The department known by its Malay acronym JAWI, is investigating if Sisters in Islam had questioned a fatwa or religious edict, banning Muslim women from taking part in beauty pageants.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Ratna Osman, the executive director of Sisters in Islam
OSMAN: They feel that they want to investigate us based on our press statement last week, then by all means, they can investigate. And we stand by our statement, where we question how is it that fatwa when it's gazetted will have an effect of law, because the fact that we question because of traditionally what fatwa has always been in Islam. It's never about having that force of law or if fatwa itself being compulsory for Muslims to adopt or to agree with, because this is inconsistent historically, even not mentioned in the Koran, of what fatwa is supposed to be.
Fatwa is a legal opinion that is supposed to help Muslims to answer questions.
LAM: JAWI says its director Che Mat Che Ali, says that sisters in Islam could be investigated under the Sharia Offences Act. Have you sought legal advice on the matter?
OSMAN: Of course, we've referred to our lawyers, but then again, I mean what we said in our statement is very clear of what fatwa's supposed to be for Muslims.
And that is the main point in our statement, that fatwa is supposed to resolve the maslahah ummah (public interest), for the best interest of the people, referring to the makkan and the zaman, referring to the place and time of society. So in this case, what we question is that how fatwa, a legal opinion can not go through the normal process of law in Malaysia, that once it's gazetted has a force of law, that means anyone who doesn't follow that is punishable under the Sharia Criminal Offences Act.
LAM: But presumably JAWI, this peak Islamic body, it's functioning as part of the federal government, is it not?
OSMAN: Yes, it is...
LAM: So is it empowered to issue fatwas?
OSMAN: They are empowered once it's gazetted, because once it's gazetted, fatwa becomes law. So they have that jurisdiction, yes.
LAM: And just very briefly Ratna Osman. What is Sisters in Islam stance on beauty pageants, this is how the whole thing started. Do you think Muslim women should be excluded from the pageants? I mean they do attract a rather popular following in Malaysia, and young women are proud to represent their country?
OSMAN: Well, we the beauty pageant itself, for us it's up the individual. We're not even promoting, if you look at our statement. We're not saying that beauty pageant is the way to go for Muslim women to expose themselves or to run in a beauty contest.
What we're saying is that fatwa should not be regulated to control a Muslim's life and why is it so much harp on how Muslim women should dress and how she should behave. And even in this particular beauty pageant, in this particular beauty contest, it clearly shows that they said for Muslim women, you're allowed to wear long pants and you're not required to wear the swimming costume.