Malaysian Muslims who challenged sharia expansion in Kelantan hit out at death threats, ‘vitriolic campaign’

Malaysian Muslims who challenged sharia expansion in Kelantan hit out at death threats, ‘vitriolic campaign’

Two Malaysian Muslim women who successfully challenged the expansion of sharia law in Kelantan state hit back at their detractors on Monday, after receiving death threats and having their faith questioned in a “vitriolic campaign” which has failed to understand the ruling.

Tengku Yasmin Nastasha, who filed the legal challenge against the Kelantan legislature alongside her mother, lawyer Nik Elin Zurina Nik Abdul Rashid, said in a post on X that “the vitriolic campaign waged against us by adversaries manifested in baseless allegations, portraying us as threats to the sanctity of Islam in our nation”.

On Friday, the Federal Court ruled in favour of Nik Elin and Yasmin, saying that the state legislature of Islamist-ruled Kelantan state had indeed overstepped on federal jurisdiction and struck out 16 of 18 legal provisions from the state sharia code.

The basis of the ruling was over the separation of power between Malaysia’s federal government and its 13 states, rather than any question of faith.

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An aerial view of Kota Bharu city, Kelantan. Photo: Shutterstock

Yet the case has sparked vigorous public debate across a nation where Islamist politicians scent electoral advantage in hot-button religious issues, while opponents – including among the Muslim majority – are seeking to pull the sting from the culture wars engulfing the country.

“If only they would take the time to read and understand the laws and the reasons behind the challenge, they would understand,” Nik Elin said in a podcast with Malaysian newspaper The New Straits Times on Saturday.

The opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition has ridden a wave of Islamic issues and characterised the case as an attack on Islam and the sharia court in Malaysia.

Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who leads PN, said the ruling meant legal action could no longer be taken against Muslims in Kelantan for committing acts such as offering sexual gratification, incest and intoxication.

“I believe that this decision also saddens the majority of Muslims in this country,” the former prime minister said.

But his comments were pilloried as being deliberately divisive and “spreading fake news”, according to Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil.

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Aside from being invalidated for being unconstitutional, the 16 sharia provisions struck out also overlaps with existing provisions in the Penal Code which already criminalise such acts.

Muhyiddin’s remark is also contrary to the preamble outlined by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, who stressed that the issue being decided before her and eight of the country’s top judges is whether the Kelantan State Legislature makes the contentious laws per the limitations determined by the Federal Constitution or otherwise.

“In other words, the issue before us has nothing to do with the position of Islam or the Syariah (Shariah) Court in this country,” she said.

Commenting on the matter, Malay sociologist Awang Azman Awang Pawi said that PN was nakedly using the ruling to stir up sentiment against the government.

“This shows how ignorant PN is to the law or it is wilfully being done to stir sentiment of Malay Muslims so that they will blame the government,” Awang Azman told This Week in Asia.

Aside from Muhyiddin, other leaders of PN also took to social media to rile up their supporters, including former deputy youth and sports minister Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal, calling the legal challenge an effort to secularise the lives of Muslims through politics and law by “these unnatural parties”.

“Just as we fought against the Western colonialists before, we will also continue to fight against the scoundrels who try to strip the ties of Islam in Malaysia,” he said.

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