NON-MUSLIMS should not feel threatened by a controversial bill to strengthen the Syariah Court’s powers in the country, but should be reassured that their rights will not be affected as it is against the Federal Constitution to do so, said president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), Abdul Hadi Awang.
“It’s already been stated that Syariah law only applies to Muslims and that non-Muslims cannot be punished under Syariah,” he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.
“And this is not just the Federal Constitution talking, it is also stated in the Quran. The Quran guarantees freedom of religion. It is a sin for Muslims to chastise non-Muslims.
“So really, there’s no reason for the non-Muslims to oppose RUU355 (Act 355).”
Hadi was speaking at a rally that took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia yesterday at which tens of thousands of Malaysians showed up in support of the divisive bill that Hadi himself proposed to parliament.
— Hazli Hassan UTUSAN (@MohdHazliHassan) February 18, 2017
The Bill, commonly known as Hadi’s Bill after its proposer, seeks to amend Act 355 of the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.
If passed, it would increase the Syariah punishment caps in Malaysia to a maximum 30 years’ imprisonment, RM100,000 (US$22,400) fine and 100 lashes of the cane; far harsher sentences than those currently implemented under the civil system.
While the proposed laws apply only to Muslims, critics argue that they could extend to others while a sizable number of law experts have labelled the bill “unconstitutional” and open to abuse.
Malaysia’s 30 million populace is Muslim-majority, but nearly 40 percent profess other faiths such as Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism.
The fear of how the law will affect non-Muslims has been a driving force behind protests to the bill.
Hadi went on to say the Syraiah has been recognised by those in the west since the 1970s and that critics to the law were “fleas” and urged them instead to look at some of the archaic laws currently governing Malaysia, such as the death penalty.
“In the early 1970s, western intellects, along with the Vatican, and Muslims in Mecca held a meeting on jurisprudence.
“The western representatives had recognised the Syariah. Those who opposed (the law) are merely mosquitoes and fleas,” he said, as reported by Malaysiakini.
“Instead of trying to prevent efforts from strengthening the Syariah Court, it is better to discuss archaic laws that still uses the noose.
“This should be done instead of questioning Islamic laws with their kejahilan (ignorance) of knowledge,” said the Marang MP.
Hadi’s speech capped off a long day of rallying that saw over 20,000 participants (according to police reports) gather at Padang Merbok, a landmark field, in Kuala Lumpur. Organisers were originally hoping to draw over 200,000.
Sporting purple as a theme colour, participants in the Himpunan RUU355 rally started gathering as early as 11am and the majority saw the day through to its 11.30pm close.
— zuLiss (@zuliss) February 18, 2017
— cami (@syafisyahmie1) February 18, 2017
Other speakers on the day included Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom and N. Bala Subramaniam, PAS Supporters Club representative, among others.
Both reiterated the point that the laws would not affect non-Muslims with Subramaniam stating, “This Bill has nothing to do with non-Muslims,” and Jamil questioning, “Why is it so complicated? We are not denying the rights of others. Are Muslims denying the rights of others? Why are some feeling uneasy when we empower the Syariah Courts?”
The bill, which is due to be debated in Parliament next month, has triggered much controversy and created major fissures on both political and social fronts.
It has led to divisions in the multiracial ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) pact and faced protests from non-Muslim allies of The United Malays National Organisation, or Umno, the ruling party led by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Najib has thrown his weight behind the contentious bill, despite the protests, but his party has often been accused of using the reform to shore up political support as it finds itself embroiled in a massive corruption scandal and facing declining favour among voters.
This point was highlighted by former law minister Zaid Ibrahim at a counter-rally that also took place yesterday in Kuala Lumpur.
— Miss Boo (@boosulyn) February 18, 2017
The bill “is about politics… it has nothing to do with religion,” he claimed, going on to say that Malaysia’s Syariah courts would not be able to handle the backlog in court cases from the increased punishments that the bill would bring about.
“If you increase the sentence, you must have an efficient system.”
Two hundred protesters gathered at the counter-rally at Taman Jaya to oppose the proposed amendments.
The activists’ claim that the bill will affect all Malaysians and are concerned that the harsher Syariah punishments that PAS is seeking would most likely target the weaker and more vulnerable members of society.
“They will go after the weak and the vulnerable, women and those from the lower-income group trying to earn money. They will be victimised and they will be the ones who will have to pay,” Activist Azrul Mohd Khalib said (reported by the Star).
Lawyer Siti Kasim also delivered a thunderous speech to the 200 strong crowd, according to Malaysiakini, urging Malays to speak up against the proposed amendments.
“We need more Malays to come up and say ‘no, you are not going to talk on my behalf and not in my name’,” she said.
Other speakers at the event included prominent lawyer and activist, Nik Elin Nik Rashid; Gerakan Youth deputy chief, Andy Yong; and journalist Boo Su-Lyn, among others.
The controversial bill is due to be debated in parliament next month. Whatever the result, it is sure to send shock waves through this highly polarised nation.