What drove Nur Sajat to permanent exile?

This is not just about the way Islam is enforced or interpreted in Malaysia but also how Islam would be perceived globally

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Nur Sajat

Lawyers for Liberty refers to news reports that cosmetics entrepreneur Nur Sajat has now settled down in Australia, having fled Malaysia as she felt unsafe after being charged in the Sharia Court for “dressing up as a woman”.

The religious authorities in Malaysia and the government are entirely responsible for making her feel unsafe in the country. They continually hunted her down, even tasking 122 Selangor Islamic Religious Department enforcement officers at one point for her arrest, as if she was the most wanted criminal, and ignoring the protection she was entitled to under the Federal Constitution.

The reality is that the alleged ‘offence’ was simply for presenting as herself during a religious charity event in 2018 which she organised for the betterment of the Muslim community. The irony here is palpable: the religious authorities targeted her dressing and pursued her relentlessly, all the while ignoring the fact that she was at the material time trying her best to do good for the religion.

This bullying show of force is emblematic of the problem we face with regards to religious enforcement in the country – only caring about whether we appear on the surface as Islamic instead of exhibiting the humanity and compassion that Islam espouses.

The lack of mercy or humanity shown to Nur Sajat is an embarrassment to the religion and is counter to the oft-spun narrative that we practice religious moderation in Malaysia. Is the endless hounding of Nur Sajat by a massive state apparatus our version of moderation?

One can feel her terrible despair; there was no one she could turn to, whether the Perikatan Nasional government or the previous Pakatan Harapan government – all persecuted this one helpless transperson.

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It is high time that the religious bodies in our country reflect on their actions. This is not just about the way Islam is enforced or interpreted in Malaysia but also how Islam would be perceived globally. We must stop performative religious acts and focus instead on showcasing the humanity that Islam truly preaches.

Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty

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