A documentary on Malaysia’s religious police to clamp down on LGBTI Muslims in the country has sparked off an online debate on the treatment these individuals receive.
The documentary ‘Unreported World – 2016’, produced by London-headquartered Channel 4, is slated to air on Friday night – but the channel has already released a snippet online on its Facebook page.
In the 2 min 45 sec video, reporter Marcel Theroux is seen following Malaysia’s religious police on their routine rounds to conduct checks in hotels and on the streets. These checks, some of which are tipped off by members of the public, happen in the middle of the night. Some arrests are made, either of unmarried couples staying in the same hotel room, or of LGBTI Muslims who commit offences relating to ‘close proximity’. These people are then escorted back to the police station for ‘further investigation’, and may be incarcerated if found ‘guilty’.
The religious police makes these arrests if they suspect that there are ‘immoral’ acts happening, enforcing the ‘Sharia law’ – a set of Islamic rules that all Muslims abide by, in addition to the civil law for everyone.
Part of the Sharia law also prohibits transgender individuals from changing their gender. As the religious police brings Theroux out on the streets in an area known for its transgender sex workers, one of them further points out that a man ‘obviously must be a man’ and a woman ‘must behave like a woman’
The snippet has sparked off a fury of online debate. As of press time, the post has received over 2900 reactions and has been shared nearly 7000 times.
While some netizens are in support of what the religious police does, some are in vehement disagreement with the act.
Netizen Adam Richardson wrote: ‘This is why ORGANISED Religion is the nastiest disease to ever grace humanity. I have no problem with someone believing in an entity, but when that belief is forced upon others, i have no tolerance. Organised religion needs to disappear as fast as humanly possible.’
‘No one gets to tell anyone what to do unless they are actively intentionally harming someone else,’ adds Richardson.
His comment, as of press time, has received a total of 1,116 likes, with other netizens replying to his comment. Some disagree with Richardson, and others stand by Richardson with their own views.
On the other hand, other netizens have voiced their support for the religious police – some of them locals.
Syamil Abd Hamid, a local, writes: ‘I’m Malaysian and I have no problem with this. Yeah. We didn’t (aren’t) as open as (the) west. ‘
‘We have our own culture and tradition. It is about honor and dignity too. Make it halal way lahh then. Westerner, please don’t tell us what to do lahh.. Please,’ adds Hamid.
His comment has received 670 likes as of press time. Like Richardson, his comment has also received both support and backlash from other netizens.
Another netizen, Waleed Marouf A. Nueirat, attempts to provide another perspective to the video.
‘The video makes it clear that sharia law applies only to Muslims. It is easy for westerners to criticize the beliefs, cultures, and customs. It is equally easy for westerners to play the role of the innocent victims when the continuous criticism and middling in others’ business causes a backlash which strikes what they hold most dear.’
Malaysia, being a Muslim-majority country, practices the Sharia law. Even though survey has shown that more than 80% of the younger generation of Malaysians accept LGBTIs, the community has not received the support of politicians alike. Prime Minister Najib Razak has openly made clear his stance last August that the government will not protect LGBTI rights, comparing the local LGBTI community to ISIS. Reports also surfaced, a month later, detailing the arrest of 21 trans women in the country. In October, the country’s Federal Court upheld its ban on trans women wearing women’s clothing. Just last week, a local media has also publicly identified a park near Kuala Lumpur which it claims is a nocturnal meeting place for gay and bisexual men looking to hook up with each other.
Transgender Muslims in Malaysia today remain as one of the main targets of the religious police. Anyone breaking the Sharia law are liable to be charged. Sex between two men, for instance, is punishable by fines, caning or up to 20 years of imprisonment.