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LETTER | Mukhayyam: Honour the religious rights of LGBTQ people

LETTER | We refer to the report Jakim lodges report against Twitter account owner over Mukhayyam programme.

The Islamic Development Department (Jakim) had lodged a police report against a Twitter account owner (Nicole Fong) who made false and baseless allegations about the Mukhayyam programme tailored for the Muslim lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.

We regret that the account owner had deliberately juxtaposed Mukhayyam programmes with western’s "conversion therapy" practices namely the electric shock therapy, forced marriage, and even corrective rape which, in our opinion has triumphantly painted a sinister picture of the religious programmes organised by Jakim and other state religious authorities. The picture implies that Jakim’s goals and their programmes with the LGBTQ community are in line with “conversion therapy” as widely understood, even when in truth Jakim’s methods are different.

These allegations are wholly false, unsubstantiated and tantamount to misleading the public. What’s also shocking is that the owner has started a movement to ban Mukhayyam based on these false premises. The owner has not produced any shred of evidence or show substantive proof to back her allegations that the Mukhayyam programmes are purportedly “conversion therapy”. What we find are mere juxtapositions, subjective assessments and personal estimations by the author as well as other LGBTQ activists that the Mukhayyam is “conversion therapy”. The account owner has never attended nor participated in any such programmes to say if they are really so.

To the contrary, numerous representatives from the local LGBT communities who have participated in Mukhayyam programmes - such as Usrah Iqrak, Muhajirah Wafiq, Pintas, Hijrah Republique, Islah Movements - have gone on record to deny that the Mukhayyam programmes are violent in nature, forced upon them or that they were in any way pressured or compelled to attend such programmes because they purportedly felt criminalised, marginalised and stigmatised. 

These activists have in fact affirmed that Jakim’s Mukhayyam programmes are education programmes aimed at promoting and educating Muslim LGBTQ people on the basic tenets of Islam. Most importantly, they have repeatedly attested that their participation in the programmes was completely voluntary with no elements of coercion involved. This is far from the "conversion therapy" practised by other countries, which involves an element of forced participation.

The testimony of these representatives clearly rebuts any assertions that the Mukhayyam programme harms the LGBTQ participants. Their testimonies should neither be questioned nor doubted as it is from their own personal experiences and account. In the name of freedom of expression, the owner and LGBTQ activists owe the basic decency to accord respect of such views, even if these views, testimonies and assertions are different from their own.

We further reiterate that the tweet and campaign by the owner have the cogent effect of unfairly curbing the religious rights or rebuffing the right to freedom of religion of Muslims and other religious adherence among the LGBTQ communities to seek religious and spiritual input, education, understanding and awareness.

In the case of Jakim’s Mukhayyam programmes, these are education programmes aimed at promoting and educating Muslim LGBTQ people on the basic tenets of Islam. Participation is completely voluntary with no elements of coercion involved and is far from the "conversion therapy" practised by other countries, which involves an element of forced participation. In fact, Mukhayyam is a common name for any extended spiritual camp normally held by schools and higher institutional centres for the students as well as by the government and private agencies for their Muslim staff as part of team-building and motivational input. The Mukhayyam emphasises the non-discriminatory nature of the religious authorities in providing education and awareness-building as part of Islam’s rich religious traditions.

Jakim and state Islamic religious authorities have also been working closely with the Ministry of Health in addressing the escalation of new HIV/Aids cases among LGBTQ persons especially for men who have sex with men (MSM). Participation in the Mukhayyam programme is also a way to tackle this concern. To silence the Mukhayaam programmes from being taken as a proper platform to address the health concerns among the LGBTQ people, especially those who have participated in the programmes, is discriminatory and oppressive.

Furthermore, to juxtapose and make subjective assessments upon the Mukhayyam programmes as nothing more than being in line with “conversion therapy”, the owner has inevitably called upon Muslims within the LGBTQ communities to cease from seeking or discouraged them from seeking religious and spiritual education, when they voluntarily wish to do so. Such a call is against the right of freedom of religion for all persons to freely practice one’s religion or belief.

As Muslims, we make no apology for Islam’s religious beliefs and traditions and we believe that those among the LGBTQ communities who wish to be made aware, educated and even allowed to change have the right to do so in accordance with Islamic beliefs. They, too, have the right to seek any form of help and assistance in this respect. Correspondingly, the Muslim community, its institutions and agencies have the duty and obligation in the name of Islam to offer such help and assistance including education that are deemed necessary towards a change if the person so desires.

It is regrettable that this endeavour has been met with suspicions and aspersions which allege such religious and spiritual education purportedly would likely to bring harmful impact, including depression, suicidal ideation and attempts as well as self-harm. It has therefore been suggested such practices are forms of torture given the magnitude of alleged harm it has on the individual and their loved ones.

Such claims are unjustified and unfounded. The education manual and the contents as adopted and used by Jakim are easily available for examination and are verifiable. There are now recommendations made that the government should take the opportunity to carry out an independent human rights impact assessment on Jakim’s programmes and approaches in relation to LGBTQ issues. In this respect, we would further enjoin that the independent human rights impact assessment should consist of experts from within the various religious groups and religious communities who have enormous insights and are highly respected for their views in this field of study.

We have previously made a statement to support the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri calling on the religious enforcement officers of the Federal Territories’ Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi) to not simply arrest but also provide religious education to the LGBTQ groups through programmes such as Mukhayyam. This a welcome step towards upholding Islam’s religious and spiritual tradition on sexual relationship consisting of man-woman and its traditional family unit of husband-wife-children relationship. 

To this end, we welcome any effort by the government to engage with LGBTQ-affirming groups that should not only uphold and defend human rights but respect the diverse views and rights of all by way of a “practical concordance” so that all may participate in making Malaysia safe and equal for all.

The above is signed by:

Lukman Sheriff Alias, founder, Malaysian Lawyers Circle (MLC), chairperson, Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations (Macsa),

Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar, president, International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (Wafiq), co-Chairperson, Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations (Macsa) and,

Eugene Yapp, managing director, RFL Partnership and programme director, GBM Coalition SB.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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