MALAYSIA - Fatwa are only advisory opinions to guide a Muslim to lead a life according to Islam.
I wonder how many Malaysians know that under the Syariah Criminal Offences laws of this country, it is a criminal offence for a Muslim to defy, disobey or dispute or to give, propagate or disseminate any opinion concerning Islamic teachings, Islamic law or any issue, contrary to any fatwa for the time being in force.
And that we must be the only country in the Muslim world that has turned the opinion of the ulama into the law of the land without going through the legislative process and then makes it an offence for anyone to challenge that opinion.
That this is a gross violation of constitutional guarantees of fundamental liberties and has no basis in Islamic legal history seem to escape those who drafted the laws and passed them in Parliament and state legislative assemblies.
As long ago as 1997, religion-based womens' rights advocacy group Sisters in Islam had submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed, alerting him to the Shariah Criminal Offences (SCO) federal and state laws.
We pointed out that in Islamic legal thought, fatwa are mere advisory opinions and do not have the force of law; to make it a crime to challenge a fatwa in force is to equate the opinion of a mufti to the infallible word of God; the legislative authority to make laws in Malaysia lies with Parliament and the state assemblies, not the fatwa committees; the right to restrict fundamental liberties lies solely with Parliament and thus the provisions in the law that punish indecency amounts to an unconstitutional trespass on federal powers.