Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development Must Respect Fatwa Religious Authorities in NGO Funding

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https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2019/03/474293/stop-defaming-women-human-rights-defenders

We refer to the above article addressing the financial support pledged by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to the organisation known as Sisters in Islam (SIS).

SIS is well-known for their views that do not represent normative Islam of the majority. In the above report, the Joint Action Group (JAG) asserted that it ‘is highly irresponsible to dismiss the freedom of individuals and organisations in Malaysia to express their religious beliefs in diverse ways’.

We would like to caution the Ministry and JAG that expressing Islam in ‘diverse ways’ without scholarly guidance of the majority leads to many diabolical outcomes, ranging from the deranged manifestations of the Ayah Pin cult to more violent forms as seen in Al-Qaeda and ISIS. This suggestion by JAG should be promptly called out and discarded.

The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development should indeed work hand in hand with the different agencies in the country in pursuing its objectives. However, it is has thrown caution to the wind by deciding to award financial assistance to SIS which has been declared deviant since 2014 by the Selangor Fatwa Committee and Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Majlis Agama Islam Selangor or MAIS) for their many publicly stated positions which are blatantly against the Syariah.

This fatwa was made in the interest of protecting and respecting the majority conservative Muslims and should not be sidelined by the Ministry. It would behoove the Ministry to seek counsel from the multitude of government authorities available before making such rash decisions without thinking of the consequences. Agencies such as the Prime Minister’s Department or JAKIM or any of the state religious bodies would be able to offer sensible advice.

Another concerning aspect to this issue is the fact that the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development had convened a Special Project Team looking into writing a Gender Equality Act which will be tabled in Parliament next year. Team members comprise of several ministries, JAKIM and women’s NGOs, including JAG which SIS is a part of. This Special Project Team will discuss the Gender Equality Act as a mechanism to protect women from discrimination in various facets of life. SIS has insisted that the government fully adopts the framework of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) despite the concerns that a few provisions in CEDAW contravene with Syariah Law in Malaysia.

The financial assistance to SIS therefore begs the question of whether the Ministry will demonstrate impartiality when writing the Bill. It presents a conflict of interest as it appears that the ministry is leaning towards the ideology that SIS is promoting, especially considering SIS’ fringe reputation up to the point that a fatwa was actually made against it. Did this not ring any alarm bells?

The issue of difficulties in obtaining legal assistance in matters regarding marriage, divorce and child custody is one of genuine and urgent concern. However, there are many parties which have been lending their assistance in this matter. These include the Legal Aid Department under the  Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department and the free legal aid bureaus of many syariah law faculties. Why not strengthen these agencies instead?

Therefore we sincerely hope that Dato’ Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as the minister in charge of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development will review the decision of awarding financial assistance to Sisters in Islam as this will send a truly perplexing message to the public.

Associate Professor Dr Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar
President
Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ)

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