‘Punishing non-Muslims for khalwat "unrelated man and woman meeting alone" against Constitution

The Star  

PETALING JAYA: It is unconstitutional to punish non-Muslims for committing khalwat (close proximity) as there is no provision in law for it.

Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism president Datuk A. Vaithilingam said yesterday that Article 121(A) of the Constitution allowed for separation between the Civil and Syariah courts.

“Khalwat is not recognised (as an offence) under civil law.

“It is not wrong for non-Muslims. Syariah law is only applicable to Muslims,” he said yesterday.

He was commenting on a proposal made during a seminar on Syariah Law review for non-Muslims who commit khalwat with Muslims to also be held liable.

Syariah Court of Appeal Judge Datuk Mohd Asri Abdullah said the seminar had proposed that non-Muslims committing khalwat with Muslims be likewise sentenced, but in the civil courts.

Vaithilingam also said this was tantamount to depriving non-Muslims of their rights.

Federation of Taoist Associations Malaysia president Tan Bon Sin said in a statement it vehemently objected to the proposal, as it was an affront to the Taoist community’s way of life.

“It is an implied way of imposing Syariah law on the non-Muslim communities in Malaysia,” he said.

Malaysian Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan said in a statement that the proposal is tantamount to imposing Islamic law on non-Muslims .

She said it was wrong in principle and would be an infringement of the “fundamental guarantee of freedom of religion enshrined in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution”.

“The proposal is wholly unacceptable.”

She said other proposals made during the seminar which purportedly included the imposition of stiffer penalties, and the establishment of a rehabilitation centre for Muslims convicted of various offences related to “moral and faith” were equally troubling, especially in light of the history of overzealous enforcement of khalwat and other moral policing laws in Malaysia.

“We urge the authorities to focus their attention on more pressing issues like fighting corruption rather than on the private lives of individuals,” she added.

In a statement, Sisters In Islam reiterated their objection to the current practice of moral policing by the state as it contravenes Quranic injunction laid out in various verses.

“The practice of barging into people’s houses and bedrooms in particular clearly violates an individual’s right to privacy and human dignity protected by the Quran.

“Such a practice is also not the norm in many Muslim countries,” the statement said.

Sisters In Islam called on the religious authorities to focus their resources on chasing after errant fathers who did not pay maintenance to their children and ex-wives.

“With the on-going debates on this issue among Muslims still unresolved, how then can it be extended to non-Muslims?” the statement added.

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