Just why is Jawi going after Borders store manager?

The ongoing case by the Federal Territories Islamic Department (Jawi) against Berjaya Books (which owns the Borders bookstore) staff member Nik Raina Nik Aziz over the distribution of Irshad Manji's controversial book ‘Allah, Liberty and Love' continues to baffle, frustrate and anger many of us, both Muslims and non Muslims.

I am concerned that such seemingly arbitrary actions by the religious authorities will affect the way we are perceived as Muslims and Islam as a religion in Malaysia.

Islam as a way of life should be about fairness, justice, compassion and humanity. It is not a truncheon to bludgeon others into submission.

This case seems to be more of the latter.

Nik Raina has been charged in the Kuala Lumpur Syariah High Court with distributing the book on May 23 under the Federal Territories Syariah Criminal Offences Act of 1997, which carries a RM3,000 fine or a maximum two years' jail or both.

However, the Home Ministry only gazetted the ban on the book and its translated version 'Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta' on May 29.

In fact, the gazette was only published and publically available on June 14.

Jawi, through its successful application to bring forward their case in the Kuala Lumpur Syariah Court, now appears to be attempting to circumvent the hearing of the stay application filed by Berjaya Books which the Civil High Court fixed for July 30 and the judicial review hearing on Sept 5.

The case which was initially scheduled to be mentioned at the Syariah High Court on Sept 19, will now be on Aug 7.

This is a situation where a person has been charged in court for the alleged offense of distributing and selling a book, which at the time of the so-called offence, was not yet officially banned, and was not identified or announced to Berjaya Books to be banned.

In fact, book banning is actually under the purview of the Home Ministry, not Jawi.

The staff member who was interrogated by Jawi, was also denied access to legal counsel, a right guaranteed under the federal constitution.

Jawi, for some reason, is determined to go after this young woman.

Why this case has been permitted to proceed is mystifying. It just doesn't make any sense.

Examples like this bring frustration, consternation and shame on us especially when we keep harping on the moderation of religious practice.

It demonstrates how some of our religious authorities fail to understand that they, too, need to abide by the law. They, too, must be held accountable.

Businesses in this country are observing this case very closely. Make no mistake; this case has tremendous implications to the different industries which employ Muslim employees.

This was not even a shop selling religious contraband or selling substances that are forbidden or haram to Muslims. This is a bookshop.

If a bookshop can have its staff members and its business treated as such by religious officials for supposedly selling a banned book, how about other businesses?

Whether you are working in an airplane as a flight attendant, behind the counter at 7-Eleven, mixing drinks at a restaurant, at the front desk of a hotel, or on the production line of a factory, are we all at risk of persecution simply because we are Muslims?

We do not want to send a message to businesses that Muslim employees are a liability. Indeed such arbitrary actions as demonstrated by this case, could result in depriving Muslims of the opportunity to work and be employed.

This is the holy month of Ramadan and we should take the advantage of this opportunity to focus on how to be better Muslims by doing good deeds for oneself and for the community.

We shouldn't be focusing on bringing others down, shaming and persecuting people. We should, however, reject unjust actions and support this brave woman.

Injustice exists in many shapes and form. This case is one of them.