PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has been reminded not to forget the “many outstanding issues” following its pledge to be more tolerant in handling Islamic matters.
This was in response to a statement by Jakim director-general Mohamad Nordin Ibrahim that enforcement by its officers would now be done only as a “last resort”, and those “slipping” away from the religious path would be advised and guided instead.
Muslim women’s rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) said in a statement that while Nordin’s remarks pointed towards a more tolerant approach on Islamic matters, it was hoped that Jakim would also work on solving other important issues.
“SIS would like to remind Jakim that many outstanding issues remain to be resolved in Malaysia, including the age of marriage for Muslims and the unilateral conversion of minors to Islam,” it said.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of religion, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, has said that Jakim is not an enforcement agency but a group aimed at educating those who want to learn more about Islam.
In Malaysia, the legal minimum age for marriage under civil law is 18 years. Islamic law sets the minimum age requirement for girls at 16 but permits even earlier marriages with the permission of a shariah court.
The Federal Court has declared that the consent of both parents is needed to change a child’s religion, ending years of legal debate over the matter.
SIS said it was grateful to the new government for taking steps to review the administration of Islam in the country, as Islam in Malaysia had long been branded as harsh and inhumane.
“We have always advocated against incidents where Islamic authorities have overstepped their authority or treated minority groups harshly, and so on,” it said.
SIS was hopeful Jakim would be open to listening to diverse viewpoints and engaging more proactively with NGOs and women’s rights groups.
The Shariah Law Committee of the Bar Council also welcomed Jakim’s “softer approach”, stating that it was the correct move.
“Advice, guidance, and education should be used instead of moral policing and arrests. After all, repentance and forgiveness are the virtues in Islam,” Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari, the head of the committee, told FMT.
Jakim was formally established as part of the Prime Minister’s Department in 1997. Among its responsibilities is to determine the halal validity of products from the consumer food sector, which is worth billions of ringgit.
The establishment regularly receives criticism over its annual budget of nearly RM1 billion.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had previously defended Jakim which he said was aimed at bringing the government in line with Islamic teachings. This came after speculation that the agency might be disbanded.