourself to God, think again. as long as “understanding of the Islamic laws” happens in human minds, its value is only human. What you are doing, effectively, is that you are submitting yourself to other human beings, instead of God on high. That’s like idolatry, isn’t it?

  24. Sue Dara says:

    Kepada pemerhati,

    Apakah itu peraturan alam? Apakah itu norma-norma hukum alam? Siapakah yang mendefinisikan peraturan and hukum alam?

  25. oakinn says:


    My Religion My Choice – that’s me, it also means I conform to the principles and beliefs. I have ‘faith’ that my ulama would not issue a fatwa for me not to take care of my ‘bottom’, no other major religion would want the bottoms of their followers in an un-kept manner.

    Your Religion Your Choice – I surely do not want to comment on your beliefs, hence the way you keep your bottoms too…carry on…as you feel pleased, it’s yours.

  26. alamak says:

    I can’t help but feel Malaysia is turning out like Iran during Ayatollah Khomeini’s time. Be cautioned because “they” might lock you up while watching movies in the cinema and burn it.

  27. Zedeck says:

    Hello oakinn:

    Here’s my main beef with the whole issue: the privilege you award me — of not forcing your convictions over mine — you seem unable to extend to your fellows within the ummah.

    I’m curious: what would you do to brother / sister Muslims who happen to disagree with your views? Your “My Religion My Choice” and “If you are Muslim, I suggest you do the same” statements seem to work together to say: “Our Religion, My (or My Ulama’s) Choice”.

  28. . says:
    I feel sorry for the animals, they might as well cease to exist because of the narrow-minded views of some people.

    Everything in this country is based upon making profit fast that leads to short-term thinking and it’s becoming a culture/habit that sticks to the bone. Just for the little profit the materials used are of poor grade, thus the foundation of this country: everything’s short-term thinking, short-term plan. You can add on any development if there’s a space, I wonder how long for the ulama to come up with a fatwa from the beginning the issue is raised to the day it’s made public.

    Religion is like water – it depends on the person which is the container to shape it. If it falls into the wrong person you’ll see a religion that’s very judgmental and tends to punish everything under the sky according to the book squarely. Some people use it as a useful guide and view the positive/beautiful side. These people forget the other elements in God’s name, like love and forgiveness. To weak minds religion can really turn people into programmed robots who can’t think straight anymore. Common sense is deader than the dead.

    Another thing: a fatwa should should be issued on mat rempits because their minds are empty while turning into torpedoes and killing living things, and illegal loggers to slow down the desertification of all the virgin forests because it affects the living cycle of life.

    Why can’t they, the ulama/politicians, see the bigger picture!

  29. Eric Wong says:

    It’s time for us to carefully separate religious and ‘political’ views when it comes to governing the state and (especially) social values.

    Why don’t our National Fatwa Council start addressing real issues facing our country today instead of going around to bayonet the tomboys.

    I can’t help but cry to hear the direction in which we are heading. While Indonesia and Pakistan are taking steps forward, Malaysians are happily taking two steps back. I mean….

    - Where do we start drawing the line??
    - What is wrong with associating short hair and pants with a lady? Should Malaysian women start wearing the burkha to become better Muslims?
    - Who is going to police these fatwa policies? Are we applying the same standards to judge…and how are they going to do it?
    - Besides, what is wrong with ‘tomboys’? Are they worse than our rapists, murderers and corrupt politicians?

    Let’s be real guys. Real Solutions for Real Problems.

  30. kanchil says:

    Now a judge says that once a Muslim, he/she will always be a Muslim. No wonder there are so many “Muslims” committing all sorts of sins in this country. These people have lost their faith (you cannot legislate “faith”) in Islam. Hence they behave like non Muslims, e.g. eating pork, drinking alcohol, kissing non-Muslim girls/men etc. Some have even converted secretly to another faith. All this is because Muslims in this country (and the world) live in a shell. Their religionists contrive to control them with all sorts of rulings which stymie their intellect and spirit. No wonder the Muslim countries are slowly becoming doomed. In Malaysia, starting from schools where they learn everything by heart and thinking is not allowed, to universities where Muslims are also bestowed knowledge to the teaching of Islam where they learn everything by heart again. Almost all Malays cannot read the Quran. They depend on somebody else to tell them the meaning and interpretation of the holy book. How on earth can they claim to understand the religion when they cannot read the holy book? Imagine if your doctor treats you by applying from memory what he has been told. Can you trust such a person? The Malay in this country is in a strait jacket, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Attempts by the non-Malays are not appreciated – indeed their effort is being sabotaged. So sad. We can help but they want to bite the hand that wants to help. That’s why Malaysia is doomed.

  31. pemerhati says:

    sue dara,
    Peraturan alam? Siapa yang tentukan? Siapa yang aturkan? First of all..what is alam? What is nature? What is human being? What is life? What is law? Manusia dan peraturan alam…Adakah manusia pencipta peraturan alam atau there is ‘The Force’ who is behind the scene?

    Any system that is corrupted by human (gay and lesbian…corruption…pemimpin zalim…ISA?)……can we consider that it follows nature?

    Hak asasi manusia yang tiada batasan (gay and lesbian)?

    What do you think what happened in Pompeii 24th august 79CE? Their lifestyle? How they lived? So it’s the same with people who live in the lost city under the Dead Sea? Ooohh…maybe it was just coincidence at that time…the volcano had exploded…the earthquake turned the city upside down…But I find this verse quite interesting:

    “These are some of the stories of communities that we relate to you : of them, SOME ARE STANDING, AND SOME HAVE BEEN MOWN DOWN (by the sickle of time)” (surah Hud : 100 )

    As I said…maybe some will still think…maybe it was just coincidence that the volcano had exploded at that time…Ikutlah budi bicara masing-masing to see it from your own eyes.

    If a man can understand the purpose of life…I think he will appreciate the purpose of the creation of human beings…also…the question of ‘peraturan alam’ sudah difahaminya…

    Suggested reading : The Truth of Life of this World by Harun Yahya…also Being and Existence in Mulla Sadra, and Martin Heidegger : A Comparative Ontology written by Alparslan Acikgenc

  32. Ooopss says:

    Zedeck and oakinn’s arguments reminds me of a bottom story… the saifool’s bottoms story.

    Please be rational (or irrational). Please keep all bottoms out of the discussion. We don’t want other people to get the habit of using the “bottoms” to do other things besides your daily big business.

    Thank you.

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