(File pix) Authorities claim they are only after delinquents, those improperly dressed or indulging in immoral behaviour on a motorcycle. NSTP Photo.

KUALA TERENGGANU: Unmarried Muslim couples in Terengganu travelling together in a car need not fear of getting arrested by the state’s religious authorities.

Giving this assurance, Terengganu Religious Affairs commissioner Datuk Wan Mohd Wan Ibrahim explained that the authorities were only after delinquents, those improperly dressed or indulging in immoral behaviour.

“Please do not misinterpret our intentions. We are not here to cause public fear and alarm, rather to educate Muslims on the appropriate dress code and behaviour as per the syariah principles.

“All we ask is that they are syariah compliant,” said Wan Mohd, who is also Terengganu Malay Customs and Islamic Religious Council chief executive officer.

He refuted news reports quoting the Terengganu Religious Affairs Department officials that the religious authorities were extending their operations from nabbing unmarried Muslims couples riding motorcycles together to those travelling in other vehicles like cars.

“Please bear in mind that we simply cannot stop moving vehicles like cars to carry out an inspection. We are usually called in to carry out joint operations with other enforcement agencies like the police and Road Transport Department.

“Even then, we do not arrest the umarried Muslim couples straight away but reprimand them and provide them counselling so that they do not deviate from the true principles of Islam and the syariah requirements,” said Wan Mohd.

The department, he added, regularly conducts counselling sessions for tens of hundreds of Muslims annually to keep them on track with the teachings of Islam.

Wan Mohd added that inaccurate new reports and adverse publicity had caused alarm not only among local Muslims and non-Muslims but also tourists as well, which do not augur well as the state has just launched its ‘Visit Beautiful Terengganu Year 2017’ programme.

He said that previous anti-vice efforts like Ops Bonceng were meant to discourage unmarried couples, especially women from donning tight-fitting and revealing clothes, or getting a bit too close for comfort while riding pillion with their male ‘companions’.

In fact, even non-Muslims caught behaving indecently in public can be hauled up under existing local council or Federal laws. There have been numerous news reports of such cases appearing in lower courts where fines are usually imposed.

Wan Mohd said that the syariah law was clear in cases of Muslim couples caught together in secluded or confined places, and they will be punished for khalwat (close proximity).

“Worse still, if these couples are caught red handed having illicit sex,” he said, in response to local news reports that 26 unmarried Muslim couples were nabbed during Ops Bonceng for riding motorcycles together last Monday.

All 52 of them, aged between 16 and 42 years old, were arrested for immoral acts in public.

Under the Terengganu Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (Takzir) 2001, Section 29 can be enforced on Muslim couples caught together naked, while Section 31 is used if they were making out.