Sunday, 16 December 2012

Overzealous officials on ‘khalwat’ trail

Brave New World (The Star)
12 December 2012

Religious departments across the country have many and varied responsibilities. Arguably one can say there are far more pressing matters than making sure couples don’t smooch.


AREN’T there more important issues to make a big deal of? Seriously, is this khalwat thing really of national interest?

First off, there is no way a non-Muslim can be charged for khalwat.

It is a syariah offence and thus simply does not apply to those who do not profess the religion of Islam.

So the incessant use of the term khalwat to describe the “offence” that these non-Muslim people have been charged with in Kelantan is inaccurate.

The term may spice the story up somewhat, but the real “offence” is that of “indecent behaviour”.

Secondly, and this is the subtext, I have seen in the reporting of this issue, is that this is a problem caused by PAS.

Come on, are our memories so short? A few years ago there was a non-Muslim couple fined for indecent behaviour or something like that in Kuala Lumpur; hardly a PAS bastion.

Therefore any attempt at making this a political party issue is totally missing the point. It is not.

The real issue here I submit is two-fold.

Firstly, it is about overzealous civil servants who obviously have taken it upon themselves to be the moral guardians, nay, moral guardian superheroes, of this country.

What can one say about such folk? Some people just love throwing what little authority they have around.

However, what is more important is the second issue which is systemic.

Fix the system, and the first problem will disappear too.

The second issue is about the existence of these laws themselves. And just to be crystal clear they exist in Pakatan states and Barisan states too. This is not a party political issue. This is an issue about the role of the Islamic departments in the nation.

Why do we have such laws in the first place?

For me, it seems a bit creepy and slightly perverted. I mean, who are these people who go lurking around parks in the dead of night?

Do they have to pass a test before they can get the job? Perhaps, they must have the ability to crawl through bushes with minimum sound. Khalwat Ninjas in other words.

Frankly, I think that this “job” is demeaning. No matter how you may couch the job description, at the end of the day, you are a peeping tom.

Looking at the responsibilities of religious departments across the country, it is obvious that there are many.

Arguably, one could say there are far more pressing matters than making sure couples don’t smooch.

For example, education is a big job for these departments, because it covers not only religious primary and secondary schools but also pre-school.

Perhaps it would be better to ensure that these institutions are not only well run and of high quality but that they also prepare their school leavers for the challenges of life in the twenty-first century.

And if you really want to nab people, I gather that a lot of divorced fathers are not living up to their end of the bargain and are escaping payment of maintenance and the like.

And what about finding new and innovative ways to improve the effectiveness of the tithe collections and distribution?

There are also research units in these religious departments and there is a plethora of subjects facing the Muslim community that could do with research.

Unemployment, corruption, substance abuse are just some of the ills faced by the Muslim community and work can be done here. And by work I mean progressive forward thinking work, not the usual knee jerk reaction of “these problems exist because people are not religious enough”.

The Islamic Studies Faculties in our public universities are huge and they produce graduates who are well versed in Islamic law, economics and theology.

There is in other words a pool of highly qualified workers who can delve into substantively trying to improve the lot of the community.

These are merely suggestions of course but I believe that with focused effort and energy much can be done to have a profound and positive effect on the community. And surely this would make these bodies far more relevant to the development of the nation.

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