Categorised | Exclusives, Interviews

Married but busted for khalwat

WHEN moral policing in Malaysia makes the headlines, it’s often for the wrong reasons. Take the Federal Territories Islamic Department’s raid on Zouk nightclub, Kuala Lumpur, in 2005, which created an international uproar. Or in 2007, when Amnesty International appealed on behalf of Ayu, a transsexual woman assaulted by Malacca’s Islamic law enforcers.

More recently, in April 2010, a young man fell to his death while attempting to escape from Selangor’s Islamic religious enforcers. The Selangor Islamic Affairs Department, however, denies involvement.

Moral policing has its defenders and detractors. But what exactly happens during a raid, or an operation, from the perspective of the person getting caught? How is it possible to nab someone for a “moral crime” – such as sex before marriage or transvestism – as opposed to crimes stipulated under the Penal Code?

To answer these questions, The Nut Graph will run a series of interviews with individuals who have been affected by moral policing. These testimonies are by no means representative of the entire moral policing spectrum in Malaysia, but they nevertheless offer a perspective for the public to deliberate on.

Our first interviewee had her encounter in Perak. Mona Abu Bakar, 35, says she can now laugh about the time when religious enforcers “busted” her and her husband for suspected khalwat. A columnist for English daily theSun and a recruiter at a Malaysian company, Mona tells The Nut Graph about her experiences in this exclusive phone interview on 31 May 2010.

The Nut Graph: What happened in the moments leading up to the raid?

Mona Abu Bakar: I got married in December 2002. In January 2003, my grandfather passed away. So my husband and I drove from KL back to Penang for the funeral. However, our car broke down on the highway near Taiping, so we had to leave it at a workshop there and make our way to Penang by public transport.

About a month later, my husband and I went back to Taiping to get our repaired car. Since we took public transport, we were quite tired and wanted to spend the night there before driving back the next day. The hotel we checked into was a small-town, cheap hotel.

Kad nikah

Example of a kad kahwin (Source:

It was the weekend, and we were casually dressed. But at that time, we still hadn’t gotten our kad kahwin yet. Yes, you have to pay RM20 for a crappy, laminated marriage licence in Selangor, which I think I could’ve made myself.

It was around midnight that night, and I was already asleep. My husband was up watching English Premier League football on TV. Then there was a knock on the door. There were men’s voices saying they were from Jabatan Agama Islam Perak (Jaip). They demanded to come into the room. I wasn’t properly dressed – I was in bed and asleep up until then. They came in and asked if we were married.

Did they ask nicely or were they abusive in any way?

They weren’t abusive, but they did ask to see our ICs and everything. The group consisted of three or four men. They wouldn’t leave the room, though, and that made me quite uncomfortable.

They kept insisting on seeing our kad kahwin, even though I was groggy from just having woken up. We told them we hadn’t been issued one yet. They weren’t satisfied, and we had to call my father to speak to them on the phone. They still wouldn’t believe him. They went on to ask my husband what he was doing, and when he said he was watching football, they asked him the score. I think their reasoning was that if my husband was really watching football, he’d know the score and therefore we probably weren’t up to anything. They left us alone after that.

What led the enforcers to investigate you, though?

I don’t know. The next day, we learnt that they had tried to raid our room only. It wasn’t an operasi on the entire hotel. So we figured somebody might have tipped them off.

Why do you say that?

I’ve heard rumours that in the hotel industry, some hotel staff receive cash incentives from the jabatan agama if they provide tip-offs. I don’t know how far this is true. But then, how do you explain the fact that the Jaip officers singled out our room and not anyone else’s?

“I’ve heard rumours that in the hotel industry, some hotel staff
receive cash incentives from the jabatan agama
if they provide tip-offs. I don’t know how far this is true.”

Did you try to lodge a complaint with them afterwards, or try to dig for more information?

No, we just couldn’t be bothered because it would be a waste of time.

I need to put things in context here. My parents are cool but pretty conservative. As for me, I’m not that conservative, but I do observe some things strictly; for example I don’t drink, I only eat halal meat, I don’t agree with sex before marriage. My parents were also really strict about who I went out with. My dates would consist of my boyfriend – my husband now – coming to the house and playing Monopoly with me in the living room.

Nevertheless, I find dealing with religious authorities unpleasant. I mean, I have my own religious teachers – ustazs and ustazahs and so on – and I get along with them well. But they are not state-appointed authorities.

Do you disagree with the mixing of state and religion then?

Actually, I like the fact that the Malaysian government makes it easy for Muslims to practise the religion. I like that we can find surau in shopping malls, and that it’s very easy for Muslims to find and identify halal food. But prying into people’s private lives? I think it’s kind of sick, actually, and it creates an unhealthy culture.

I mean, even for something like the tudung (headscarf) for Muslim women – I think women should be able to choose on their own whether to wear it without being pressured. I choose not to.

Have you had any other unpleasant experiences with the state religious authorities?

This is the thing. When I wanted to get married, it was just so unpleasant dealing with frontline officers and staff at the jabatan agama. They had so many prying questions and judgmental comments. However, when we finally met the kadi who was going to marry us, he was such a sweetheart. He even asked me very nicely, “Are you sure you are marrying this man because you love him, and not because you are being pressured into doing it?”

So some of these employees of religious departments – they are mere functionaries and can actually behave really badly. But the truly religious people are quite nice and more accepting than many people assume.

Do you carry your marriage licence around now?

No, because I don’t think it’s something I need to constantly carry around to justify myself to society. I’ve got nothing to be afraid of.

Do you still get harassed, though?

Yes. For example when I used to work around Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC), I would jog at the park after work. My husband would then come and get me after I was done and we’d walk together, holding hands. The KLCC security guards would come and ask, “Why are you holding hands? Are you married?” I’d be like, “Why is it your business?” I mean, I’m not going to carry my marriage certificate while I’m out jogging.

“When the authorities try to police people’s morals,
there are probably many factors at play. It could be class …
It’s probably also age … It could also be an education issue”

It could be because my husband and I looked quite young when we first got married, and still do. So when the authorities try to police people’s morals, there are probably many factors at play. It could be class – people who drive big cars hardly get harassed, I’ll bet. It’s probably also age – a young couple is more likely to get harassed than an older couple. It could also be an education issue – the higher educated you are, the less likely you’re going to be harassed.

Has the experience affected you in any way to this day?

My husband and I can laugh it off now. But can you imagine getting busted for khalwat right after getting married?

Part 2: “Is Chinese penis really that good?”

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30 Responses to “Married but busted for khalwat”

  1. Nadia Ali says:

    What exactly is the jurisdiction/authority of the religious department when it comes to khalwat cases and moral policing? What is the proper procedure? I want to know what are my rights and what I can do to protect myself and privacy? I have so many questions la, Shanon. They don’t teach this in school!

  2. Mrs. Murgatroyd says:

    I remind you once more of H.L. Mencken’s great definition and observation: that a puritan is someone who lives in a state of perpetual fear and anxiety that somebody, somewhere, may possibly be enjoying themselves.

  3. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Shanon,

    As a Muslim country, Malaysia is already quite liberal. Especially in comparison to the Middle East, Pakistan and some other Muslim countries. I guess the only way out is to issue a marriage card to legally married couples in Malaysia – as proof of their marriage. Sure – moral policing seems rather strange to the Western mind in view of the Western understanding of civil liberties, personal freedom and so on. But Islam rejects secularism and imposes rather intrusive constraints on the rakyat. Therefore moral policing in Malaysia is here to stay.

    I think that you may have to reform Islam altogether before you can remove moral policing. In Acheh – they now make women wear Islamically approved clothing and they do not allow women to wear tight jeans etc.

    I myself believe that one’s civil liberties should be respected. But such a notion of personal freedom in morality is not tolerated in Islam. After all – moral policing in Islam derives from “amar makruf nahi munkar”. To enjoin what is good and to forbid what is evil – according to Muslim precepts. What is there left to say – short of asking for a reform of Islam ?

    • Shanon Shah says:

      @Syed Alwi, I think you are too quick to conclude certain absolutes about Islam, e.g. “Islam rejects secularism”; “personal freedom in morality is not tolerated in Islam”. There are actually several scholarly and academic writings by both contemporary and past Islamic scholars debating precisely these issues. Of course, these writings often get censored in Malaysia. But for quick reference, you might want to check out several of Prof Hashim Kamali’s works on Islamic jurisprudence, specifically on freedom of expression. He uses traditional Islamic sources to argue his case, so there are more references there for you, too.

    • Neozypher says:

      Dr. Syed,

      Malaysia suffers from an identity crisis. Is it a secular state? Is it an Islamic state? No one knows, or rather no one dares to take a definite stand and enforce it. Hence, everyone has his or her own interpretation, bringing unwarranted troubles and nightmares to un-suspecting victims.

      I recall a gay friend who at one point thought he is straight and caused a lot of anguish to his then girlfriend. He was unable to be at peace with himself until he sorted out his identity issue and declared he is gay. Now, he is happily in a healthy relationship with his boyfriend or partner.

      We can debate and argue what is Islamic or un-Islamic until the cow comes home, and it will still not be resolved.

      I am just glad that I am no longer in Malaysia. I guess I voted with my feet. *Talk about brain drain in the Islamic world* *LAUGH*


    • Kong Kek Kuat says:

      Is this the “modernist and reformist” Dr Syed Alwi?

    • Anonymous says:


      I have to agree with parts of what Dr Syed Alwi has said. We have to admit that here as a Muslim country, Malaysia does [leave] many extreme Islamic laws off the hook. As much freedom as we are trying to grasp, it is only humane to have boundaries and limitations.

      I too agree that moral policing should be highly recommended, however, I despise the people who are in charge of it. Islam is a highly civilized, intellectual and hygienic religion. I feel it very degrading that most of our religious councils are taken over by people of the 3rd world mind. I’m not even going to start on the political boards. Some which are even trying to create their own holy verbs.

      It’s very depressing to look at Malaysia in this light. It’s even depressing to actually see our own race, the Malay [Malaysians] trying so hard to spread their rights and that Islam belongs to them. I feel so weak to even hear them fight for bumiputra rights on making UTiM as an inter-racial university. Have you seen the video of the student rep and what he had to say on this? Disgraceful.

      We are in a tough spot here as Malay [Malaysians].

    • Yusof Hashim says:

      Syed Alwi is Malay living in Chinese Singapore. He has no authority on Islam civil society because he doesn’t live in one where the state peeps on [him] or on his daughters when neighbours complain. His pleasure is denying secular Malays their pleasure.

      He is in denial. Denial that the prosperity of secular Singapore and secular Malaysia is due to the secular Malays or Chinese.


      The fact is that the world peace is due to the rise of secularism in the west.

      It was the Pope of the Catholic Christians who issued the Papal Bull that gave false moral licensed to the Portuguese and Spanish Monarchies to embark on their world conquering and slavery of non Christians. Killing Indians in Calcutta, killing Malays in Melaka and Batavia, killing natives in South America, and Malays in Phillipines.

      But the rise of secularism has shown the evil of Christianity and colonialism has faded.

      So it is with Arabs and their Islam. They propagate a religion which is advantageous to them. The language of heaven unsurprisingly is Arabic.

      The place you must visit before you die is Saudi Arabia etc.

      But the fall of Christianity has meant that Islam’s dogmatic views are unchallenged among the simplistic people like Khomeini or Ben Laden who imagine himself as the world Khalifah over the US. Simplistic because the technological superiority of the secular world is overwhelming in favour of the secular.

      Thus the secular people keep peace among the various left over religions. The secular Malays are the best at it.

      So it is in our interest to promote secularism where religion remains what it is. The myths and tribal lifestyles of centuries old culture of the Arabs and the Jews.

      • Marcus says:

        @Yusof Hashim

        Evil of Christianity? Excuse me? You are just as bigoted as the religious blokes who you despise.

  4. khalid nor says:

    I believe the Islamic departments in Malaysia are not employing people with the right mentality. You have ustats or ustazahs with no proper education conducting raids and running the departments. Most of them might have just qualified from sekolah agama pondok rather than proper universities. This is truth as sekolah agama pondok are still available in Malaysia. We need properly educated people running the departments rather than having someone who is motivated by culture in every decision-making.

    On a separate subject, I believe the kursus kahwin program is a problem for those Malaysians who live abroad and wanting to get married back home. In my case, I live and work in London and there are no kursus kahwin available here. As we all know, there are many Malaysians in the UK but yet not one ustat would like to organize the kursus. A few Malaysians and I even contacted the appointed ustat (who is placed at the Malaysian Students Department in London) to help organize the kursus. He said NO as he never received any orders from JAKIM to do so. The only thing Malay Malaysians who want to get married can do is to take the kursus kawin back home. It’s not easy to get time off for long periods plus the process of getting to the nikah stage is very inconvenient.

    This is why I say that we need properly educated people to run the Islamic departments.

    • Fendi says:

      It is not a question of the right people being in the Islamic department.

      You miss the point that who in their right mind would knock on his neighbour’s door to check if they are copulating.

      And if they are copulating, check if they have a marriage certificate.

      No one. Only […] individuals passed these so-callled syariah laws. And Mahathir was the main culprit who passed the law that requires a Malay woman to produce four male witness to her rape or else she will the be the one to punished in the Federal Territory.


      Mahathir greatest achievement for the Malays haha!

  5. Azizi Khan says:

    Dr Syed Alwi,
    Are you implying that moral policing is far more important than corruption and other criminal offences? Why aren’t these so called religious authorities “amar makruf nahi munkar”ing their way to help solve neighbourhood crimes, helping the poor etc? Why specifically moral policing.

    The only answer I can come up with is that these “mat sekondeng”s have some sort of fetish to snoop on unsuspecting people under guise of religion.

    Why not snoop on corrupt government officials ? Why not snoop while keeping guard on the neighbourhood taman? After all the crime rate is quite high, I’m told.

    Let’s face it mate, “moral policing” happens because its a self-serving, ego-boosting power trip for some individuals so they can live believing that they have done something worthwhile with their lives.

    The truth of the matter is, as with every politically-influenced Islamic policy in Malaysia, it reeks of hypocrisy.


  6. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Azizi Khan & Shanon,

    First of all – I completely agree with Azizi that CORRUPTION is just as bad – if not worse. So JAKIM etc should also look into this.

    Second – Shanon – there ARE a few scholars who, like you say, accept secularism. BUT – the majority of Muslim scholars world-wide view secularism as being incompatible with Islam. So I follow the MAJORITY view.

  7. rr says:


    If we sin we ultimately pay for t in the afterlife, [and] not to satisfy some self-appointed do-gooder’s ego who wants to appear holier than thou. [Remember] the story of the surprise visit on the married American tourist couple [in their hotel] suite in Langkawi under the guise of an anti-khalwat raid.

    So much money spent to woo quality tourist dollars to Malaysia and then this PR fiasco. Imagine this in your next tourism brochure: “Come to Langkawi your ideal honeymoon spot and get harassed by clowns whilst you are trying consummate your marriage”. Enough said, I think.

    We can be responsible enough to make our own decisions, after all isn’t complete freedom of worship one of the cornerstones of real democracy.

    Think about it.


  8. Subliminal says:

    It still a mystery why there should be religious policing. This should stop. I don’t think we need perverts in the name of God to tell us what is right or wrong.

  9. Holier than me? says:

    The thing is Dr Syed Alwi, many that carry out the policing are not trained and educated in Islamic Jurisprudence themselves. Some just have SPM. The go around town and abuse people for no apparent reason. They project their holier than thou attitude but at the same time solicit duit kopi by force. I am saddened by the fact that you are defending this lot.

  10. Sha Rheir says:

    Personally, you cannot judge someone’s view on what is moral and what isn’t, and you shouldn’t stick your own sense of what morality is down their throats.

    God never made religion difficult.


  11. Jau says:


    What happened to tolerance?

    There are SO MANY dangers with having the government [involved in enforcing religion]. What about preferential treatment? Lack of human rights? Discrimination and racism? I think there needs to be a great change of policy and how this country is ruled before we can step into the 21st century as a ‘developed’ nation. It’s so medieval to have a religion ruling a country to instill fear to the masses. Fear of not being able to speak out. Fear of having an opinion.

    Hence, the brain drain from this country, sucking the liberal intellectuals out and leaving behind the sheep who only follow what big brother tells them to do.

  12. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear People,

    You may not like the inefficiencies and weaknesses of the Malaysian syariah system. I can understand that. But you cannot demand that Islam be removed from the public scene in Malaysia! The majority of the Malaysian Malays will not accept a dilution of Islam. You have got to accept that political reality. I believe that Islam needs a reform – but I also know that Islam will not reform anytime soon. Not for another 100 years…

    • Hang Jebat says:

      “I believe that Islam needs a reform – but I also know that Islam will not reform anytime soon. Not for another 100 years…”

      Dear Dr Syed Alwi,

      You may have just answered the question: “Why Syariah law should not be implemented in Malaysia?”


  13. newmalaysia says:

    The same thing happened to me too. I was [accused of] khalwat when I was 19 years old. They got the wrong person and they were at the wrong place. The tangkap khalwat procedure is denying us of our human rights. We need to know the proper procedure to protect our privacy and rights.

  14. Ross says:

    Give it another 50 years and the same old Malaysian style exists. Progress? The familiar topics will remain to haunt all Malaysian.

    Even Vietnam and Indonesia are ahead of us in all fields. If you have a choice … leave Malaysia.

    I found and practice progressive Islam in Australia and not third-world mentality Islam like in Malaysia. Ultimately, it is the people and not the land that defines Islam.

  15. Adam says:

    Looking at the way syariah law is made independent of and not subservient to civil law, Malaysia will go the way of Pakistan.

  16. perempuan melayu says:

    I’d love to spend my vacation time in Malaysia, but crap like these is pushing me away to north or south of the border. I hate spending the money outside of the country, but what I hate more is being harassed for having a loving husband.

  17. Face up to stupidity says:

    Good for you to bring up the subject of Khalwat used by some crude Malays on young Malay girls to spy on [them] in the name of Allah.

    Allah never ask the Malays to spy on our daughters, mothers, and sisters to prevent mungkar!


    Just remember the laws are made by these ignorant Umno leaders in cahoots with MCA and MIC. Mahathir was the Umno leader who passed the laws that allows Malay women to be whipped for giving birth out of wedlock.

    And then Wanita UMNO will wipe their tears when babies are left behind..such stupidity.

    The moral is..we can change this. Vote them out! They are just a bunch […] who lack culture for making sex spying their main way of living.


  18. Sharifah says:

    Syed Alwi is your typical jumud Islamist. There is nothing modern about him. “I myself believe that one’s civil liberties should be respected. But such a notion of personal freedom in morality is not tolerated in Islam. After all – moral policing in Islam derives from “amar makruf nahi munkar”. To enjoin what is good and to forbid what is evil – according to Muslim precepts. What is there left to say – short of asking for a reform of Islam ?”

    It is so funny when these jumud malays quote nahi mungkar as an excuse to watch copulating couples and spy on women in Malaysia. To the Chinese couples they will feign morality by saying apa ini memalukan after watching the naked women and shooing them away.


  19. misfit says:

    There is a compilation of “tangkap basah” videos on YouTube taken by the religious officers themselves. Its demeaning, humiliating, and embarrassing! It shouldn’t be on YouTube!!! I would love to put the link here, but I dont want to further embarrass the poor people in the videos. Yeah they were caught berkhalwat! But you shouldn’t have taped them and uploaded it on YouTube. Mengaibkan orang berdosa! Hypocrites! And even if it weren’t religious officers/moral police themselves uploading it on YouTube, it shouldn’t have been taped in the first place to avoid other people uploading it!

  20. A new generation observing, says:

    There are clearly some issues about this ‘system’ that needs to be reviewed and amended. Personally I don’t know enough about this topic to offer a solid say. I was just reading through the comments and was delighted to see that many were arguing in a proper and civilized way because most of the time, when I read the comment box, I see a lot of Malaysians being stern on their beliefs and acting like children insulting each other, attacking parties/issues that was far from the actual topic, instead of finding a sound rebuttal or opening their minds to actually accept that what so and so person had said made sense.

    What does doing that teach the new generation children like me? In the future, when it’s my turn to voice my opinion, to vote, to work, I need to do it the same way that my elders are doing it? I really respect those intellectuals who actually took their time to research and provide evidence for their argument. I want you to know that it doesn’t all fall on deaf ears. Those who have awakened and realised how the country is “in trouble”, that it will “surely fall”… [will they] simply abandon it now? Or move to another country? Serve another land [with] your genius mind when the place that nurtured you dies?

    This is just my humble observation, a child’s view of a simple comment box. I just pray that the next time someone reads a comment box relating to Malaysia, he/she will read paragraphs of beautiful Malaysian minds.

  21. Thank you for your observations about our comment section 🙂 Part of the reason we have the kind of comments we have on our site is because of our comments policy:

    I like to think about it as this is The Nut Graph’s garden. And what we choose to grow in it determines what kind of plants and trees we have. I think we have cultivated a garden of healthy fruit trees by keeping the weeds out of our garden. And as a result, we also tend to attract just the kind of comments that will keep our garden healthy.

  22. There are some very odd bits and pieces that appear like patchwork in this article which really is out of place unless one seeks to villify Islam, a staple objective of the The Nut Graph.

    Khlawat or the offence of illicit or immoral intimacy between unmarried persons is crudely and in a grammatically and legally incorrect and inferior way, described by Malaysian lawyers as, being the offence of “close proximity”.

    Close proximity is an incomplete statement (in grammar) and therefore cannot in its presently defined form constitute any offence.

    One is in close proximity to one’s family, other passengers in a commuter, furniture in the office and other patrons in a retaurant in everyday life. Now how does that constitute an offence in the strict interpretation of the definition of Khalwat as it presently stands? Is that not itself ridiculous? Perhaps one ought to ask the Malaysian Bar why in their infinite wisdom they have not sought to correct the defect in the definition of Khalwat.

    A second and more glaring oddity in your article is about the “Selangor Islamic Affairs Department denying involvement”.That statement is about as inconclusive as the term “close proximity” for khalwat.

    What the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department denies involvment in is not stated. Is there therefore a suggestion that they were complicit or responsible for a man choosing to jump out of a tall building to his death?

    More important and critical to your continued slander and villifcation of Islam using isolated events like that of Mona Abu Bakar’s experience is to remember that “one swallow does not a summer make”. More important to remember is this: all laws including the English, US, European and Malaysian laws are to a very large extent based on morality. That includes their penal codes. I challenge your legal writers to rebut my statemnt in this regard.

    The only question we ought to concern ourselves with in this respect is whose morality should prevail.

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