By Zaid Ibrahim
The Jabatan Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan (JAWI) has made its final decision that the four Muslim girls are prohibited from participating in the Miss Malaysia World 2013 beauty contest.
There’s nothing surprising about this considering the condemnation unleashed by Muslim leaders on the poor girls before the decision was made.
If it’s any help, I want to express my support for these brave young Malaysians. They should not feel ashamed of what they have done or what they dream of doing. They were not trying to cheat anyone or plunder the nation’s wealth. They were just trying to maximise their talents and find a good career, perhaps in modelling or acting.
They want to, and should, maximise their talents. There is nothing shameful in trying to better oneself in an open competition. They must feel gutted for having been denied a golden opportunity perhaps to improve their professional development. They have been denied this by people who have no regard for their welfare.
I am disappointed not just for the girls. I am disappointed with the organisers who “chickened out”. I am disappointed with the Bar Council, with Anwar Ibrahim the liberal Islamist, the DAP and those out there who always talk about freedom and living in a free country, but who do nothing and say nothing about defending a very simple principle.
That principle is this: Malaysia is a democracy. It is a country founded on freedom and liberty. If people have forgotten, they should go back to the Proclamation of Independence of our truly great leader Tunku Abdul Rahman.
This issue is not about the beauty contest per se, nor is it about morality and religious values.
It’s about living in a society that cherishes personal freedom and liberty. “Freedom has its limits”, of course, but those limits must themselves be limited by laws passed by Parliament.
No one else should be allowed to regulate the lives of the people, Muslims included, for to allow this would be to make a mockery of the legislative process and the representatives of the Rakyat. Don’t think that advocates of freedom ignore morality, because we value good morality. What is offensive is authoritarian rule exerted under the veneer of religion.
I know some lawyers who will tell you that the Federal Court in the Sulaiman Takrib case ruled that a fatwa is “delegated legislation” and therefore it can be issued by the National Fatwa Committee on a wide range of issues.
I say that the Federal Court is wrong – absolutely wrong – because it did not have the benefit of fuller and more detailed arguments. It did not reflect and contemplate on larger issues. It did not fully consider the legal and constitutional ramifications of its decision.
It did not have the time to discuss fully why the items needed to be spelt out under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution if the State Assembly (or Fatwa Committee) indeed has unlimited powers to legislate.
The Federal Court did not have the opportunity to hear arguments on the meaning of “personal laws, family laws and Islamic laws” in the larger context of the Constitution where fundamental liberties are sacrosanct. Today, the only way for the Federal Court to revisit the issue is if political leaders, the Bar Council, civil society and beauty pageant organisers are willing to defend our rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
Politicians must want to preserve and protect the principles of the Proclamation of our Independence. In other words, they must want to protect a free country. Obviously they are interested only in paying lip-service.
Today it’s shisha smoking, beauty contests, hair salons. Tomorrow we will have prohibitions on women engaging in sports and body-building contests — or even driving. Or we will have prohibitions against men wearing shorts. Maybe music and movies will be the next casualty after that. And the list will go on.
You might think that the issue of the beauty contest is a small one but it is above all a matter of principle. If we give in to this, we will eventually have to give in to even more outrageous things for we will have lost the moral courage to stand up for what is right.
I will check with my friends who are more learned about the law, especially on issue of locus standi, and I may institute legal action against JAWI because I want the Federal Court to revisit this issue.
As I said, this is a matter I consider to be of the utmost importance for the future of Malaysia. And I am not alone on this. – Malaysian Insider
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.