June 17, 2002
Oops! we did it again... (Cuddling couples vs. crusading cops in Malaysia)
Malaysia's Islamic police have a reputation for over-enthusiasm in their crusade to wipe out close proximity between Muslims.
My first experience with Khalwat was walking into our Singapore office one night on the weekend many years ago, opening up the inner office door and finding one of our secretaries seemingly tangled up with one of the office boys from down the corridoor. Needless to say, I was more surprised than they and made a hasty exit.
Under Malaysian Islamic law, the offence of "khalwat" or "close proximity" is committed when unmarried couples are found in situations where intimate contact is possible. It is the reason why Muslim maids at your hotel will go to extreme care that the door doesn't close behind them when they make up your room. There have been numerous examples of two unrelated or unmarried people being together even in the same hotel room alone when at least one is Muslim. Islamic police however focus their attention on rural or cheaper hotels rather than 5 star tourist or business hotels.
There are two legal systems in Malaysia, and only Malaysian Muslims are subject to Islam law. For example Malaysian Muslims cannot enter Malaysia's only legal casino in Genting Highlands, but all other races and nationalities can. Penalties also apply to eating or drinking between fasting periods, and signs in Bahasa Melayu are displayed prominently outside restaurants to this effect during Ramadam and other fasting periods. The drinking of alchohol is also an Islamic law (hudud) offense, but there are certain venues where police never enter or turn a blind eye, such as tourist hotel bars and restaurants.
Those following local press reports of these regular raids over the years can recall numerous instances of these Keystone cops going far beyond the call of duty.
In one incident the beak of a local Northern Malaysian court asked an investigating officer how he was able to determine that a couple had commited "khalwat". The reply was that he had to climb up a tree and peer in through the window curtainsover several nights before he could be determine that a dirty deed had been accomplished.
Last year, a "Valentines Day" raid was carried out in various parks in Kuala Lumpur after dark, resulting in quite a few (extremely frustrated we would guess) couples getting hauled up in court the next day.
And today a further report of a successful raid in the Northern city of Alor Setar, (located in the state of Kedah, which is not one of the two states governed by the fundamentalist PAS political party) where 28 people (yep.. an even number) were let off with a "stern" warning the next day.
This time the crime locations were a shopping mall and cinemas.
Bernama, Malaysia's official news agency, reported the head of Kedah's Islamic Religious Affairs Department as saying that Although they were watching an ordinary film, some of them were bold enough to lift their clothing...
While the offenders were given a good old ticking off and had their particulars taken down (finally), there was no mention of the action taken against the voyeuristic cops.
While the application of Islamic law in Malaysia is more humane than say in Pakistan or the Arab world, Malaysia as a whole maintains what to many visitors seem to be very conservative attitudes to gender differences and the role of women.
A recent article in a Kuala Lumpur mainstream newspaper, written by senior members of the police responsible for road traffic, suggested several ways to avoid being stopped in a police road block. Not being out after midnight is advisable, as well as not looking like a foreigner (white faces are generally ignored - in this case foreigners meant Indonesians or others who could be illegal immigrants).
But most surprising was that you could draw attention to yourself by being a single woman driver. "We would of course be suspicious in that case", was the comment from the helpful copper.
All evidence that when in Malaysia, you should be absolutely assured that you are in a very different place, and respect Malaysian culture and religion...Chao Phraya River Rat in Asia Culture on June 17, 2002 06:54 PM
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