BY JAHARBERDEEN MOHAMED YUNOOS
MAY 30 — There are essentially three dimensions to the Private Member’s Bill sought to be passed by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, which the government graciously allowed to jump queue in the list of matters to be debated in Parliament.
First is the political dimension where PAS is clearly trying to achieve a political score with the Malay voters. It has been widely publicising it is willing to work with anyone to achieve its “Islamic goal”. In this case, if the Bill succeeds, PAS will have the “glory” in political history as the party which was responsible for “enhancing the status of Shariah courts” and for paving the way for further implementation of Islamic criminal law.
If it does not succeed in passing the Bill, Umno MPs will be accused of being insincere and “opposed to Islamic laws”. Clearly, in this game, PAS gets the credit either way with the general Malay voters.
Politically, Umno therefore is “snookered” unless it can bring the issue up to another completely different intellectual and political level which I am afraid Umno is incapable of due to misconceived fear and other reasons.
Secondly, the Constitutional dimension. As a matter of parliamentary courtesy, it is admirable the government has given way to a Private Member’s Bill from the Opposition to be heard before government business, which always takes precedence. I believe this is the first time and as the Parliament speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin repeatedly tried to educate the opposing members from the Opposition, this is a precedent.
I respect and admire Pandikar’s patience in educating the opposition members on the clear provisions of the Standing Orders. It really baffled me the opposition members are opposing their own Private Member’s Bills being heard first. Painfully amusing.
Constitutionally, any Act can be amended or even repealed by Parliament in accordance with the law and the Constitution. Hadi’s Bill ostensibly seeks to amend the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 in relation to enhancing their punishment provisions.
Currently, under section 2 of the aforesaid Act, Shariah courts can only impose punishment with imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or with any fine not exceeding five thousand ringgit or with whipping not exceeding six strokes or with any combination thereof. This is the so-called “356” punishments which Hadi’s Bill hopes to enhance. Obviously Hadi wants to enhance the penal powers of the Shariah courts to be able to implement Kelantan’s Shariah Criminal Enactment Code of 1993, through which they hope to impose hudud punishments.
Hence, we are back to PAS’s version of hudud which they want to compel Muslims to follow by force of law. Put it another way, PAS’s “noble aim” of “serving Islam” is to ensure Muslims are subjected to greater punishments and despite what is provided for under the civil law system.
The long-term effect of enhancing the penal punishments will be to allow more criminal offences perceived to be offences against the “precepts of Islam” and within List II of the State List of the Ninth Schedule to the Federal Constitution to be passed. Hence, we will see a situation where there will be two sets of criminal laws for Muslims — the Shariah and the civil law system. Obviously, this will give rise to various complex constitutional issues such as equality before the law and so on. I believe even a challenge under Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution may be mounted by a Muslim who does not want to be subjected to it though this would require a court which would decide without “fear or favour”.
I do not know why the government has never thought of evaluating whether the existing criminal laws under the federal laws are already consistent with the Quran and authentic Sunnah and hence “Islamic” or not. Surely, the federal government is not taking the position the existing criminal laws under the civil justice system do not achieve “justice” as enjoined by Islam and therefore, un-Islamic?
It truly baffles me why as a nation we are keen on creating two parallel legal systems in the country. Apart from the injustice which may ensue, aren’t the policy makers concerned this would lead to disunity and enmity between the Muslims and non-Muslims? I hope I am just being over worried about the fate of my country.
Thirdly, the faith and theological dimension. Muslims, especially those who with knowledge and take their faith seriously, will not like imposition on their faith and servitude to Allah. There have been tremendous debate and differences of views, even among scholars, on what constitutes “hudud” and “takzeer”. Despite the fact most scholars agree the term “hudud laws” refer to only those offences for which punishments are clearly prescribed for in the Quran, some other scholars and politicians insist on including various other offences as hudud offences even though they are not mentioned in the Quran. Furthermore the word “hudud” in the Quran does not even refer to any penal offences. It simply means “limit” and the relevant verses refer mostly to matrimonial matters.
Many notable scholars, including the renowned Prof Dr Hashim Kamali, are of the view for every punishment, the Quran also provides for forgiveness to the offender. However, this provision of forgiveness is absent in PAS’s version of hudud. There are many theological debates and issues concerning “hudud laws” that are still unsettled to this very day. I fear imposing such laws on Muslims, which are very tied to their faith and servitude to Allah, may give rise to disunity among the Muslims.
I would like to repeat my call to the government to seriously study the possibility of a “fused” legal system to maintain only one legal system in the country which can cater to the peculiar needs of each religious community while ensuring general justice for all Malaysians.
* An error in the print version of this article has since been rectified here.
** Jahaberdeen is is a senior lawyer and founder of Rapera, a movement that encourages thinking and compassionate citizens. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org