Malaysia’s Highest Court Declares Certain Islamic Laws in Kelantan Unconstitutional, Court Rules

In a landmark decision with major legal implications for Malaysia’s multiethnic country and dual judicial system, the top court has ruled that 16 Islamic laws in the northeastern state of Kelantan are unconstitutional. The Federal Court’s 8-1 majority ruling stated that the Kelantan state government did not have the power to enact the laws due to their coverage by federal law and the responsibility of the federal parliament.

Malaysia operates a dual legal system where Islamic law applies to Muslims in personal and family matters, while civil courts handle all other offenses. The state government of Kelantan, ruled by the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) since 1990, passed a new set of laws on Islamic offenses, leading lawyer Nik Elin Zurina Nik Abdul Rashid and her daughter to challenge the constitutionality of 18 of the laws in 2022. The Federal Court did not strike down two of the laws and emphasized that the case did not challenge the position of Islam or the Islamic legal system.

Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mai delivered the findings of the nine-judge panel, stating that the power of parliament and state legislatures are limited by the Federal Constitution and they cannot make any laws they like. About 1,000 people, including PAS supporters and conservative Muslims, gathered outside the court in Putrajaya ahead of the ruling.

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