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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sheriff shoots down khalwat raids, moral policing

Former finance ministry secretary-general Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim has questioned whether an offence like khalwat (close proximity) should continue to be criminalised.

His question came after a police personnel died while another was hurt when they were trying to avoid being caught for khalwat in two separate raids by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) earlier this month.

Sheriff, who is part of the civil society group G25, said the implementation of such raids under syariah law had often brought embarrassment to the country’s justice system.

Pointing out how some ulama (religious scholars) have called the khalwat raids “anti-Islamic” as they give the impression that Islam uses punishment as the only way to uphold moral values, Sheriff also cited Malays who have visited Gulf states.

"(They) say they have not come across any Arab country that uses the moral police to conduct raids into the privacy of homes or hotel rooms in search of khalwat offenders," said Sheriff.

He also noted how state policing of moral values was difficult to enforce with fairness as the poorer citizens are often targetted.

“The rich and powerful get away with bigger sins, especially when they have strong political connections or can afford to keep their mistresses in posh apartments.

“It’s a law which can be easily exploited to spy and report on your nasty neighbour or your stingy friend in order to get even with him or her.”

'Saudi limits powers'

Meanwhile, citing Saudi Arabia, Sheriff said the country had issued stern guidelines to limit the powers of the moral police to harass and arrest.

“The instruction is that the moral police should not take the law into their own hands and instead, it should advise those committing offences under the morality laws to change and repent.

“The country's elites are also beginning to acknowledge that its brand of Islamic fundamentalism is responsible for inspiring religious extremism and terrorism all over the Muslim world.”

Malaysian authorities, therefore, should learn from the failed experience of dictatorial regimes that had criminalised personal thought and behaviour to discourage individualism and promote mass obedience to the state ideology, said Sheriff.

“All their laws and political indoctrinations failed to save the regimes from collapsing when their people decided to rise against the dictatorships,” he pointed out.

To develop as a progressive Muslim country, Sheriff believes that the country needs reforms on the administration of Islam to bring it up to high standards of justice and facilitate social progress.

“Above all, we need politics to be free from race and religion so as to create the space for national unity to grow and inspire all races to work together in building a prosperous and happy country.”

Khalwat raids have been a source of controversy, with critics saying it was un-Islamic to spy on others in order to catch them in sin.

Islamic affairs agencies were also condemned for allowing media coverage of the raids, with tabloids publishing salacious photographs of busted couples in states of undress. - Msiakini

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