Apex court to decide if fatwa dispute should go to civil or shariah court

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PUTRAJAYA: The Selangor government and its state religious authorities have won the right to argue whether the civil or Islamic court has jurisdiction to hear a constitutional challenge to a “fatwa” (religious edict).

A three-man Federal Court bench chaired by Chief Justice Raus Sharif today allowed the applicants’ leave application to appeal against a Court of Appeal ruling.

” The applicants have met the threshold (under Section 96 of the Courts of Judicature Act ) to obtain leave,” he said.

Raus said despite numerous past decisions (of the Federal Court), the questions posed had an effect on several provisions in the Federal Constitution.

Two other key questions would also be raised during the appeal.

One is whether the presence of government lawyers from the Attorney-General’s Chambers in the High Court is presumed to represent the state religious authorities.

In Malaysia, Islamic religious affairs come under the jurisdiction of state governments.

The other question is whether a company that uses the name of Islam and is controlled by those who profess the religion may be interpreted as “Islamic” within the meaning of Section 2 of the Administration of Religion of Islam (Selangor) Enactment 2003.

On March 2, the Court of Appeal said the civil court had jurisdiction to hear a complaint by Islamic non-governmental organisation Sisters in Islam (SIS), the group’s co-founder Zainah Mahfoozah Anwar and former federal minister Mohd Zaid Ibrahim.

A three-man bench chaired by Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat also ordered the merit of the case to be heard before a new High Court judge.

On June 24 last year, Justice Hanipah Farikullah ruled that civil courts had no power to hear cases pertaining to religious matters such as “fatwa” .

She had said the civil court had no jurisdiction to grant the remedies the NGO was seeking as the issue of “fatwa”was under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Shariah Court.

On Oct 31, 2014, SIS , Mahfoozah and Zaid filed an application for a court order to revoke the “fatwa” decision that SIS subscribed to liberalism and religious pluralism, and had deviated from Islamic teachings.

Selangor state legal adviser Nik Suhaimi Nik Sulaiman represented the government, Yusfarizal Yussoff the Selangor Islamic Religious Affairs Council and Sulaiman Abdullah the Selangor Fatwa Committee.

Counsel A Surendra Ananth appeared for SIS and two others.