Pluralism, liberalism not crimes, one lawyer tells off another

Debra Chong
Lawyer Rosli Dahlan (pic) has taken on several high-profile cases including representing the Muslim law intellect Kassim Ahmad and defended the manager of a Borders bookstore for selling a book by a Canadian Muslim deemed unIslamic. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 16 — Lawyer Rosli Dahlan today called out fellow legal practitioner Datuk Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar whom he accused of issuing reckless and misleading statements denouncing pluralism and liberalism as criminal.

Rosli has taken on several high-profile cases including representing the Muslim law intellect Kassim Ahmad and defended the manager of a Borders bookstore for selling a book by a Canadian Muslim deemed unIslamic.

“This statement is reckless,” he said in a statement, referring to Zainul’s reported remarks during a seminar at the launch of the Selangor gazette book in Shah Alam earlier this week.

Zainul, the President of Persatuan Peguam Muslim Malaysia, was reported by news portal Malaysiakini to have said that pluralism and liberalism are prosecutable “criminal offences”, whether in a Shariah court or the civil courts.

The controversial lawyer had claimed the two philosophies were “thought crimes”, and that only four states did not have the relevant laws that allowed for such prosecution, naming Penang, the Federal Territories, Sabah and Sarawak.

“The Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997, the Syariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995 and their equivalent in all other state shariah enactments do not list ‘pluralism’ or ‘liberalism’ as a crime per se. Dato’ Zainul’s reliance on Sections 5, 7, 13 and 14 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995 as a basis of his statement is misleading.

“None of the provisions cited by him make any express mention of the words ‘pluralism’ and ‘liberalism’,” Rosli said in his rebuttal.

“To the contrary, the Rukun Negara which was gazetted on 31st August 1970 as the National Policy recognises that Malaysia is a plural society and must ensure “a liberal approach to our rich and diverse cultural traditions,” he added.

To back his assertion, he pointed to the official website of the Department of National Unity and Integration which explained the Rukun Negara and pluralism as well as liberalism.

Rosli also clarified that the Shariah prosecution of Sisters In Islam, a Muslim women’s advocacy group, was for its alleged breach of a fatwa and not for “pluralism” or “liberalism” as claimed.

“The fatwa in question is being challenged for being in contravention of, amongst others, Article 10 and 11 of the Federal Constitution which provide for Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion.

“It is not appropriate to cite that case as being a case on ‘pluralism’ or ‘liberalism’,” he said.

He also pointed out that the Islamic religious authorities had tried to persecute his former client Kassim, but added that the superior courts had later overrode the Shariah court judgment and ruled the author’s views were his constitutional freedom of expression.

“Shariah and Malay intellectuals should refrain from making sensational statements that do not represent the correct law that may unnecessarily alarm society and paint a negative image of Islam,” Rosli said.

Zainul’s reported remarks during the seminar and launched that was attended by the Sultan of Selangor and the state mentri besar are consistent with his views over the years that have demonised certain sections of civil society for being liberal or promoting a plurality in multireligious, multicultural Malaysia.

Religious conservatism in the country appear to be enjoying a resurgence even as minority groups, including those advocating equal rights for the LGBT community, become more vocal.

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