Using the foundations of religious and cultural values to promote human rights

Sisters in Islam, as one of the founding members of a joint action group called Malaysians Against Moral Policing (MAMP), has been organizing in response to the growing zeal of the state in policing the morality of citizens. MAMP seeks to highlight Malaysia's Shari'ah Criminal Offences Act, which is often used as a means to invade privacy, scapegoat women and sexual minorities, and violate freedom of religion under the pretext of upholding Islam. In addition, there are several secular laws that the state uses for the purposes of moral policing and restriction of freedom of expression. As a result, Malaysians of all faiths find it difficult to defend their rights for fear of being accused of insulting Islam (which carries heavy penalties), and also of being punished by the state. MAMP does this by building awareness among the Malaysian public about broader interpretations of Islam and human rights issues in order to influence decision makers to amend these discriminatory legal provisions.

After seeking and gaining endorsement for a memorandum protesting the situation, MAMP sought additional support for its campaign and launched a press conference to publicize the issue. The ensuing media coverage has stimulated increased public debate and requests for briefings by Sisters in Islam and other MAMP members with political parties and parliamentarians. Sisters of Islam provides support to MAMP through providing research and creating awareness of existing interpretations of Islam that uphold universal human rights and offer alternative interpretations to the official and dominant interpretations that have resulted in violations of human rights. By staying within an Islamic framework, Sisters in Islam and MAMP are able to raise awareness of human rights violations that are given religious sanction—such as discriminatory practices against women, homophobia, persecution of religious minorities and restrictions on freedom of expression.
The MAMP campaign against moral policing has been getting wide coverage in the national media, and gained support of several influential community leaders and organizations. MAMP, and particularly Sisters in Islam, has been invited by members of political parties to give feedback and briefings on this issue as well as to brief concerned members of parliament. The memorandum now has more than 250 endorsements, approximately 50 of which are organizational endorsements. MAMP has also utilized its good contacts in the media to sustain and develop the debate on the issue, via letters to the editor, interviews and other mechanisms which promote wider public awareness on the issue.

The discourse on Islam is currently being highly contested at many different levels. On the one hand, there is increased Islamophobic discourse, aimed at persecuting Muslims and discrediting Islam as a religion that promotes violence. On the other hand, some governments of Muslim countries use Islamic discourse as a justification for curtailing the human rights of their citizens. There are also community leaders and religious leaders who preach fundamentalist and/or conservative interpretations of Islam that perpetuate and justify violence, repression and fear. This tactic is an attempt to bridge these issues by presenting alternative interpretations of Islam that are consonant with and uphold universal human rights. It provides insights for creating alternative avenues for opening discussions regarding fundamentalist Islamist and Islamophobic justifications for human rights violations. Most significantly, it engages the public and grassroots communities to enlarge the space for more inclusive and democratic public debate.


New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 
This tactic is interesting because it reframes the issue in a way that creates a new narrative that promotes human rights, while challenging the current dominate discourse. 
 In Malaysia, the government uses negative interpretations of Islamic texts to undermine human rights, support discriminatory practices, and restrict freedom of expression and religion. MAMP uses the same Islamic texts but interprets it in a way that promotes human rights as a way to raise public awareness. By reframing the issue and providing alternative narratives, MAMP was able to educate people about their rights under Islamic law, and call into question the actions of their government. Using the states own legal documents to prove the occurrence of human rights violations is an effective way to name and shame the government.  
A large part of this tactic was the partnership that MAMP formed with media  outlets. Media can be an effective tool for increasing the visibility of an issue. MAMP was able to use the media to promote wider public awareness through press conferences, letters to the editor, and interviews. 
Caution should be taken with this tactic when working in areas where media censorship is high. In such areas, perhaps a more conservative mode of educating the public, such as participation in grassroots movements would be more effective. Likewise, fighting a government with a reinterpretation of its own laws may not be well suited to countries where rule of law is nonexistent.