Fatwas only ‘scholarly opinion’, cannot be legally challenged, court told

KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court hearing a challenge by women’s rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) against the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) was told today that a fatwa is merely a scholarly opinion and cannot be reviewed in court.

Lawyer Yusfarizal Yussoff, representing Mais, said fatwas do not fall under the jurisdiction of the state administration.

“A fatwa is merely an opinion by muftis on Islamic principles. It cannot be challenged through judicial review applications in civil courts,” he said.

SIS had sought to quash a 2014 fatwa by Mais stating that the rights group subscribes to liberalism and religious pluralism and deviates from the teachings of Islam.

The Federal Court remitted the case to the High Court after receiving consent from the relevant parties, namely SIS, the state fatwa committee, Mais and the Selangor government.

The consent allowed the religious authorities to raise any issue, including whether the High Court has jurisdiction to hear the case brought by SIS, the group’s co-founder Zainah Mahfoozah Anwar and former federal minister Zaid Ibrahim.

Yusfarizal also told the court today that the state’s religious officials have authority over the group on grounds that it bears the word “Islam” in its name.

“The company constitution states that the directors must be Muslim,” he added.

“Although the company itself cannot profess a religion, Islamic elements can be attached to it.”

This argument was raised by SIS lawyer Surendra Ananth, who cited previous court rulings stating that a company cannot profess a religion.

“The fatwa committee acted beyond its powers in imposing the fatwa,” he added.

He said the fatwa had also violated federal laws in ordering the seizure and ban of any items related to SIS and telling the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to block websites related to liberalism and religious pluralism.

“The home minister can only make orders to seize and ban items under the Printing Presses and Publication Act,” he said.

High Court judge Nordin Hassan set Aug 20 for a decision.

He also ordered SIS, the state government and Islamic authorities named in the legal challenge to file further submissions on a state Islamic enactment provision allowing the shariah high courts in Selangor to hear judicial review cases against Islamic authorities.

The order comes after Selangor state legal adviser Masri Daud raised the the Section 66A amendment of the Administration of Islamic Law (Selangor) Enactment.