ON 9 Feb 2010, history was made in Malaysia when three Muslim women were caned at Kajang prison for “illicit sex”, a syariah offence. Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the caning was done according to the law, and claimed it “did not result in any wound on [the women’s] bodies”.
Hishammuddin must have thought this a trivial matter because he only bothered to inform Malaysians about it nine days after the women were caned. He also insinuated that it was all “systems go” for beer-drinking model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno to be caned, and that Malaysians should not “misunderstand” or “play up” the issue.
Therefore, according to Hishammuddin, the following rules now govern Malaysian citizens:
People can and will be punished secretly; the government can choose to inform citizens later when it pleases.
Muslims can expect their private lives and personal morals to be subjected to endless scrutiny from now on. Non-Muslims need not worry. Yet.
A particular interpretation of Islamic laws is increasingly part of Malaysia’s political terrain. If citizens question why this is so, then they “misunderstand” and want to “play up” the issue.
Here’s the rub. The international community, including Muslim scholars, regards caning as a form of cruel and degrading punishment. Additionally, research shows that caning is not an effective deterrent, not even for violent or sexual crimes. Yet Hishammuddin’s argument is that it is acceptable and even Islamic for the state to use it as a form of punishment.
If it were acceptable and Islamic, why did he take so long to inform Malaysians about this historic round of caning? It is important to remember this is not the first time Hishammuddin has opined that the government’s secrecy on its human rights violations is justified.
KartikaThe larger question then is, how are Malaysians going to respond to these human rights violations in the name of Islam? How exactly do we want the practise and politics of Islam to evolve in Malaysia?
How indeed have large sectors of Malaysians been responding to issues relating to Islamic crime and punishment?
In September 2009, PAS Youth defended the whipping sentence against Kartika. Their reasoning was that she was not the first person or woman to be whipped under Islamic law in Malaysia.
According to them, PAS-led Kelantan has been whipping people for syariah offences since 1997. PAS Youth then went on to accuse the parties who questioned Kartika’s whipping as “slandering Malaysia’s religious institutions”.
Lest we dismiss this as the default response of an Islamist party, it must be noted that Johor Baru Umno Youth and Wanita Umno also lodged police reports against those who questioned the sentence. It thus seems that in syariah-related matters, the line between Umno and PAS is blurred, no matter what their respective leaders claim.
In fact, even Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), with Malay-Muslim Malaysians as its core constituency, is coy when it comes to syariah-related matters.
It would be easy to dismiss these positions held by PAS, Umno and PKR as mere political party rhetoric. But in Malaysia, political Islam is reinforced time and again through the Umno-controlled media and PAS party organ, and unelected institutions such as the monarchy, the courts, religious enforcers and even the police.
Imagine, in November 2009, it was the Kuantan Syariah Court Registrar — not even a cabinet minister or the attorney-general — who asserted that there were no legal impediments to caning Kartika.
It seems not to matter to these Malaysians that other Islamic scholars disagree with this focus on “Islamic” punishments. Advocates of syariah punishments in Malaysia now justify their positions by pointing towards the perpetrators’ willingness to be punished.
But this is unconvincing, given the larger political climate now in Malaysia, where those who disagree with official policies on Islam are threatened and censured.
The country we deserve
What would a snapshot of political Islam in Malaysia today show us? That our biggest political parties are vying to see who can most effectively push for a particular interpretation of an Islam-compliant — if not entirely “Islamic” — state.
It would also show that syariah-based punishments are being meted out in secret, condoned by the government of the day. And it would show religious bodies — both official and vigilantes — stepping up their efforts to clamp down on syariah-related offences, as interpreted by the state.
These layers of political Islam are mutually enforcing, and could soon pose a threat to Malaysia’s democratisation. Just look at theocratic Iran. It has comprehensive legislation focusing on private morality. For example, adultery is punishable by flogging, hanging or stoning. The state-appointed religious leaders uphold these laws mercilessly and brook no dissent. They recruit paramilitary officers, the Basij, to police the morals of Iranians. As armed recruits, the Basij are also called upon to use unthinkable violence to break up pro-democracy movements and anti-government demonstrations.
A police officer and Basij (plainclothes, right) arresting a young man in front
of Iranian parliament, 2009 (Pic by Hamed Saber / Wiki commons)
Of course, Malaysia is not Iran. Not yet. In Iran, the Islamic revolution’s heirs are now feeling the effects of having their private lives scrutinised and then punished in the most brutal ways. They are risking their lives and taking to the streets to protest what they see as a corrupt religious dictatorship.
In Malaysia, there are virtually no mass protests when Islam is politicised to violate citizens’ rights. In fact, even when certain civil rights groups protest, they are quickly threatened by the state and other “Islamic” organisations, and do not seem to gain much public support.
So in Malaysia at least, Islamist advocates of syariah punishments are truly getting the country they deserve. The question is, what about the rest of Malaysia?
For related stories, see In the Spotlight: Political Islam
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And all this is happening while bickering politicians (on both sides) make sham pledges to uphold the federal constitution. Islamist advocates may be getting the country they want, but tragically Malaysians are getting the country they deserve by default.
We are always being led by our noses by the country’s leadership. Our daily issues and problems are highlighted and “played up” by them. As long as (1) the leaders continue to play the race and religion cards for votes, and (2) we do not grow up and start thinking of the big picture as one nation, we will continue to subject ourselves to this vicious never-ending cycle.
There is no problem if people don’t look for it. However, people like to look for a problem, so they can argue but most people argue selfishly. So in the end, the argument is a waste of time.
Who knows more says
To those who don’t know (especially the author) about the Islamic punishment (caning), they just don’t deserve to judge it. This thing is acceptable in Islam since a thousand years before. The author ask why did Hishammuddin take so long to inform Malaysians about this historic round of caning. This is because all the Muslims had accepted it for a long time but nowadays all of the non-Muslims love to interfere with the Islamic religion, practice and administration. I’m not trying to be bad here but to all non-Muslims, stop bothering our religion!
For the record, I am a practising Muslim.
Columns and Comments Editor
It’s opportunism at its worst – Umno out to assert its “Muslim credibility”, whatever that it is. Indeed, who speaks for Islam?
I like to think that my religion is one that encourages dialogue and reflection. Just because this was appropriate (or was it?) centuries ago, does not mean it is appropriate now.
But then someone will tell me that questioning this is tantamount to questioning the Quran and that I “menghina” Islam. And what’s the punishment for that according to the Syariah Law as practiced in the Federal Territory? Fine of not more than RM3,000 or imprisonment for no longer than two years, or both.
Referring to the caricature, does “enjoying their freedom” include having extramarital sex?
As far and wide freedom’s borders can go, [there are still borders].
In response to Shanon Shah, all I can say is that your religion is a cruel and demeaning one indeed. Corporal punishment can never change the inner state of being. For your info, not all non-Muslims ‘love to interfere with the Islamic religion’.
I think you’ve got the wrong person. I, Shanon Shah, am the journalist who wrote this commentary, and I sometimes respond to comments here, since I also edit and approve comments. I am not the person who wrote that non-Muslims “love to interfere with the Islamic religion”.
In stating that I’m a practising Muslim, I was merely responding to the commenter lest he/she assumed that I am non-Muslim.
And I suppose it is up to you to believe that my religion is “a cruel and demeaning one”. I am Muslim and in my column and commentaries I have clearly critiqued the focus on corporal punishment in a lot of Muslim societies. So, I think your response is just as problematic as the comment you take issue with.
Columns and Comments Editor
Malaysia oh Malaysia – they never really stop using religions for politics. Why so much fuss and efforts on syariah punishment, when there are more important and essential issues to deal with, like improving education, helping families, reducing pollution, improving health services etc. (which are more beneficial to all Malaysians). Something that has been acceptable in Islam for a thousand years (like caning) does not make it automatically suitable for today’s times. Not changing our mind and lifestyles for a thousand years would leave us behind in this ever-changing world.
It is sad to know that many Muslims have failed to understand their own religion, hence failed to make our non-Muslim fellow friends understand and respect Islam as a religion. Do not blame our non-Muslim friends for their confusion and misunderstanding on Islam. They can’t be blamed bacause they just don’t know.
With Islamisation increasing and being politicised by our politicians for their own political mileage, I am wondering whether Malaysia will end up like Iran. Or worse still, another Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan in the future.
This latest event is also unfortunate since it happened just after the controversy surrounding the “Allah” issue and the ongoing sodomy case against Anwar Ibrahim.
With all these negative publicity and reports about Malaysia, I am wondering whether Malaysia will be able to attract FDIs and remain competitive. The recent PERC report about Malaysia also speaks for itself.
By the way, thanks Shanon, for your excellent article. What you said in your article is truly a wake-up call to all right thinking Malaysians to question whether Malaysia is becoming an Islamic state that we deserve or by default.
Therefore, it is up to Malaysians to decide what Malaysia will become in the future. Therefore, we Malaysians must vote wisely in GE13 for the sake of Malaysia’s future and survival.
Thanks Forky, and I think it’s important to stress that our concerns cut across religious lines – both non-Muslims *and* Muslims are grappling with all that you have pointed out.
Columns and Comments Editor
The religion is NOT the issue. The use of religion for political control of the country is.
As long as you are convinced by the leaders that your religion/way of life is “under attack”, you (and many like you) are convinced that you will need to protect this way of life.
Question: In Malaysia, we have NEVER subjected woman to public caning before. Never in history. Why is this suddenly “a way of life” to be protected when we have never practised this before?
Well…well…well…looks like someone is trying to play God and it’s getting me confused. Whatever I do is between me and God and not between me and flesh-and-blood! Being a social drinker, I never borrow money from others to buy a mug of beer or two nor will I disturb others. I will definitely make sure that it’s between me and Him. It is better than giving fiery “ceramahs” condemning others. I am really confused about the Malaysian legal system. Damn!
In that case Shanon Shah, I’m sorry if I offended you. I got it wrong. My apologies. That comment was aimed at ‘Who knows more’.
No offence taken 🙂 Thanks for contributing to the discussion.
Columns and Comments Editor
Umno is hiding behind the banner of Islam to impose their undemocratic rule and actions. Their selfish actions are destroying the nation and are leading this country into Zimbabwe- [and Iran-]type rule.
Ummmm, stoning was and is probably practised for years, so it can be said it’s “acceptable” thereafter huh?
Castration was “accepted” by the Chinese for more than two thousands years by the way…
Islam must not even be in government. No land has successfully applied sharia law as a form of governance since it began 1,400 years ago. Islam as a religion should not even be mentioned in public life as not all Malaysians are Muslim. When are we going to learn? It is disgusting that people are subjected to the punishment of others. Tell me, do the people who carry out the punishment get punished if they have sex? If they gamble? Drink?
In the Quran it says in war having sex with the female slaves is okay, do we mention this or will it be censored or forgotten because we do not like to concentrate on the religion itself?
Quran (33:50) – “O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those (slaves) whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee.”
Quran (23:5-6) – “..who abstain from sex, except with those joined to them in the marriage bond, or (the captives) whom their right hands possess…”
It will be a real test of freedom if my e-mail gets on this website because there are double standards!
Perchance the double standards exist only in your head? And perchance it is not just status-quo Islamists who are guilty of selectively quoting Quranic verses to justify their own prejudices?
Columns and Comments Editor
George J says
This is just one more example of why tolerance towards Islam in the Western world is in terminal decline. 10 years ago, like most people, I was all in favour of a live and let live attitude to people of all faiths, and still am… for all faiths except Islam. From a UK perspective, I can tell you I no longer want it in my country, while all over Europe millions of non-Muslims are coming to the same conclusion. So cane, flog, behead and stone away guys, because the more Islam displays its intrinsically savage and barbaric nature, the shorter its future becomes on this planet.
It is sad that you use the political manifestation of a particular religious administration to fuel your own bigotry, but that’s your choice. There are several commentators on this website alone who have opposed the caning who declare that they are Muslim, but I suppose that point is lost from a “Western” perspective.
Columns and Comments Editor
Xavier Gomez says
Islamisation sneaked through the back door of Parliament courtsey of Mahathir Mohammad. And it does not take a political scientist to see the writing on the wall. Egypt is a reference point where such “Islamisation” made the majority of non-Muslims become selectively marginalised and systematically ethnically cleansed. With the history of destroying Orang Asli churches and [now] bombing others, we are fast heading down that road.
It is not just a sad day in our history to see women being caned for illicit sexual affairs in the name of religion, but to witness how selective manipulation of religion and the law has become commonplace. Statistics bear witness of men who have raped their own children, including big-name politicians, policemen and other “big-fish” personalities. But what do we see in Parliament but insults and obscenities that demean women.
A pernicious trend in the castle of rascals, where the name of the game is to whip women, cast fear into their hearts and win political and religious points. And that’s the way you do it … blow their candles out to make yours look brighter. The only reason for the dark masquerade to prevail is for good men and women to remain silent.
Should have castrated their male partners instead of caning them. We should follow the Ancient Chinese Leadership style – castrate the men, so that they don’t mess around with the girls.
We should start migratig, don’t waste our time complaining. Sooner or later we will be migrated to six-feet under anyway. This is for sure. I can guarantee it for Jamie Khoo, myself ,Chin Huat and everyone else. So stop complaining and start migrating.
Was that a threat?
Columns and Comments Editor
Let them zina and kill their babies because of their human rights?
The spate of discoveries of abandoned babies â€” one horribly burnt and dumped in a garbage bin â€” has been roundly condemned, but much still needs to be done to tackle the problem at its root.
There is this island in the middle of the ocean where everything is perfect. Itâ€™s called Utopia. And it doesnâ€™t exist. Agreed? Good.
Now that weâ€™ve got that out of the way, letâ€™s see if we can talk some sense into ourselves.
Of late, our fragile Malaysian senses have been viciously assaulted by news of the discovery of abandoned babies left, right and centre.
Just in the past week alone, the remains of babies were found in Penang, Malacca and Kelantan.
One baby, still alive, was left in front of a police officerâ€™s house in Kedah.
Forgive me if I have got the numbers wrong, as Iâ€™m having trouble keeping up. That said, it just about settles any argument on whether these are isolated incidents or a nationwide phenomenon.
Most horrible, however, was that of the body of the baby in Kelantan, discovered in a garbage bin, and badly burnt.
This undoubtedly cruel and criminal act has predictably provoked a hue and cry, regardless of the reasons of leaving newborn babies to die in some remote location or, worse, killing them outright.
And thatâ€™s just the remains that have been discovered.
This recent spate of abandoned babies is not something that suddenly popped out overnight.
If anyone bothers to go through newspaper archives, I am pretty sure that the resultant clippings of related news would amount to more than a handful.
Ooops we can’t take any action against them because it’s ok to zina and have babies and throw or burn them alive.
Interesting red herring. The women were caned not for abandoning babies. They were caned for having “illicit sex”. As some other readers have pointed out, not a peep has been heard about what’s been done with the men who were involved. While the point about abandoned babies is important and heartbreaking, it is not the main reason why the authorities chose to cane these women. Perhaps this piece could help clarify matters further: http://thenutgraph.com/six-words-on-sex-education
Columns and Comments Editor
What I’d like to see is syariah law applied on politicians (and their buddies). Caning the male counterparts would be nice. We can start with Abdul Razak Baginda for his involvement with Altantuya.
Like somebody pointed out here, religion is not the issue but the selective use of religion for political survival is. It’s an insult to the religion when it’s used by politicians to sustain power. I think after Umno failed in its attempt to woo PAS, they thought, what the heck let’s woo PAS supporters instead. So they start administering syariah law and make sure everybody knows about it. Laws that could have been administered on these Umno politicians 10 times over. But they know they will never be touched because they have power. The sad thing is Malaysians have a tendency to put these scums on pedestals and worship them.
I was surprised that caning on women finally took place in Malaysia. At the same time, I am puzzled why the newspapers were silent over other the parties that committed illicit sex with those women. Will they be punished as well? After all it takes two to tango!
Towards a righteous civilisation:
The wisdom of the Malaysian Islamic faith is for the offenders of such immoral acts to be caned and only then will the offenders repent and not repeat their immoral acts. This mindset must be instilled in every Muslim of the world and as such the world should learn from us as this form of punishment will lead to a more moral society and towards achieving and producing a more righteous civilisation.
When Malaysia was formed Muslims only accounted for 50% [of the population]. It is a pity East Malaysians, which accounted for 80% of non-Muslims at the time of Malaysia’s formation [had their] Muslim population increased systematically by KL through various means. Today Umno calls Malaysia a Muslim majority state. How did this happen? One reason is the MCA , MIC, Gerakan, especially their leaders, are busy making money and wealth for themselves. They forget to see Umno’s bigger agenda. I am afraid this law will soon be extended to the non-Muslims.
nguyen mai says
If I’m not mistaken, it takes two to tango. The women were found guilty of adultery and duly punished. What about their partners – were they not guilty as well? What happened to them?
The problem with the punishments meted out to these women is that their crime is small compared to the crime of the govt of Malaysia that fails to implement the Shariah comprehensively in all aspects of life. It is they who should be caned first!
How can the ruling authority punish people for breaking the Islamic law when they are criminally breaking the law by allowing breweries to produce alcohol and shops to sell it openly? How can they punish people with sex offences when they encourage indecency and immorality in all aspects of Malaysian society?
I’m a Muslim by default and it’s not like I can change my religion (or race) so why am I subjected to something I don’t believe in? I hate Islam with all my heart because of the cruelty of the religion. If God existed, why would he allow [some] Malay [Malaysians] to be so full of themselves that they become a clan of Malay supremacists? The non-Muslims are giving constructive criticism but as usual, [some] Malay [Malaysians] cannot be criticised even if it’s the truth and the non-Muslims are just pointing out facts which shows how crazy [some] Muslims are becoming. We already violate human rights, why can’t we complain about it? Is it because ISA would catch you as soon as you practice a moment of freedom of speech? Don’t you see how stupid everything is?!
Questions for everyone to ponder:
1. Do you think all these people who were punished and will be punished because of their syariah offences, have committed or will commit all these sins and crimes punishable by our syariah laws, really want to be Muslims or are they just Muslims because the state says so?
2. Are all the Malaysians labelled “Muslims” in this country really Muslims in heart, mind and soul in which they really believe, profess and want to be in that religion willingly? If not can they actually choose not to be Muslims and declare that in public (or at least in their I.C.) and not be punished or ridiculed?
3a. Were you allowed to choose your religion before you were born? Could you recall the day before or the instant before you were born of any arrangement or agreement you made with the Almighty?
3b. In the context of living in this country, now that you are an adult and of sound mind, were you at some point allowed or given a clear chance or opportunity by the state to choose your own religion? If so was that decision:
(i) Done by you and registered by the state?
(ii) Done by your parents and registered by the state?
(iii) Registered by the state because of your parents?
4. There’s an article in the constitution that guarantees religious freedom in this country. Do you really believe so? Can anyone (and I mean anyone in Malaysia) choose his/her own religion without the state interfering?
5. Did our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) force everyone to follow his teachings? Did he choose who shall be Muslims and who shall not? Were his children automatically Muslims and needed some form of verification from the state? Did he set up religious organisations like we have today to ensure everyone does not deviate from his teachings? If so show me concrete proof. How many muftis were elected? Who got to be syariah prosecutor, defender or judge?
6. Who is a Muslim or what makes someone a Muslim? Is it his/her actions, beliefs and faith or is it the decision of his/her government?
7. After answering the questions above, do you think God sent us religion or is religion man-made?
The title of Shanon’s article says it all…YES! We deserve what we get since this Government is put in place by the majority it holds in Parliament!
If we do not like what we see…and it does not matter what the issue is, then make sure your vote counts in the next GE!
Yes, but I also pointed out that the issue is slightly more complex than just being an issue of who is the government of the day. For example, with the Pakatan Rakyat, what has PAS really been saying about this issue? In many senses, the kind of Islamisation we are seeing in Malaysia now is a trans-party and trans-institutional experience.
Columns and Comments Editor
Azizi Khan says
Who knows more,
You are right. People who comment here and those who write the articles can’t possibly know more than Ikim and hundreds of other politically-inclined “religious authorities” right ?
By the way, doesn’t the Quran also say I can own slaves? If I am a true Muslim, I should be allowed to purchase a few (preferably cute) female slaves to do my bidding… Apparently I’m even allowed to do naughty naughty things to them since I’ll “own” them…
Yup, I’m with you there… if we are going to be true Muslims, we’re in lock, stock and two huge smoking barrels…
In fact I think there is a market in shipping female slaves to Saudi… 😉
There is only one problem though… the whole “Ketuanan Melayu” is a bit passe and is a thorn on the side for a true Muslim. Can we do the jihad thing instead ? We “jihad” the Chinese and Indian [Malaysians] to next year and we can be absolute Muslims… This would go well with our Taliban brothers as well. We can ship them petroleum and they can ship us weapons… Fair dinkum deal I reckon…
Worse ever Home Minister we’ve ever had !!! Even worse then Syed Hamid Albar. Doesnt use his brains when talking! […]
Not a threat, but our destiny…live with that…stop complaining about going six feet under.
fikir islam says
The question that remains is, why are people afraid of Islamisation?
For practising Muslims, they are Muslims, there are no qualms there. For the non-practising, duh! For non-Muslims, what do they understand of Islamisation?
I believe the term itself only came to light in the past few years and comes from orientalists, trying to discredit the trend where people favour religions over secularism.
As a believing Muslim, being a Muslim means that I accept the whole Islam, inclusive of the Islamic politics, a state where the sovereignty of the state lies with God, and the leaders and people in general are liable and answerable for their actions. As such, such a state promises justice and transparency from the administration and the people are also culpable for any wrongdoings i.e. by not caring or reporting or trying to advise or change the leaders.
What Hishammuddin did is certainly wrong; justice must not only be served but it must also be seen to be served. However, does it matter to you whether the announcement comes earlier or later? What is important is that justice is meted out. Would you want to plea for a lesser sentence or whatnot? Certainly the parties involved were aware when the sentence was carried out. Unless you want to observe each and every sentence carried out, that is. What is the role of the justice system, I beg to ask?
You are giving the example of the Islamic state of Iran (despite Iran practising a different Islam than most of the world); however, most scholars, in fact, cannot agree on what counts as an Islamic state. I, for one, do not believe that an Islamic state is a police state. You might be surprised that some scholars believe that US is closer to an Islamic state than any country in the world.
For non-practising Muslims, certainly you are not asking from us practising Muslims for money to buy beer, etc. Your money, your own prerogative. […]
It’s good that you bring up the diversity of views regarding the definition of an “Islamic state”. Therefore the example of Iran *is* relevant, because it makes a claim of being an “Islamic state”. And so, all these different claims need to be debated publicly and without censorship or fear of reprisals. The question is, does this environment of openness and respect for public debate exist in Malaysia right now on matters related to Islam? The evidence suggests that it doesn’t.
Columns and Comments Editor
fikir islam says
Another two cents from me; after going through all the posts, I have came to the conclusion that they came from misguided, heavily prejudiced, narrow-minded, and etc, etc. Whereas there are attempts to view the matter in a more open way, because the facts were misunderstood, the conjecture becomes misguided and further away from the truth.
I admit, I am not a scholar of Islam; but from what I have understand of Islam, I’ve come to understand that there is Malaysian Islam, Arabic Islam, European Islam, Syiah Islam etc.
So it is hard to argue against people who do not understand the basics; my arguments will become Greek to them.
As such, the interpretation about slave girls; the soul of the issue is to recognise the existence of a problem; namely slaves. How to treat them, manage the problem, and eventually eradicate the problem. What few people here understand is that Islam is the first to recognise slavery that exists in the culture and forming a strategy to promote eradication of slavery. In fact, the most recent criticisms from the West are that Islam does not act in a more proactive manner to eradicate slavery.
The same issue lies with Islamic politics. How we can start a meaningful debate if the basics pertaining to the issue are not understood?
One of the theme in this topic is that religion is controlling the state versus the state is controlling religion, a separation between religion and state, i.e. secularism.
Yes, it is sad to see politicians quoting religious texts to further their political agenda. But to blame religion solely because some quarters are misusing religion is like marahkan nyamuk kelambu dibakar.
Politicians are politicians. They will use any means necessary to incite the masses. As the trend is that the masses are favouring religion, we must expect that it will come up sooner or later.
I believe the least that I can ask from Malaysians is to become mature; not to be susceptible to any incitation. Not to be quick to anger and show anger, via blogging nor demonstrations. Not to become childish. Never be quick to judge.
The issue is not even accepting which model of Islamic state our country is, despite what the politicians and the govt of the day say. Although Islam is the religion of the state as declared under Article 3 of the Federal Constitution, Malaysia is and was meant to be a secular country. Article 4 declares unequivocally that the supreme law of the land is the Federal Constitution. The Syariah Law passed by the states should be in line with the Federal Constitution eg Article 8 – equality, etc. There is a need to understand that there is a limit to the scope and extent of syariah law in Malayasia. I am not even gonna go into the content of the syariah law being implemented in all the states – they are not uniform. So how come this valid point on the constitution is not even being raised?
The debate is now seems to hinge on this question: If the syariah laws are there, they are bound to be applied, no? If they are not meant to be there, or conflict with the constitution, then how did they get enacted in the first place?
Columns and Comments Editor
I think you have made two replies worth commenting on:
1.) â€œAnd perchance it is not just status-quo Islamists who are guilty of selectively quoting Quranic verses to justify their own prejudices?â€
Well, I donÂ´t see anything wrong with using this method, since they (i.e. the so-called â€œIslamistsâ€) started it.
In any case, why are those sentences in the Quran if they were not the words of Allah? Are you saying that people are making up the words of Allah? Or are you saying that the words are not what they are supposed to mean by Allah?
2.) â€œIt is sad that you use the political manifestation of a particular religious administration to fuel your own bigotry, but that’s your choice. There are several commentators on this website alone who have opposed the caning who declare that they are Muslim, but I suppose that point is lost from a ‘Western’ perspective.â€
Well, there is no so-called “Western” perspective, really. Aren’t those words such as â€œflogâ€ not approvingly found in the Qurâ€™an itself? Are you in denial, or are you saying that the Quran meant â€œkissâ€ when it says â€œflogâ€?
The fact is that the world (e.g. India, the EU, etc.) over is pushing back — the more Muslims push for the world to kowtow to Muslim superiority, the more the others will push back. In any case, Malaysia is heading down a particular religious administration which is adding more fuel to the existing bigotry. So, is it any wonder why non-Muslims think the way they think — that Islam as we perceive it today will only become more forceful in trying to impose so-called â€œIslamic valuesâ€ upon the world?
The fact is that Muslims (a few particular sects) have exploited the acceptance and freedom afforded to Muslims by Western societies in Western countries to propagate a kind of Islam which has reached a point where, if the Western societies don’t push back, they will see the very core values (which directly conflicts with Islamic values) which they had fought so hard for altered forever.
I still don’t see the merit of this argument. Any text, religious texts included, can be interpreted to either very narrowly or very broadly. It’s not about pretending that the verses in the Quran that call for corporal punishments etc. do not exist, but that religious texts in general are complicated.
Some groups – whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, etc. – find inspiration in their texts to seek inclusivity and social justice. Some seek violence and exclusion. Some secular republics have very beautiful-sounding constitutions, and yet they oppress citizens readily and violently. So, a tit-for-tat with Islamists (or any religious fundamentalist) is unproductive and lazy — the argument is basically “well they started it”. I don’t see how this is mature or ethical in any way. Is it so difficult to hold all people/groups accountable to the same standards.
So it’s interesting that you ask, am I in denial, or am I lying about what’s in the text of the Quran? That’s a false choice. What if I am neither? There are various expressions of Islam, as with any religion – the political, the textual, the everyday lived realities, the mystical. Could we be clearer about what we are analysing/critiquing? This piece is a critique of political Islam, and that so many commenters – either pro- or anti-Islam – are conflating a critique of one as a critique of the other, is problematic.
So yes, you are free to conclude what you want to about Muslims “because Muslims started it”, and make a particular expression of Islam represent *all* Muslims, but I don’t think that two wrongs necessarily make a right.
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I doubt that in a country that practices the right of the Islamic authorities to enter a house without a permit and base on unsubstantiated information that there might be a man and woman in the house (perhaps just having tea) that practice can be called Islamic. (But hey, I am not a scholar.)
But that isn’t the point. If the society this system exists within accepts and denies themselves their own constitutional right, rather than demanding that the authorities show how two consenting adults enjoying each other’s company (for example having tea and a good chat together) can be a threat to society, than what can we expect? I personally feel if there is any crime committed, it is the disruption of a good conversation conducted in private space. It is no one’s business but between the consenting adults what goes on in privacy. But it is interesting how the issue of privacy is being mixed up with crime – i.e: abandoning or killing babies.
@ Shanon – Syariah laws are enacted by the State Legislative Assemblies. I don’t think there is any mechanism in place to ensure their constitutionality at the moment. It remains in place till someone challenges its constitutionality. There are other state legislations which are also questionable in terms of their constitutionality, not just syariah laws. There is room to reconsider the extent and content of syariah laws in Malaysia if one were to pay any regard to the Federal Constitution at all. The answer is in the constitution. Pls hv a look at “Legislating Faith in Malaysia” in  Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, 264-289.
Thanks jaanah. You have rightly pointed out that the syariah law-making process is opaque, and the complexities and contradictions that we see now are only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a story on The Nut Graph that briefly touches on this: http://www.thenutgraph.com/syariah-law-galore
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