In light of the recent furore over the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) iron-fisted decision to ban the Muslim feminist non-governmental organisation, Sisters In Islam, and to severely punish its members if found to conduct “un-Islamic” activities, a joint statement on behalf of a democratic Malaysian society has been released for the consideration of PAS members and those who share their views:
We the undersigned are deeply disturbed by the call on the part of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) to have Sisters in Islam (SIS) banned and its members rehabilitated should its activities be determined to be contrary to the Islamic shariah. It is apparent to us that in making the call in the manner that it has, PAS has already formed the view that SIS should be banned and its activities brought to an end.
While we respect the freedom of members of PAS to associate in a manner that they consider appropriate or warranted as well as their freedom to express a view in association on such matters as they see fit, the members of SIS, or any other organization for that matter, are equally guaranteed those freedoms. No one person or organization has a monopoly over the right to express views on matter of public importance. The call to silence SIS and send its members for rehabilitation is an act of violence against those freedoms and their constitutional underpinnings. It also lends itself to further closure of the already narrow space of public discourse and debate that a slew of anti-expression laws have allowed Malaysians.
For Malaysia to mature into the democracy that Malaysians aspire to, it is vital that diversity, even of views, be protected and nurtured. Respect for the freedoms guaranteed to all Malaysians by the Federal Constitution, be they members of PAS or any other organization or simply individuals, is crucial to this endeavor.
The demand for action against SIS culminating in a ban is not easily reconciled with PAS public rhetoric in favour of a more democratic and inclusive Malaysia. On the contrary, the demand is wholly anti-democratic. We reiterate that though members of PAS are entitled to their views, the call for the banning of SIS is wholly unacceptable. As a matter of principle, the question of banning any organization purely for their views should not arise at all. Differences of views must be respected and, if at all, be resolved through constructive engagement.
In view of this, we urge PAS to reconsider its position and take such steps as are necessary to retract the call for action against SIS.
Sisters In Islam represents one the few, if not the most formidable, critical voices against the discrimination of Muslim women in Malaysia. Their dedication in reforming the Islamic family law has been shared by women’s organisations from around the world, culminating in the groundbreaking Musawah conference last February. For an Islamic political party to express contempt for an organisation that lives and breathes for Muslim women is shooting itself in the foot and exposing itself as dangerously intolerant and anti-women.