Nik Elin S Fearless Challenge On Kelantan S Syariah Laws





“The Iki Putra case ‘puts the nail in the coffin’, while the Nik Elin case sets the ‘tombstone’ in place,” said lawyer Yusfarizal Yussoff.
“We need to understand the background of several cases that want to challenge the Syariah Court… (but for me) this Nik Elin case is the end, before a ‘tombstone’ is placed (to bury) the Syariah Court in Malaysia,” he said.
Yusfarizal is representing the Terengganu Malay Customs and Islamic Religious Council in the Nik Elin case.
These are the kinds of misinformation, relentless attacks, death threats, fearmongering, and widespread vilification online and offline that Kelantan-born lawyer Nik Elin Zurina Nik Abdul Rashid has been fearlessly facing for challenging the constitutionality and validity of Kelantan’s syariah law enactments implemented in 2019.
This is a familiar battle for her, as she stoically withstands societal backlash for exercising her right as a rational citizen to question the lawmakers of her home state.
In a society where legal complexities intersect with public sentiment, the public scrutiny directed at this female lawyer for daring to challenge contentious laws within her state is nothing short of a spectacle.
Save Syariah Gathering in front of the Palace of Justice, Putrajaya, Nov 19, 2023.Her courage in confronting these issues, often overlooked by many, exemplifies her determination to pave the way for a future beyond the present legal quagmire.
Nik Elin is primarily challenging the competency of the Kelantan state government in enacting syariah laws. She contends that the state government lacks jurisdiction to enact offences falling under federal jurisdiction.
Clarifying her stance to Malaysiakini on Nov 16, 2023, she stated, “They (federal opposition Perikatan Nasional and the Kelantan government of PAS) said I am challenging God, challenging syariah law. What I am challenging is ‘takzir’ in the enactment.”
She emphasised that her challenge revolves around the Kelantan state assembly enacting laws without competency, divorced from the realm of Islamic doctrine.
This legal skirmish, however, lacks finesse. Suddenly, everyone seems to be an authority on syariah law and the Federal Constitution, with opinions pouring in from all corners of society, ranging from ordinary citizens to the highest echelons of power.
PN, a powerful political coalition which controls four states, has resorted to making threats, holding vigils, and congregating in front of the court as a show of force to indirectly intimidate and misguide the public with misinformation creating fear.
Propagation of fallacies
Within this clamour and lost in this fervour is the acknowledgement that these legislations were enacted without due regard for the supreme law of the land, perpetuating a dual system where Muslims perhaps face harsher penalties compared to their non-Muslim counterparts.
These punitive laws risk fracturing society, associating religious adherence with fear, and portraying faith primarily through a punitive lens.
The thoughts that occupy the minds of some leaders remain a puzzle. Their propagation of fallacies, suggesting that a loss in this case jeopardises the entire national syariah legal system, overlooks the decentralised nature of syariah law, vested in individual states and their rulers.
Returning to the steadfast resolve of one woman to stand resolute, head held high, and meet their gaze - “I dared,” she asserts, “because I believe in justice and equity. I uphold our Federal Constitution, the bedrock of our nation.”
“As a proud Kelantanese and Malaysian, it is my right to contest laws implemented in my hometown and bring this issue to the national forefront. Respect for the law should extend to all.”
Save Syariah GatheringEven if the battle ends unfavourably, Nik Elin’s efforts have compelled the state government of Kelantan to at least relook at how they are making their laws. They stand as orators lost in rhetoric, failing to grasp the essence of their own teachings.
In mid-November 2023, Nik Elin emphasised that her challenge was not an attack on Islam, but about the correct federal or state jurisdiction to legislate offences. She argued that the state does not have the legal power to arrest, investigate, and try an offence provisioned under the Federal List and assigned to Parliament and the civil authorities.
This case holds more significance than other similar challenges on the constitutionality of syariah state enactments brought to court previously.
The provisions challenged in Nik Elin’s case are broader, covering 20 provisions (now reduced to 18), compared to previous cases on a particular provision. The apex court’s decision would clarify the separation of powers between the federal and state governments regarding Islamic offences.
The chief justice highlighted on a Nov 20, 2023, hearing that a claim that “the Syariah court will be buried in Malaysia” is not true. The only issue is about the competence of the Kelantan state assembly to enact the syariah criminal code.
She said the court had taken the unusual step of making its observation because so much had been said by many people about the petition, and most of what was said was a distorted version of the real issue before the court.
“As we have stated from the beginning of the hearing on Aug 17, the issue is not about bringing down the position of Islam or the syariah court in this country. The issue that arises from the petition is only about the competence of the Kelantan state legislative assembly to enact the contested provisions,” she said.
Women disproportionately affected
In a climate where questioning established norms can be fraught with challenges, Nik Elin embarked on a courageous legal crusade challenging the questionable laws in her native state. This Kelantanese, fully cognizant of the backlash, consequences, and potential peril that awaited her, chose to confront regressive legal enactments that seemingly disregard the supreme authority of the Federal Constitution, online backlash, and security concerns notwithstanding.
Nik Elin’s journey has cast a spotlight on the intersection of syariah law and the Federal Constitution, prompting diverse perspectives from individuals ranging from ordinary citizens to the highest echelons of government.
Some proffer authoritative views, while others echo sentiments without a comprehensive understanding of the intricate legal landscape. Crucially, the laws in question establish a dual system that disproportionately impacts Muslims and women, inviting scrutiny on their compatibility with the overarching principles of justice and fairness.
The purported divine underpinning of these enactments, as advocated by the Kelantan state government, raises fundamental questions about the role of interpretation and belief in shaping punitive measures within society.
While ostensibly rooted in a desire for societal discipline, the efficacy of these laws in fostering a truly just and fair society, akin to the ideals of the Prophet’s time, is a subject ripe for rigorous examination.
The enactment goes against Malaysia’s commitment as a state party to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).
It is noted that in 2018, the Cedaw committee on Malaysia expressed concern about how the syariah legal system has led to a gap in protecting women against discrimination.
It also took note that Malaysia falls short of the global Sustainable Development Goals, failing to commit to key targets such as ending discrimination against women and girls, ending violence and exploitation of women and girls, eliminating forced marriages, universal access to reproductive rights and health, and the adoption of policies for gender equality.
Decentralised syariah system
The state government’s defence of these laws as the “law of Allah” underscores a pressing inquiry: do they assume the mantle of divine authority? Nik Elin’s challenge, grounded in her assertion of the constitutional right to question laws in her hometown, strikes at the heart of this issue.
Critics may baulk at characterizing these enactments as regressive or barbaric, yet Nik Elin stands unwavering, exemplifying the courage required to scrutinise legal frameworks in pursuit of justice.
Lawyer Nik Elin Zurina Nik Abdul RashidAmid misleading narratives propagated by leaders suggesting that challenging these laws jeopardises the entire syariah system, Nik Elin’s legal battle exposes the fallacy in this simplistic argument.
The complex legal landscape of Malaysia, with its decentralised syariah system vested in individual states, adds nuance to the narrative surrounding Nik Elin’s case. It underscores the need for an understanding of the legal intricacies at play.
Chronologically, Nik Elin’s case unfolds as a testament to her commitment to justice. From the initial filing to the subsequent legal proceedings, each step in her legal crusade underscores the importance of upholding the principles enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
As her case navigates the judicial system, it illuminates the challenges and triumphs inherent in confronting entrenched legal frameworks.
To Nik Elin, we extend our support and admiration for your resolute stance. Even if victory remains elusive, your unwavering commitment has, at the very least, brought those responsible before the Palace of Justice.
In challenging the incongruity between actions and holier-than-thou attitudes, you embody the spirit of justice, demanding respect for the law in the pursuit of a fair and equitable society.
In a society often lost in rhetorical preaching without genuine understanding, your legal crusade serves as a beacon of hope for the principles enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
- Mkini
AMEENA SIDDIQI is a media and publishing professional with over 20 years of experience.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.


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