By Joe Samad
Malaysians celebrated when PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang’s motion to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (RUU355) was not debated as expected on April 5. This was a big blow and embarrassment to both PAS and Hadi.
The defeat was brushed off by PAS’ Kota Bharu MP Takiyuddin Hassan, who said Hadi’s motion not being debated should not be construed as a failure and would not harm his party’s chances in the general election.
But for so long, PAS and Umno have played the political game on RUU355, and the harsh landing in Parliament could hurt PAS in GE14. RUU355 was PAS’ No.1 agenda to bring about harsher shariah laws in Malaysia.
Hadi should take the RUU355 failure as a bitter lesson in Barisan Nasional’s (BN) greater scheme of things. PAS and Umno wooed each other and it seemed at one time that there were greater benefits through their courtship in capturing the rural Malay votes.
Instead of spending all his effort and energy to help better the lives of the Kelantanese people, Hadi wasted time pursuing his one and only goal, to implement harsher punishments for crimes under shariah laws.
Hadi should have realised much earlier in the political game that if the government really wanted to pass the bill, the government would have tabled it through normal channels and not through a private member’s bill.
The failure is a huge relief to Malaysians who do not want the beginnings of hudud law to gain traction in a multi-religious and multicultural country. Hadi’s private member’s bill is divisive, and if it had gone through, it would have brought Malaysia back to the Middle Ages.
Until today, many people are wondering why PAS is bent on archaic punishment as its main political thrust and not on counselling, rehabilitation and forgiveness as a means of bringing people closer to God. Kelantan is not exactly a model for other states when it comes to moral values and religious piousness despite amendments to Kelantan’s Syariah Criminal Code 1993 being passed in March 2015.
Hadi’s defeat is a great victory for G25, the G20 of prominent persons from East Malaysia who issued a public statement against RUU355, and Tawfik Tun Dr Ismail who single-handedly challenged Parliament to return the rightful authority on religious matters to the sultans as stated in the constitution. Tawfik’s legal challenge has yet to be decided on by the courts.
East Malaysia, which has a sizeable population of Christians, has always believed in the concept of a secular state while accepting Islam as the official religion. The first sentence in the Keningau oath stone or “batu sumpah” with the promise of freedom of religion (cast literally in stone), was one of the conditions for the interior natives to pledge loyalty to the federal government.
It was one of the guarantees that led Sabah to form Malaysia with other entities. The guarantees on the batu sumpah are recognised by the federal government which allocated RM1.025 million to restore the original wording, “the federal government guarantees”, which was vandalised by unknown persons, and to find it a permanent home in 2017.
Hadi’s defeat shows that the BN government is sensitive to the issue of religion and how RUU355 could affect voting, especially in East Malaysia. While Saudi Arabia, the bastion of conservative Islam, is loosening its grip on Islamic practice and behaviour under the new crown prince, Malaysia continues to go in the opposite direction. Muslim-only laundries, the banning of G25 books and those of other writers, and the keeping of fugitive preacher Zakir Naik in our country have caused great anxiety to Malaysians who believe in moderate Islam.
Malaysia has adequate laws to take care of crimes. Which Muslim on earth deserves 30 years in jail or 100 lashes under shariah laws, which have limited jurisdiction? We only know of the archaic punishment proposed by Hadi, not what constitutes a serious crime under his private member’s bill and how it is to be implemented. The parliamentary debate that was shelved would perhaps have thrown light on the matter.
Studies on crime and punishment are inconclusive. Despite harsher penalties, there are many repeat offenders for theft, rape and other crimes. Hudud laws would also damage tourism and hurt the economy, and put Malaysia in the backwaters of today’s integrated global economy.