KL urged to rein in religious vigilantes

The call comes after a boy student and a girl student were whipped for chatting in a school canteen

Women's groups and politicians have called on the government to act against religious vigilantes who carry out summary punishments in the name of religion.

The call follows an incident in Kelantan last week in which a boy student and a girl student at a religious school were each lashed 25 times in public for chatting with each other in the school canteen.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) executive director Zainah Anwar said the punishment inflicted on them by overzealous individuals reflected a distorted obsession with sex and morality.

'This is prevalent among Muslims who feel they have a right to take the law into their own hands in the name of religion,' she said.

She said it was equally distressing that the witnesses merely applauded and counted the lashes instead of trying to help the two students.

Student Mohamed Asrul Ahmad Zakaria, 17, was dragged from his house to his school by two outsiders and flogged 25 times in the presence of 10 students.

The two men were identified as religious college students who visited the school frequently.

The schoolgirl is said to have suffered the same punishment.

The two men had taken upon themselves to invoke the Islamic hudud law in order to justify their action under the pretext of religion.

SIS said the obsession with sex, morality and segregation between the sexes had resulted in a mindset that men and women and boys and girls were incapable of having platonic relationships and any kind of interaction between them could only lead to vice.

Dr Nasimah Hussin, assistant professor at the Islamic Law Department of the International Islamic University, expressed shock over the incident, saying 'chatting with a girl in public, if at all found indecent, does not fall under hudud'.

'In fact, it is the perpetrators who should be brought to justice for taking the law into their own hands. This is neither religion nor tradition but mere violation of both Syariah and civil law,' she added.

Women's Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah urged the religious authorities and political leaders to condemn the act of senseless violence.

Meanwhile, Kelantan Umno deputy chief Zaid Ibrahim said the incident showed that extremism had crept into institutions and the society in the country.

'This sort of conduct is unacceptable and very dangerous,' he added.