The influence of Islamic law

We are bracing for the passage of a bill this month that will allow Islamic courts to impose more severe punishments.

Mar 03, 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: We are bracing for the passage of a bill this month that will allow Islamic courts to impose more severe punishments.

“This is not a daydream. This is our struggle for the success of Muslims,” Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Aziz warned on Feb. 18 as thousands of Muslims gathered for a rally in support of the proposed law.

He said this after a rally in support of the bill, which drew an estimated 50,000 Muslims, mostly PAS supporters from neighbouring states in the Peninsula, according to reports.

PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang says the changes are necessary to enhance the status of the Islamic courts in the country and deter wrongdoing.

Proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act (Act 355) increase penalties for offences such as theft, robbery, adultery and sex outside of marriage.

Non-Muslims in the multi-ethnic country are alarmed that the coalition government is ignoring agreements made at the formation of Malaysia that the nation would be secular albeit with Islam as the religion of the Federation.

Critics of the amendments say they are unjust, disproportionate and unconstitutional.

They say the bill will sow further mistrust between ethnic groups in the country. Religious minorities say that their rights have already dwindled with the imposition of several pro-Islamic policies by the government.

Christians have been barred by a court from using the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God, with the result that Malay-language Bibles have been confiscated.

While non-Muslim religious organisations have generally been quiet about last weekend’s rally, they have made their concerns clear.

A Christian group linked to the Barisan Nasional government led by Prime Minister Najib Razak declined to comment on the rally.

Rev Wong Kim Kong, chairman of Christians for Peace and Harmony in Malaysia told local media: “This is beyond us. It is very political.”

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism condemned the plan to amend the law last year as Muslim and non-Muslim government ministers quarrelled over the issue.

The Rev Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches Malaysia, said the proposed amendment is clearly an attempt to rewrite the Constitution in a radical way.

“Federal lawmakers must not treat Hadi’s attempt to alter our country’s justice system, set in place by our founding fathers and consistently sustained for over 55 years, lightly. They should view it with great concern, even alarm,” said Shastri.

In the statement in October just before the last parliamentary session, Shastri said that if approved, the bill would remove the present limitations on the civil courts’ sentencing powers.

So far, Islamic laws allowing for stoning and amputation cannot be enforced because they are against the Federal Constitution. Syariah courts are limited to the imposition of fines not exceeding around US$1,000, three years jail and six strokes of the cane.

The amendments to Act 355, expected to be discussed in parliament when it sits next month, will allow the Islamic courts, which rule on religious matters and family law for Muslims, to impose a jail sentence of as long as 30 years, as many as 100 strokes of the cane and a fine of more than $22,000. --

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