Malaysia: Ban lifted on Sisters in Islam book

The Star

The [Sisters in Islam] SIS Forum (Malaysia) succeeded in throwing out the Home Minister’s order banning its 215-page book, Muslim Women and the Challenges of Islamic Extremism. High Court judge Justice Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof on Monday ruled that the book is not a threat to public order. He said the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia’s (Jakim) objection to the book was that it could confuse Muslims, especially those who with only a superficial knowledge of their religion, as the publication explains Islamic teachings according to the writers’ own views.

“Can this disrupt public order? I think not.

“Only seven pages out of 215-page book are said to have offended the guidelines by Jakim, and those came from only two of 10 articles published in the book.

“I fail to find objective evidence to support the facts (to ban the book),” he said.

Justice Mohamad Ariff said the book had also been in circulation for over two years before it was banned by the then Home Minister, adding that the publication was academic in nature.

The book is a compilation of essays based on research carried out by renowned international scholars and activists.

In stressing his points, Justice Mohamad Ariff said it has been established that there was an error of law in the decision made by the minister.

He said the the minister’s decision was illegal and irrational, opening it for a correction by the court.

Therefore, Justice Mohamad Ariff said he would allow the judicial review application by SIS Forum for an order to quash the minister’s order.

The judge also ordered the minister to pay costs to the SIS Forum. He said he would supply his written judgment in due course, perhaps in two days.

Speaking to reporters later, SIS Forum lawyer K. Shanmuga said it is a good decision as “the High Court had adopted the modern approach which gives fundamental liberty more emphasis.”

On July 31, 2008, the prohibition order of the SIS publication was gazetted on the basis that the book was prejudical to public order.

On Dec 15, 2008, the SIS Forum applied for leave for a judicial review to quash the July 2, 2008 order banning the book.

The book, published in October 2005, is a compilation of essays based on research carried out by renowned international scholars and 18 women activists on the impact of fundamentalist Muslim movements on women rights.

It has 10 chapters which were edited by Associate Professor Norani Othman, who said the ruling Monday was important for academic freedom.

It was originally made up of “country research papers” prepared for a conference called the “International Roundtable on Muslim Women and the Challenge of Religious Extremism: Building Bridges between South-east Asia and the Middle East,” held in Bellagio, Italy from Sept 30 to Oct 2, 2003.

On Aug 26 last year, the court granted leave to challenge the banning of the book in an application that named then Home Minister Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar as the sole respondent.

Lead counsel Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, who represented SIS, had on last Dec 21 contended that the minister was concerned with the likelihood of confusion among Muslims which comes under the jurisdiction of the state authority.

Malik contended that the minister had relied on a Jakim guideline to ban the book when the guideline itself has no force of law.

He further stressed that “the works are of academic nature and aim to highlight problematic areas and approaches to the administration of Islam.”

Monday January 25, 2010