Malaysian woman stands up against religious policing during Ramadan

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Source: Asian Correspondent

Women in hijabs queue for food on the street in Kuala Lumpur. Pic: Peter Rowley / Flickr

A LOCAL activist has taken a stance against “moral and religious policing of Muslims in Malaysia, especially Muslim women”, sharing her own personal experience of not being allowed to eat in public during the month of Ramadan.

Over the weekend, “Mrym Lee” (as she is known on Facebook and Twitter), who wears a hijab, was subjected to rude behavior when she went to a restaurant at a shopping center in Kuala Lumpur in the daytime.

The manager of the restaurant, as well as various passersby, harangued her, with some claiming that she was “damaging the image of Islam” and “disrespecting those who were fasting”.

In a Facebook post, which has since been deleted, Mrym explained that she made a conscious effort for this year’s observance of Ramadan to protest against societal expectations by eating and drinking in public when she could not fast.

Screenshot via Twitter.

Screenshot via Twitter.

In Islam, when a woman is menstruating, she cannot fast or perform prayers, but in Muslim-majority Malaysia, there is an unspoken rule against eating or drinking in public, even for Muslims who cannot fast, “out of respect for the holy month”.

In many other Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar, it is a punishable offence to be seen eating, drinking, or smoking during the day.

While it is also technically considered an offence under Malaysia’s Shariah law to be publicly seen eating, drinking, or smoking during Ramadan, authorities are not as strict in enforcing the law.

However, Mrym argued that Islamic teachings did not say that there was anything wrong with eating or drinking in public when one cannot fast.

Instead, she urged Malaysians to look beyond the petty policing of others:

“Get your priorities straight. Go punish our corrupt politicians and fix our messed-up policies. Leave the practice of faiths to the individual, empower each other in society to do good, only then we’ll see productive progress.”

According to her, she and another friend who is doing the same, have been “harassed, verbally abused, and publicly persecuted” by those who are supposed to be fasting.

In response to the incident, Mrym conducted two polls on Twitter. One asked: “If you are visibly Muslim (wear a hijab/look Malay), do you eat in public during Ramadan?”

Out of the 1,031 respondents, 60 percent said “No, because others are fasting”; 23 percent said “Yes, I do. It’s not wrong”; and 17 percent said “No, because I’m afraid of getting caught”.

In her second poll, she asked: “Do you believe it’s wrong for Muslims to eat and drink in public during Ramadan?”

Of the 878 who responded, 60 percent said, “No, it’s not wrong”, while 40 percent believe that “Yes, it’s wrong”.

While critics came out in droves, a fair number have also showed support for Myrm:

UPDATE: Mrym informed Asian Correspondent that it was not her who deleted the post on Facebook that detailed the incident, but that it may have been the work of Facebook admins. As of now, it’s not entirely clear why the post has been taken down.