PETALING JAYA: A new police unit is to be set up and based at the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) to help enforce all laws on Islamic criminal offences.
This plan has, however, sparked debate among constitutional experts and Syariah lawyers, with some questioning the need for such a unit and the powers it will have.
Jakim director-general Datuk Othman Mustafa, who had spoken to Bernama about the plan on Saturday, confirmed yesterday that the unit would be tasked with enforcing all Syariah criminal offences and not just Syiah and deviant teachings as Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had announced in December.
Law experts are at odds over the powers of the police in enforcing Syariah laws which are applicable only to Muslims, and have urged the Home Ministry and Jakim to quickly provide more details. Religion is a state matter while police are under the Federal authorities.
Othman said an in-depth study on the setting up of the unit was still ongoing with Jakim with the ministry giving special emphasis on views by state religious authorities.
Asked if the new unit would be limited to helping state religious authorities to deal with deviant teachings or with helping to enforce all syariah laws, Othman replied: “All Syariah criminal offences.”
Dr Ahmad Zahid had announced last month that he would discuss the matter with the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom and seek the consent of the Conference of Rulers so that there would be no question of interfering in religious issues, which come under the purview of the states.
Syariah Lawyers Association of Malaysia President Musa Awang said he disagreed with the move to set up the unit as there were too many questions about its jurisdiction.
“It is better to empower the present state religious enforcement unit whose role was already clearly defined in the state Islamic laws. The powers and functions of the new unit are still not clear,” said Musa.
Assoc Prof Dr Shamrahayu Abd Aziz, a lecturer on Constitutional Law and Syariah Criminal Procedure at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, however, said the police already had the power to enforce all Syariah laws.
“The police have the power to enforce all of the country’s written laws, including Syariah laws enacted by the states,” she said.
Shamrahayu, who had proposed such a unit in 2009, said the main issue that needed to be sorted out was administrative, such as whether police from the Kuala Lumpur contingent could enforce Selangor’s Syariah laws, for example.
Lawyer and Constitutional law activist Syahredzan Johan however disagreed, saying the authority to enforce Syariah laws lies with the state and not the police.
He said State Islamic Affairs Councils were in charge of the matter, with enforcement under the purview of the Islamic Affairs Departments of these councils.
“At the moment. there are few details but when you say Syariah police you immediately think of actual police officers carrying out Syariah enforcement.
Syahredzan said there were concerns of whether the unit would affect non-Muslims as well.
Constitutional lawyer Edmund Bon said State Islamic enforcement officers do not have the power to make arrests for Syariah offences.
Bon said states can create offences and can state the punishment but only the police had the power to arrest.
“This being the case, I don’t see a problem. Whether or not it is desirable to have such a unit is a different matter,” Bon added.