PAS finally withdrew its controversial dress code ruling after 1 days of vocal objections and criticisms from local and international organisations.
PAS’ inevitable action was a triumph, albeit a small one, to citizens’ rights of speech, expression and religious practices as enshrined in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, and shows just how important it is to rigorously defend our rights, even on seemingly trivial matters.
The issue started on Jan 4 when the Kuala Terengganu Municipal Council (KTMC) under the PAS government announced its decision to ban non-Muslim women from wearing what it has specified to be indecent attire during office hours. The decision was made without consulting other religious leaders.
While Muslim women must adhere to the Islamic dress code, non-Muslim women in the private sector in Terengganu will not be allowed to wear short-sleeved blouses, tight-fitting jeans, long skirts with slits or mini-skirts during working hours. Skirt length must fall below the knee, according to the ruling.
Employers whose staff fail to adhere to the new ruling will risk losing their business licence or be fined up to a maximum of RM250. The new ruling was introduced because dress code is a “morality issue” and women’s provocative dressing has been closely linked to murders, rapes, molest and sexual abuses, according to Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang in its defence for KTMC’s ruling.
The ruling showed PAS’ tendency to blame women for social ills, and encouraged the misperception of dressing as a cause of criminal acts. The ruling is not only insensitive to the pluralistic make-up of our society, but also a serious infringement upon the basic rights of individuals, especially women – both Muslim and non-Muslim.
Constitutionally, it transgresses the Federal laws protecting individual rights of speech, expression and religious practices. Furthermore, dictating dress code does not solve the crime problem nor increase religious piety because “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (James 1:14).
The ruling also indicated PAS’ inconsistency in policy-making and insincerity in its promises to non-Muslims which the party made during the launch of its Islamic State document.
Then, Hadi Awang had repeatedly stressed that “the rights of the non-Muslim community as enshrined in the Federal Constitution in regard to right to religious beliefs and cultural practices, right to secure business opportunity and private property, right to political association, right to education, and mother-tongue education as also enshrined by the United Nation Declaration of Human Rights, are fully secured.”
Cheongsam with slits (and sometimes without sleeves) and short-sleeved saree blouses are the cultural dressing of the Chinese and Indian communities respectively. Hadi Awang had also, at the launch, promised to adhere to the practice of shura (consultation) but the party had failed to consult the other religious leaders before deciding on the dress code ruling.