Masjid Selat Melaka. Najib Razak is accused of pandering to the federation’s Muslim majority. Source: Wikimedia
Malaysia’s government is backing moves to establish an Islamic penal code that includes amputations and stoning, alarming coalition allies and raising fears for the traditions of tolerance in the multiethnic country.
Observers have suggested the ‘hudud’ or Islamic law is being used to build support from Muslim Malay voters ahead of by-elections in June and the 2018 general election.
The government submitted the hudud bill after it was proposed by the Islamist Parti Islam se-Malaysia’s (PAS).
PAS has tried to push through these amendments to the 1965 Syariah Courts criminal jurisdiction act on other occasions but it has never made it into the House of Representatives before.
The PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang’s submission to parliament brought criticism from other parties, including members of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
But it was the support of minister for the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman and the United Malays National Organisation (Umno). Parties that represent the large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities were uneasy about the legislation.
Prime Minister Najib Razak said the bill was “misunderstood”.
“It’s not hudud but what we refer to as enhanced punishment,” Najib told the press after meeting his fellow Umno leaders.
But the hudud bill will probably fail to become law, as its supporters do not constitute the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed.
“It applies only to certain offences and this comes under the jurisdiction of the Syariah court and is only applicable to the Muslims. It has nothing to do with non-Muslims,” he told reporters.
“This doesn’t mean that these amendments are so easy to implement because it needs the permission of the Islamic council, the council of rulers and amendments to pass through parliament. And if we are going to amend the law as a party, we will definitely do it with consensus from Barisan Nasional parties.”
The sanctions would be limited and caning would not apparently injure or draw blood. BN member the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) said the submission was “unconstitutional”.
“As we repeatedly pointed out, the implementation of hudud law is against the spirit of the federal constitution, and would ruin the interethnic relationship in the country,” MCA president Liow Tiong Lai said.
“This is nothing against Islam or the Shariah, what we’re looking at is the constitution,” Lim Guan Eng, Democratic Action Party
secretary general, said. “So when the constitution is affected, it’s only a matter of time where you have one system. You cannot have one country, two systems.”