Kuala Lumpur: Islamic officials in Malaysia have launched an investigation into a public event that discussed women who stop wearing the hijab, according to a group of female activists who spoke at the forum.
The probe into Saturday’s “Malay Women and De-hijabbing” talk is the latest sign of growing Muslim conservatism in the multi-ethnic nation, which critics say is chipping away at a traditionally tolerant brand of Islam.
The forum took place at a book shop outside Kuala Lumpur to mark the launch of a book called “Unveiling Choice”, about author Maryam Lee’s decision to stop wearing the headscarf.
At the three-hour event, Lee and two other Muslim women shared their experiences about giving up the hijab.
The number of women from the country’s ethnic Malay Muslim majority wearing the headscarf has been increasing, in line with growing conservatism, but it is also common to see Muslim women without their heads covered.
Following a social media backlash, the religious affairs minister called for an investigation, and officers from the Islamic affairs department visited the shop to get copies of the book and talked to a staff member, the women said.
“We condemn this unnecessary investigation as abuse of power to harass and intimidate women activists,” said the trio in a statement late Tuesday.
“We are ready to give full cooperation to the authorities however we are unequivocal that there has been no transgression of Malaysian laws.”
The Islamic affairs department in central Selangor state, which is reported to be probing the incident, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a statement on Facebook, Religious Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa had expressed concern about the event and called on Islamic authorities to probe it in a “fair and just manner”.
About 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million inhabitants are Muslim Malays and the country is also home to substantial minorities of ethnic Indians and ethnic Chinese, who do not typically follow Islam.
Members of different races and religions generally live side by side harmoniously but critics say that influential Muslim hardliners are pushing an increasingly conservative form of Islam.