I must say I am disturbed and perplexed by Shahrizat Abdul Jalil's schizophrenic statements on the issue of the Islamic Family Law amendments.
As recently as Dec 23, 2005, she is quoted in The Star as saying that the prime minister had also agreed that the syariah system needed a revamp to reflect the government's commitment to ensuring gender equality.
She is further quoted as saying, "The uproar over this issue is symptomatic of the real problems affecting Muslim women in the country. Let this be a lesson to all concerned to not trivialise issues involving the rights of women."
Two days later she is further quoted in the Sunday Star as saying that "her ministry had earlier objected to almost all the clauses of the Bill, which discriminated against women".
The minister's position undergoes a total metamorphosis several weeks later.
By Feb 10, 2006, the Malay Mail quotes her explaining that "the controversy arose due to a confusion on the provision (of the law). Most of the problems raised concerned inaccurate interpretation and implementation of the Islamic Family Law".
On the same day the New Straits Times quotes her as stating that she does not "like it when any party undermines the purity of shariah law in this country".
Clearly between the end of December 2005 and February 2006, our minister experienced a profound epiphany. From objecting to "almost all clauses of the Bill, which discriminated against women", she was led to believe that "most of the problems raised concerned inaccurate interpretation and implementation of the Islamic Family Law".
What does such rhetoric mean? After reading the latter statement several times over it appears to me that she has not denied that the new provisions may yet result in injustice towards women.
In her capacity as minister for women, family and community development, Shahrizat's primary duty must be to protect the rights and interests of those under her care, Malaysian women in particular.
Instead, considering her new position, clarified by her statement reported in Utusan Malaysia on Feb 10: "Jika akta yang dirangka oleh Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia dengan mengambil kira pandangan ulama dikatakan zalim ia sama seperti mereka tidak mempercayai undang-undang syariah" (which I translate to mean, "If the act formulated by Jakim that has taken into account views from the ulama is considered as cruel, then it is like they [who hold such views] do not trust the shariah laws"), two things become apparent.
Firstly, she has forgotten that the interpreters of syariah laws remain human and thus are prone to human failings. Secondly, in lamenting the perceived attack on syariah laws and the ulama, there is no mention of Shahrizat's female constituents. Thus it would appear that our minister is as confused about her duty as some of our learned judges.
I implore Shahrizat to stop confusing her own self and the public. Please either be consistent or thoroughly explain any fundamental shifts in your views.
While through implication, the issue calls into question the fallibility of the Malaysian ulama, the focus of this issue must remain on ensuring justice. Let us not lose sight of this.