One hopes that if the Kelantan hudud Bill comes up to Parliament, the MPs will not yield to a notion of Islam which does not represent the essence of the faith and the people should come out in defence of justice and reason.
Dogma trumped justice and reason in the Kelantan State Assembly on March 19, 2015.
By tabling the Syariah Criminal Code 11 1993 (Amendment 2015) or hudud Bill at a time when the people of Kelantan are still struggling to overcome the devastating consequences of one of the most severe floods the state has known, the PAS government has deliberately given greater emphasis to modes of punishment than to the dire needs of the masses. Reason and justice demand that restoring the shattered lives of the tens of thousands of flood victims take precedence over every other task.
In fact, if both state and federal governments addressed the underlying causes of the floods, they would discover that the failure to uphold environmental standards – a cherished principle in Islam – was a contributory factor.
It is adhering faithfully to fundamental principles of this sort rather than remaining fixated on penalties and prohibitions that is the true essence of Islam.
Similarly, a criminal code that concentrates upon modes of punishment will not solve the many social ills that afflict Kelantan from drug abuse to HIV/AIDS.
The proponents of hudud have been reluctant to examine the situation in the few countries that have implemented hudud. Nearly all of them are authoritarian, adopt a literal approach to laws and religious precepts, marginalise non-Muslim minorities and subordinate women. Not one of them is worthy of emulation.
Hudud proponents have also refused to consider the position of a number of important Muslim countries that have chosen not to implement hudud. The world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia, has, since its founding in 1945, remained committed to Panca Sila as its national ideology.
Panca Sila, whose first principle is the Oneness of God, makes no mention of hudud. It is significant that on Feb 11, 2015, all major Islamic movements in Indonesia reiterated their endorsement of Panca Sila in the Yogyakarta Statement.
Turkey, another country with an overwhelming Muslim majority and led by a party with an Islamic root, is unambiguous in its choice of secular law as the basis of its system of governance.
Like ultra-conservative groups elsewhere, hudud proponents in Malaysia regard hudud as the defining characteristic of an Islamic state and identity when in reality punitive laws constitute a minute fraction of the Quran. What defines the identity of the Quran and Islam is a profound commitment to human dignity and social justice rooted in God-consciousness.
In Malaysia, a hudud-centred religious identity has been reinforced by the intimate link between Islam and Malay ethnicity which has strengthened identity consciousness as a whole in a situation where the Malay-Muslim populace has always perceived the large, economically stronger Chinese community as a challenge to its own position in what is historically a Malay land.
The protection of identity along these lines has in turn spawned an irrational fear of discourse and debate within the Muslim community. This is why hudud as the inherited legacy of the jurists in Muslim history remains unexamined and under-evaluated.
It is seldom highlighted by Islamic scholars in Malaysia for instance that the Kelantan Hudud Bill includes punishments for liquor consumption and apostasy which do not appear in the Quran. In the case of apostasy in particular, the Quran does not provide for temporal punishment and only alludes to punishment in the hereafter.
What is even more significant, hudud is not used in the Quran in relation to punishment per se.
As Islamic jurists have pointed out, the term that is employed in the Quran is Hudd Allah which occurs 14 times in the sacred text to signify limits – limits in the general sense. This general concept of limits or boundaries in human behaviour is an idea of tremendous value which is eternally and universally applicable.
There is a third reason why many Malaysian Muslims are fixated on hudud. For more than three decades now, the question of hudud has been sucked into inter-party political rivalry. PAS, especially after 1982, has invariably presented itself as the champion of hudud.
Since 2008, however, when the Barisan Nasional Government lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament and Malay support began to wane, some Umno leaders have sought to project the party’s Islamic credentials by also playing the hudud card.
Sensing that hudud is an almost insurmountable barrier between PAS and DAP, Umno is said to be attempting to exploit this difference to weaken Pakatan Rakyat.
While the hudud controversy threatens to split Pakatan, it can also impact adversely upon Barisan. If Umno is perceived to be colluding with PAS, the non-Malay, non-Muslim parties in the coalition will become even weaker vis-a-vis their base.
This possibility could have a disastrous effect upon Barisan’s ability to rule since a substantial chunk of its electoral support comes from the indigenous non-Muslim communities of Sarawak and Sabah. It is important to emphasise that even the indigenous Muslim parties would reject any such move, given the social ethos in Sarawak and Sabah.
Intra and inter-religious relations would deteriorate under the weight of hudud politics. Muslim opinion would become even more fractured. The Muslim non-Muslim chasm would widen. This deterioration could become even more pronounced if other Muslim majority states in the Federation seek to follow Kelantan’s example and try to introduce hudud with the blessings of the Federal Government.
Since hudud is not just a set of laws but a reflection of a certain approach to Islam, it is not inconceivable that as an ultra-conservative understanding of the religion becomes more widespread, alternative views on various Islamic issues will be marginalised and de-legitimised. Conservative religious authoritarianism impacting upon society as a whole may well become the order of the day.
This has to be checked immediately. One hopes that if the Kelantan hudud Bill comes up to Parliament, the MPs will vote according to their conscience and not yield to a notion of Islam which does not represent the essence of the faith.
The judiciary if it is called upon to exercise its wisdom in this matter should also rise to the occasion and protect the integrity of the Constitution. Most of all, the people should come out in defence of justice and reason and not submit blindly to dogma.
> Dr Chandra Muzaffar is chairman of the Board of Trustees, Yayasan 1Malaysia. He has been writing on issues pertaining to Islam and society since the late 70s.