I am witness to the alarming rate at which Malaysia sways towards religious oppression of its non-Muslims. In further development of this, Malaysia’s north-eastern state of Kelantan is set to propose the enforcement of the Islamic ‘Hudud’ Bill in its Parliament after it was unanimously passed by the Kelantan State Assembly on 19 March. Hudud is a term for the severe, Koran-prescribed punishment for offences that are considered being against God himself. These include amputation for theft, stoning for adultery, flogging for alcohol consumption, crucifixion for armed robbery and execution for apostasy.
This Kelantan bill which was initially passed in 1993 but prevented from being implemented on the grounds of its unconstitutional nature, has been passed yet again and now being set in motion. The Bill is an amendment of the 1965 Syariah (Sharia) Courts Act which currently limits Sharia penalties to a fine of 3,000 Malaysian Ringgits ($800), 5 years imprisonment and 6 strokes of a cane. Sharia law is heavily prevalent in the running of Malaysian law and politics and Kelantan state is of no exception. In Kelantan, Syariah courts function alongside the penal court system and are governed by state legislation rather than federal law.
The Islamic Parti Islam-se Malaysia (PAS) Party is the ruling coalition in Kelantan state and have already proposed 2 Private Members Bills in Parliament during its sitting which concluded yesterday. The first proposal is to enable Syariah courts to legislate on certain crimes currently under the charge of the Penal Code. The second is to enable Syariah courts to sentence those convicted to the aforementioned punishments according to the Koran-prescribed Hudud. Despite the requirement for a majority Parliamentary vote to enact the first proposal and a two-thirds majority to enact the second, given the unanimous passing of the Hudud Bill in the first place, it is highly unlikely that the Kelantan state government will struggle to enforce such punishments.
This PAS Bill states that Hudud can only affect the Muslim population of the state but it fundamentally strips away the right of anyone wishing to leave Islam for any other religion or quite possibly, to simply abandon it. The implementation of this Bill will clearly divide the state along ethnic and religious lines, as under the proposed code for example, women and non-Muslim men are not permitted to testify as witnesses in Syariah courts. This has led political and social researcher, Dr Wong Chin Huat to pose the valid statement:
‘If I am robbed in Kelantan by a Muslim and his case goes to Syariah court and I cannot be my own witness in full competence, how can this be justice?’
It should be pointed out that this Hudud Bill is not unique to Kelantan alone, rather the state is just a latest example of the curtailing of religious freedom within Malaysia. Terengganu state for instance has also attempted to introduce similar legislation. I am still living in Malaysia until the summer and I can honestly say the country’s politics does not shy away from exclusively carving out a Muslim nation explicitly for the Malays and chipping away at non-Malay and non-Muslim freedoms.
Two-thirds of Malaysia’s Christians live in Sarawak and Sabah and the churches of Sarawak have been particularly vocal in its criticism of the Hudud Bill, perceiving its enactment to be in violation of the secular foundation upon which Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak formed Malaysia. The Kuching Ministers’ Fellowship (KMF), a network of church pastors and leaders in Sarawak, joined the Sabah Council of Churches in criticising the passing of the Kelantan Shariah Criminal Code II Enactment 1993 (amendment 2015) last month in the east coast state run by Islamist party PAS.
“The recently-passed Kelantan Hudud enactment is in direct contradiction to the aspirations of founding fathers of our nation to keep Malaysia a secular state as evidenced in several historical documents that explicitly state this,” KMF chairman Pastor Daron Tan stated.
“The introduction of hudud law is a fundamental breach and deviation from the expressed commitment to complete religious freedom, a key term underpinning the Malaysia Agreement signed in July 1963 between Sarawak, Sabah and Malaya,” he added.
As the original secular roots of Malaysia continues to be eroded and replaced with an ever-present, ever-pressing purer form of Islam, the nation continues to be plunged deeper into uncertainty for its religious minorities. Malaysia is becoming a country of increasing alarm, its politics increasingly embedded and infiltrated by hard-line Islamists. Personally speaking, it has become a country that has gained priority in my nations-to-watch list.