KELANTAN, MALAYSIA — On Sunday (25 June), a female business owner in Kelantan received a compound notice from the city council for wearing shorts that were deemed “indecent”.
This incident stirred up public outrage after the woman shared her frustration on Facebook about being fined while wearing the shorts at her own business premises.
A series of photos posted on social media, showed the 35-year-old shop owner holding the compound notice while dressed in a black T-shirt and blue shorts.
The Kota Bharu City Council defended its decision
The Kota Bharu City Council (MPKB) has responded to the controversy, defending its decision to fine the non-Muslim woman for her clothing.
Rosnazli Amin, MPKB chairperson issued a statement on Monday (26 June), clarifying that the woman was actually wearing a different outfit at the time when the compound was issued, contrary to what she had shared on Facebook.
The MPKB shared a series of photos on their official Facebook page, depicting the woman wearing an oversized pink T-shirt that covered her shorts, while an enforcement officer is seen standing at the entrance of her boutique.
According to the compound notice shared online, the alleged offense stated, “Non-Muslim owner dressed immodestly (wearing a T-shirt and short shorts, reaching the back).”
The MPKB claimed that the compound action issued by the enforcement officers against the shopowner is in accordance with Section 34(2)(b) of the Business and Industrial Trade By-Laws 2019, which requires non-Muslim business owners and their non-Muslim employees to wear “decent clothes.”
For Muslim individuals, the by-law mandates clothing that covers the aurat.
The compound notice specified that the woman has a seven-day period to settle the fine or face legal consequences. However, the exact amount of the fine issued to the woman was not specified.
Pro-Malay opposition party criticised MPKB for policing public clothing
However, even the pro-Malay opposition party in Malaysia, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), disagreed with MPKB’s clarification.
Sasha Lyna Abdul Latiff, the Deputy Chairman of BERSATU’s Law and Constitution Bureau, stated that MPKB “does not have the authority to control clothing or morality.”
“Firstly, Section 34(2)(b) of the Business and Industrial Trade By-Laws 2019 is invalid as it exceeds the powers granted to the council under Section 102 of the Local Government Act 1976 to make by-laws.
“Section 102 of the Local Government Act only allows the council to make by-laws related to ‘health, safety, and welfare’,” she said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Sasha also claimed that the word “decent” in Section 34(2)(b) is vague and can be interpreted differently.
“It is unfair to impose a compound on the woman when the definition of the offense is unclear,” she added, emphasizing that the standards applied to Muslim women, such as covering the aurat, cannot be applied to non-Muslims.
Minister urged the city council to revoke the compound
According to Malaysia’s Chinese media outlet Oriental Daily News, Nga Kor Ming, the Local Government Development Minister, has urged MPKB to revoke the compound issued to the non-Muslim shop owner for dressing inappropriately.
Mr. Nga stated that MPKB’s decision violates the constitutionally protected freedom. He emphasized that freedom of attire should be respected in a multicultural society.
“This is a non-Muslim shop owner in her own shop, wearing shorts. It is a fundamental right protected by the federal constitution.”
Therefore, I hope that the city council or local authorities (PBT) will take note of this.
“Don’t be too extreme, don’t issue summonses immediately, at least there can be discussions, admonishments, and education first.”
Controversies over dress code enforcement
The incident is not an isolated case of governmental or local authorities facing criticism for their approach to policing public attire in Malaysia.
Earlier this year in February, the Kajang police in Selangor state received backlash from the former Malaysia national police chief and the current minister for denying entry to a woman wearing Bermuda shorts when she wanted to lodge a police report at the police headquarters.
Similarly, a hospital in Kampar, Perak faced criticism after a young woman was allegedly denied entry due to her choice of shorts, adding to the ongoing debate surrounding dress codes in public places.