KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysia's main body of Islamic clerics has issued an edict banning tomboys in the Muslim-majority country, ruling that girls who act like boys violate the tenets of Islam, an official said Friday.
The National Fatwa Council forbade the practice of girls behaving or dressing like boys during a meeting Thursday in northern Malaysia, said Harussani Idris Zakaria, the mufti of northern Perak state, who attended the gathering.
Harussani said an increasing number of Malaysian girls behave like tomboys, and that some of them engage in homosexuality. Homosexuality is not explicitly banned in Malaysia, but it is effectively illegal under a law that prohibits sex acts "against the order of nature."
Harussani said the council's ruling was not legally binding because it has not been passed into law, but that tomboys should be banned because their actions are immoral.
"It doesn't matter if it's a law or not. When it's wrong, it's wrong. It is a sin," Harussani told The Associated Press. "Tomboy (behavior) is forbidden in Islam."
Under the edict, girls are forbidden to sport short hair and dress, walk and act like boys, Harussani said. Boys should also not act like girls, he said.
"They must respect God. God created them as boys, they must behave like boys. God created them as girls, they must act like girls," he said.
Council chairman Abdul Shukor Husin said the ruling was prompted by recent cases of young women behaving like men and indulging in homosexuality, according to the national news agency Bernama. He did not elaborate.
Malaysian media have reported on recent incidents of school bullying among girls, which have been caught on film and circulated on the Internet. In one film, some girls are seen beating up another girl in a bathroom.
A well-known Malaysian Muslim actress caused an uproar last year when she shaved her head bald for a film. Harussani and other muftis urged Muslims not to watch the movie, arguing that the actress had violated Islam by making herself look like a man.
"Muallaf," or "the convert," is scheduled for release in Singapore next month, but no date has been set for its release in Malaysia.
Muslims make up some 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people, and are subject to Islamic laws and the council's edicts, even if the rulings have not been enshrined in national or Shariah law.
It was not immediately clear what kind of punishment awaited those who violate the tomboy edict, or "fatwa." Malays generally follow the council's "fatwas" out of deference, but violators rarely get into trouble unless the edict is incorporated into national or Shariah law.