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STEERING COMMITTEE: What is it doing about it?
ALTHOUGH nearing the end of this term, considering the general election is around the corner, the Pas-led Kedah state government has attracted yet another controversy.
This is no surprise since the rookie Pakatan Rakyat state government has been dogged by controversies since the March 2008 general election.
They ranged from causing an outrage of the Chinese community over the demolition of a pig abattoir, to forcing entertainment outlet operators to settle their licensing fees a full year in advance.
The latest to dog the Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers in Kedah is the introduction of Section 22A of the Mufti and Fatwa (Kedah) Enactment. The section states that a fatwa (religious edict) decided by the mufti or fatwa committee, whether gazetted or not, cannot be challenged, appealed, reviewed, denied or questioned in any civil court or syariah court.
Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak bragged that Kedah was the first state to enact such a ruling.
He explained that the new enactment was not intended to stop differing or opposing views on a fatwa, but aimed at preventing the fatwa from being challenged in court.
He argued that it was not right for a non-Muslim judge to hear and decide a case involving a fatwa. Even a syariah judge, he argued, is not an ulama and his job was only to interpret enactments and make decisions based on provisions.
He stressed that any fatwa involved syarak and syariah issues and any confusion should be referred to the mufti or fatwa council and not civil or syariah judges.
Many quarters, both Muslim and non-Muslim, found the new enactment disturbing.
Among the first to raise his concerns was Perlis Mufti Dr Juanda Jaya. Without mincing his words, the religious scholar charged the new enactment was against Islam.
He also charged that the state government was moving towards a theocratic state and, worse still, the section could be perceived as intending to impose beliefs on others.
Azizan was quick to rubbish Juanda, chiding him for failing to fully understand the "issue" and said he had "simply jumped the gun after reading about it in the newspapers".
Azizan also said that non-Muslims should not be worried since the amendment did not apply to them.
There has been a little support online, mostly from pro-Pakatan Rakyat bloggers.
However, Kedah Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang begged to differ and described the amendment as Taliban rule in Kedah.
Also supporting Tan is Bar Council constitutional law committee chairman Syahredzan Johan who told an online news portal that the enactment was unconstitutional.
And businessman Tunku Monsor Tunku Kassim, a member of the Kedah royalty, has lodged a police report.
He fears that the amendment would allow the mufti or fatwa council to usurp the powers of the sultan as head of Islamic religious affairs.
The DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat have, however, been keeping mum over Section 22A, just like they did when the state Pakatan Rakyat government was rocked by a coup attempt by two of Azizan's most loyal lieutenants -- the biggest controversy to dog the Pas-led state government to date.
A five-member steering committee was set up by Pas leadership as part of the "settlement". It was to advise Azizan on major issues, including the explosive controversy involving the proposed demolition of Madrasah Sahiliah for a RM500 million shopping-cum-residential complex.
Considering the public clamour over the latest fatwa changes, surely Section 22A should be a major concern of the committee.
Azizan had said that the bill to amend the Mufti and Fatwa (Kedah) Enactment was planned two years ago. It was learnt the matter was not referred to the committee since the bill was to be tabled two years ago, but was delayed. But surely the DAP and PKR have opinions on the matter.
Taking Juanda's fears of a possible creation of a theocratic state, DAP veteran Karpal Singh must surely have an opinion on Section 22A in light of his famous "over my dead body" war cry over Pas' plan then -- and which appears to have since been abandoned -- to turn the country into an Islamic state. But his silence is deafening.
The committee is also silent on this and their role to keep Azizan away from trouble.