The National Fatwa Council is allowing itself to be used by Putrajaya as a tool to stifle dissent although it has no legal standing to issue edicts for Muslims, say constitutional lawyers.
They told The Malaysian Insider that the failure to check this trend would lead the council to lose credibility among the public, arguing that it should instead use Islam to foster goodwill among the people of different faiths in Malaysia.
Lawyer Syahredzan Johan said it was unfortunate that the council was suffering from a perception problem that it was pandering to Putrajaya.Syahredzan also said it was unfortunate that the council kept raising petty issues rather than delve into substantial matters.
"The council has to arrest this urgently if it wants to be viewed as a legitimate institution by Malaysians," he told The Malaysian Insider.
He and other lawyers were responding to constitutional law expert Abdul Aziz Bari who had said earlier this week that the council lacked legal clout as Islam came under the jurisdiction of the states.
The lawyers also agreed with Abdul Aziz that the council did not have the "legal legs" to issue religious edicts.
Abdul Aziz had said the council's support for the Selangor Islamic Religious Department's (Jais) raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia earlier this month was meaningless.
A check on the council's website revealed that it was set up in 1970 and is the body to issue edicts at the national level. It is made up of mufti from all states with 10 appointed religious scholars.
The council submits its opinion to the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs which is then sent to the Conference of Rulers.
The lawyers added that edicts could only be issued by the state fatwa committee and it has to be gazetted to have a legal effect. And an edict is binding only on Muslims in the respective states.
"It is there only to ascertain Islamic law and other personal laws," he said, adding that its existence was to advise Putrajaya on these matters.
As such, he said, the council was not in the same league as the state fatwa committees, including that of the Federal Territories.
Malik said any opinion by the council was merely advisory in nature on the religion, not the law.
He said Putrajaya's increasing reliance on the council to validate its decisions has resulted in the perception that the council was legally empowered to issue binding edicts.
"Only state and Federal Territories’ fatwa committees have such power and this has to be gazetted under the various state administrative enactments."
Malik, who has appeared as counsel in many Islamic-related matter in the civil courts, said the council's status had yet to be clarified in any judgments.
Another senior lawyer Pawancheek Marican said there were individuals in the council who "loaned" their authority but this could not construed as an edict.
Recently, the Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria commented that it was permissible to spill the blood of those who protested against price hikes at a New Year's Eve rally.
"This is his personal opinion and not the view of the council," Pawancheek said. – January 24, 2014.
~ The Malaysian Insider