Malaysia: So Is Islam Hadari To Be Enforced By Whipping Now?
By Farish A. Noor
I am having a tough time writing this particular article as I am absolutely consumed by anger at the moment. In fact, I am livid as I have never been for such a long time.
The reason for this sudden rise in my blood pressure level is that after a two-day seminar organised by the Institute for Islamic Understanding (IKIM) and the Shariah Judiciary Department of Malaysia, it was suggested by some of those who took part that ‘non-Muslims found committing khalwat (close proximity) with Muslims (will) also be held liable’ and that they too will be under threat of punishment. (The Star, Proposal to Persecute Non-Muslims for Khalwat, 3 April 2008) According to the report ‘Syariah Court of Appeal Judge Datuk Mohd Asri Abdullah said the seminar had proposed that non-Muslims committing khalwat with Muslims should also be sentenced accordingly, but in the civil courts.’
Furthermore the participants of the seminar also proposed ‘to impose heftier penalties – of up to four times the current penalties – on Muslims caught for khalwat, prostitution, consuming alcohol and involvement in gambling activities.’
And what might these heftier penalties be? According to the same report ‘Ikim and the department were proposing that the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (Amendment) 1984 be amended to impose stiffer penalties of RM1,000 fine, or five years’ jail or 12 strokes of the rotan for Syariah Lower Courts and RM20,000 fine, or 10years’ jail or 24 strokes of rotan for Syariah High Courts’. It then added that ‘there was also a proposal for Syariah judges to enforce whipping for these offences’ and that ‘another proposal calls for the establishment of a rehabilitation centre for those convicted of offences related to morals and faith such as prostitution and effeminate men, and enforcement of Section 54 of the Syariah Criminal Offences Act (Act 559) to set up such centres’.
So this, apparently, is what the great minds of IKIM and the religious departments have been cooking up and intending to serve to us, the Malaysian public, all along. While Muslims are angry about the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the film ‘Fitna’ by the right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, one is left with the question: As long as Muslim leaders and intellectuals remain stuck in their morass of outdated conservative thinking, would it not remain the case that Islam is seen as a religious of violence? How, pray tell, can scholars like me defend the image of Islam and Muslims when Muslim governments like ours allows such outlandish and dangerous ideas to spread, and harbour such proponents of conservative-fundamentalist Islam in the very same institutions that were meant to open up the minds of Muslims and lead us – and Malaysian society – to a more modern, progressive and liberated understanding of Islam and religion in general?
The fact that such proposals could have been made at all speaks volumes about the state of Muslim thinking in Malaysia today. Worse still is the total disconnect between reality and ideals, and the fact that some of these Muslim thinkers fail to see just how unjust, inhuman and dehumanising these proposed punishments are in the eyes of millions of other Malaysians and foreigners alike. Whipping? In this day and age? And what would happen to the image of Malaysia as the so-called bastion of moderate Islam when the international media gets a glimpse of this non-so-moderate Islam at work? Is Islam Hadari to be enforced by the whip today?
The results of the recent general elections have shown that the Malaysian public has reached a level of political awareness and maturity that is unprecedented in our history. It also points to an increasingly urbanised, well-connected, better-informed and more politically-conscious electorate that will not be satisfied with empty slogans of a more ‘moderate’ Islam and theme parks with crystal mosques. Why, even in the ranks of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) there are more and more progressive voices who are calling for real economic and structural reform, and contemplating the possibility of creating a new social contract based on a welfare state model for all Malaysians.
But it is in the ranks of UMNO and the UMNO-led institutions of the state that we see the mental quagmire of the elite at its worst. IKIM and the Shariah Judiciary Department are both institutions that were created under the auspices of the UMNO-led government. Yet the so-called reforms we have been presented are not intended to open up the minds of Muslims, but rather to add yet another layer of moral policing on Muslim society today.
More worrying is the fact that now the scope of UMNO’s Islamisation policy has extended to cover non-Muslims as well, and this can only be read as yet another attempt to impose Islamic legal and political hegemony on the non-Muslims of Malaysia. How and why should a non-Muslim be taken to court for simply being in love with a Muslim? And why, for that matter, should a Muslim be punished for simply loving a non-Muslim? Furthermore the non-Muslim partner in such a relationship may not even regard it as wrong to simply be in love with another. Yet the advocates of this reform are suggesting that he or she has committed a sin even if he or she has not done anything wrong according to his or her belief system.
This in turn points to the slow erosion of respect for diversity and pluralism in Malaysia, where a group of Muslim communitarians do not seem realise the fact that Islam is simply one of many belief-systems in Malaysia and that the values of Islam may not be relevant to those who are not part of that faith community. Yet by calling for these legal reforms, these sectarian leaders seem to be implying that what constitutes an offence for Muslims must also constitute an offence for others too. How does this communitarian slant fit with the universalist and pluralist claims of Islam Hadari then?
That such a conference could have been held so close after UMNO’s disastrous showing at the recent elections would indicate that this UMNO-led government is totally bankrupt of ideas and can only shore up what little support it has left by playing the Islamic card and pandering to the gallery yet again. Moral policing of any kind is just one further layer of policing on society, and this is fundamentally part and parcel of the state’s attempt to remain in power at all costs. The net result would be the further control of Malaysian society as a whole and the costs will be borne by those Malaysians who are Malaysian-minded enough to see beyond race and religion, and to cross these cultural-religious frontiers by falling in love with others. Instead it is those very Malaysian-Minded Malaysians who are under threat now, by laws and regulations that make it virtually impossible for us to love one another and live with one another.
Finally, this is further proof that the so-called ‘moderate and progressive’ brand of Islam that was sold to us as ‘Islam Hadari’ was little more than another UMNO propaganda device; serving to placate the concerns of the international community while in fact serving only to extend the power and hegemony of the state at home. Should these reform measures come to pass, it is our duty to remind ourselves, our fellow Malaysians and the international community that what passes under the label of Islam Hadari is really a conservative brand of statist Islam that promotes imprisonment, detention, moral policing and whipping. Let the cameras of the international media come to Malaysia to film the spectacle of Malaysians being arrested, detained in rehabilitation centres, whipped and injured for life by the morality police and religious authorities. Let the whole world know that ‘Islam Hadari’ has never opened up the minds of Muslims. Let us expose this lie once and for all, and the liars behind the lie as well.
Dr. Farish A. Noor is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore; and one of the founders of the http://www.othermalaysia.org research site.