KUALA LUMPUR: Calls have been renewed for closer supervision of the country’s Islamic authorities, in the wake of the recent arrest of vocal lawyer Siti Kasim which critics say has tarnished the new government’s image.
Two prominent Muslims who have had run-ins with Malaysia’s religious bureaucracy in the past said the episode last weekend showed it was time the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government reined in government Islamic agencies.
Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, whose group Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) has frequently spoken out against the repression of Muslims by Islamic agencies, questioned the swift manner in which police had acted on the complaint reportedly lodged with the Selangor Islamic Department (Jais), accusing Siti of “abducting” a client who had sought refuge in her house.
“Her arrest only proves that the little Napoleons in Jais still think they are living in the era of the old repressive regime,” Farouk told FMT.
He questioned if the same level of “efficiency” was shown by police in the case of Umno division leader Jamal Yunos, who vanished without signing his bail papers soon after he was charged last month.
“The swift action of the police only showed that they can act swiftly when cajoled by the religious authorities but are incompetent when handling issues like Jamal disappearing right under their very eyes,” he said.
Lawyers and activists have slammed the arrest of Siti, who was accused of kidnapping 24-year-old Anis Nur Izzaty Ruslan, whom Siti claimed was abused by her mother.
Anis had sought refuge in Siti’s house but was picked up by police after a complaint lodged by her mother with Jais, claiming that her daughter’s faith was under threat.
During her detention at the Kajang district police headquarters, Anis was heard denying that Siti had kidnapped her.
Siti was arrested late on Saturday after she confronted police officers, demanding an explanation for their intrusion of her house.
Rule of law
Academic and novelist Faizal Musa, better known by his pen name Faisal Tehrani, said Siti’s arrest only strengthened the argument for the government to rein in Islamic agencies as well as the police.
“Only with clear supervision of the enforcement agencies can we rid the nation of corruption, right the wrongs and restore public confidence,” Faisal said.
Faisal, who has known Siti for five years, said he regarded her as the symbol of “rule of law”.
“She has defended the marginalised communities, including the Orang Asli and transgenders.
“On issues of religious minorities such as the Ahmadis and Shias, she has been vocal at public forums,” said Faisal, whose seven published works are still under a ban imposed by the previous government over claims that they contain Shia Muslim undertones.
Shia Islam, the dominant school of thought in several parts of the Middle East, is frowned upon by Malaysia’s religious authorities who label it deviant.
Farouk meanwhile questioned what he called the “indifference” shown by the minister in charge of women’s affairs, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is also the deputy prime minister.
Hours after Siti’s arrest made news headlines, Wan Azizah reportedly said she was unaware of the incident, and that it was a matter for the police to settle.
“Her silence is deafening,” said Farouk, referring to Wan Azizah.
“This will definitely embolden the religious bigots in Jais and the likes to behave like mafia, which has been their trademark.”
He said Siti may have come across to some as “loud and unconventional”, but that did not justify an intrusion of her privacy in the middle of the night.
“What wrong did Siti do? Giving shelter to her client who sought her help was considered a crime? Why must the police arrest Siti for abduction when the client voluntarily sought Siti’s protection?” he asked.