Sis forum fails in appeal to quash fatwa labelling it deviant

14 Mar 2023 05:25pm
Image for illustrative purposes only. - FILE PIX
Image for illustrative purposes only. - FILE PIX

PUTRAJAYA - Woman's rights group Sis Forum (Malaysia) has lost its appeal in the Court of Appeal to quash a fatwa issued by the Selangor religious authorities labelling the company as deviant from the teachings of Islam.

The decision was delivered by a three-member bench comprising Justices Datuk Has Zanah Mehat, Datuk Che Mohd Ruzima Ghazali and Datuk M. Gunalan in a 2-1 majority decision.

The majority decision came from Justices Has Zanah and Che Mohd Ruzima while Justice Gunalan dissented.

The court, however, granted an interim stay order to prevent execution by the state religious authorities of the fatwa following a request made by Sis Forum's lawyer Datuk Malik Imtiaz Sarwar who informed the court that they intend to file an Erinford injunction application for the status quo to be preserved while the company takes the matter to the Federal Court.

Justice Che Mohd Ruzima, who delivered the court's majority decision held that there was no merit in the appeal brought by Sis Forum.

He said it was the court's view that the fatwa which was prepared by the Selangor State Fatwa Committee was not a final decision and thus cannot be challenged through a judicial review application.

Che Mohd Ruzima said a provision in the Administration of the Religion of Islam (State of Selangor) Enactment 2003 provides that a fatwa can be changed though amendment, modification or revocation.

"It means the applicant (Sis Forum) can at any time appeal to the first respondent (Selangor State Fatwa Committee) to review the fatwa if it can be proven that their ‘ideologies and belief’ does not fall under the purview of liberalism and pluralism," he said.

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He also said that the fatwa did not go against Article 5 (liberty of a person) and Article 8 (all persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law) of the Federal Constitution.

The fatwa which was gazetted by the Selangor State government on July 31, 2014, had declared that SIS Forum, any individual, as well as groups that adopted the deviant ideologies of liberalism and pluralism, were deviating from the teachings of Islam. The fatwa also directed that any publications containing liberal and plural views of Islam should be banned and confiscated and further directs the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to censor social websites which goes against Islamic teaching and hukum syarak. The fatwa also directed that any individuals holding on to liberalism and religious pluralism beliefs should repent and return to the path of Islam.

In his dissenting decision, Justice Gunalan said the High Court erred when it dismissed SIS Forum's judicial review on Aug 27, 2019, adding that the fatwa could not be applied to Sis Forum as it is a company and not capable of professing the religion of Islam.

He said the High Court had no basis to lift the corporate veil on SIS Forum and make a finding that the controlling minds of the company are Muslim and therefore the company itself could be considered as professing the Islamic faith.

On August 27, 2019, the High Court dismissed the judicial review application filed by SIS Forum, its founder Zainah Mahfoozah Anwar and former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mohd Zaid Ibrahim. This prompted them to appeal to the Court of Appeal.

In their judicial review, they sought for a certiorari order to quash the fatwa.

In today's proceedings conducted online, lawyers Fahri Azzat and A.Surendra Ananth also appeared for SIS Forum, lawyer Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar acted for the Selangor State Fatwa Committee, Yusfarizal Yussoff represented the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) and Selangor state legal adviser Datuk Salim Soib@Hamid represented the Selangor Government.

Meanwhile, when contacted by Bernama, Surendra Ananth said they would file leave to appeal to the Federal Court. - BERNAMA