SIS fails to quash Selangor fatwa

Sisters in Islam lawyer Surendra Ananth with executive director Rozana Isa (right) and programme manager Shareena Sheriff.

KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court here today dismissed the application by women’s rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) to challenge a fatwa against them by the Selangor religious authorities five years ago.

Judge Nordin Hassan said the decision by the fatwa committee was in accordance with state enactments.

“The Federal Constitution under Article 121A says matters related to shariah law should be under the jurisdiction of state laws.

“The civil courts have no jurisdiction to hear issues related to shariah state laws,” he said.

SIS had sought to quash the 2014 fatwa by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (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 for hearing after receiving consent from 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.

Nordin, in his judgment today, said SIS can still seek remedy in the Selangor Shariah High Court through judicial review applications.

“Section 66A of the state enactment allows aggrieved parties to file reviews at state shariah courts without any time frame,” he said.

He also disagreed with SIS’ argument that the state religious authorities have no power over it as it is a company.

“The company and directors of SIS Forum are Muslims, and their activities relate to Islamic laws. The fatwa is applicable,” he said.

The court ordered SIS to pay RM10,000 in costs to the Selangor government and Mais.

SIS executive director Rozana Isa said the group was disappointed with the ruling.

“This is a damning decision on Muslim women’s rights and for Malaysians in general,” she said.

However, she said SIS would continue working for women’s rights.

She said she would discuss the next course of action with SIS’ lawyers, including whether to file an appeal or to challenge the fatwa in the shariah courts.

Social activist Marina Mahathir said the court’s decision sets a dangerous precedent.

“As I understand it, if a Muslim sits as a company’s director, he or she may be dealt with under shariah laws,” she said.