No. 4 Lorong 11/8E, 46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia.​

Dress Codes: A Form of Discrimination and Abuse of Power

Sisters in Islam (SIS) expresses growing concern at the recent events regarding unwarranted dress code enforcement. After the incident at the Road and Transport Department (JPJ), we are repulsed to see the repetition of discrimination in other public buildings. SIS is extremely concerned that this growing policing of women’s attire by government officials could make the state of Malaysia even more conservative than what it already is.

The various incidents of dress code enforcements on women is a source of concern as everyday government officials are now taking matters into their own hands and arbitrarily enforcing regulations and even denying service to some women. This type of selective enforcement is completely discriminatory and unnecessary. Especially after Sungai Buloh Hospital Director, Dr Khalid Ibrahim, said the incident was unwarranted as neither the Health Ministry nor the hospital management has any policy to discriminate based on attire. Moreover, Health director-general, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, also stated that the dress sign is only “advisory”.

Whose standard of “decent dressing” is being enforced on all Malaysians? First, the incident at the Road Transport Department, Sungai Buloh Hospital, Selangor State Secretariat, and now the Islamic Religious Department in Pahang (Jaip) has issued a warning that Muslim women must dress decently in public to respect the holy month of Ramadan or face a year of jail time or a fine of up to RM2,000. Religious conservatism in Malaysia is crossing the line as now Malaysians face restrictions on their freedom of movement because of dress codes.

Furthermore, the Qur’an indicates that modesty is founded on the God-consciousness of an individual and others cannot impose that God-consciousness by enforcing the covering or removal of covering. Al-Baqarah, 2:256 states, “Let there be no compulsion in religion”. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, an Islamic scholar has eloquently stated that religion depends upon faith and will, therefore these would be meaningless if induced by force.

SIS is concerned that the growing conservatism that is slowly taking over will only lead to more discrimination of Malaysian citizens. We should learn from the tragedy that occurred in Mecca in 2002, when 15 school girls were murdered because religious police did not allow them to leave a burning building simply because they were not wearing headscarves.

SIS firmly believes that the dress codes in question are based on an arbitrary interpretation of ‘decent-dress’. It is evident that this new obsession with women’s bodies is not meant to encourage modesty. Instead, the concept of dress codes is clearly being used as a form of control by conservative individuals to deny services to Malaysian women. SIS calls on the government and all public institutions to reeducate their personnel in order to prevent cases in question repeating.

Sisters in Islam

25 June 2015