KUALA LUMPUR • Prime Minister Najib Razak said he supports a controversial Bill introduced by Malaysia's opposition Islamic party to raise punishments in the syariah courts as he seeks to consolidate the support of his Umno party at its annual meeting this week.
He said it was the responsibility of Muslims to support a plan by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) to enhance punishments in the Islamic courts, which run parallel to and have the same powers as Malaysia's civil courts.
"We want to develop Islam," Datuk Seri Najib said in an interview aired on the popular TV3 channel on Monday evening.
"Non-Muslims must understand that this is not about hudud but about empowering the syariah courts," he added, as reported by Malaysian media yesterday.
PAS chief Abdul Hadi Awang has introduced a Bill in Parliament to allow syariah courts to impose maximum penalties of 30 years' jail, RM100,000 (S$32,000) fine or 100 strokes of the cane for offences under Islamic law. This will be done by amending the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.
Currently, the Islamic courts can mete out a maximum of three years' jail, six strokes of the cane or a RM5,000 fine.
The Bill has been read twice in the federal Parliament, with the government saying it will now be transferred to a select committee comprising Muslim and non-Muslim lawmakers for discussions and fine-tuning.
The Bill is opposed by non-Muslims and a section of Muslim Malaysians who fear that it is a backdoor way of introducing hudud, the strict Islamic penal code, into Malaysia. They are worried that once the Bill is legislated into law, PAS will use it to eventually implement hudud law, knowing that many Muslims would be unlikely to oppose it openly. The Islamic penal code prescribes harsh punishments such as lashing, stoning and amputation.
PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan on Monday warned non-Muslim lawmakers to refrain from interfering in Mr Abdul Hadi's Bill, the Malay Mail Online news website reported.
"We must play the fair game. Don't disturb the rights of Muslims, and Muslims will not trouble the non-Muslims," Datuk Takiyuddin said.
"If they want to play like that, we can also go against the proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act," he added. He was referring to a government proposal to amend a family law that bars the unilateral conversion of non-Muslim children to Islam.
De facto Law Minister Azalina Othman Said last week submitted amendments to a family law Bill that would prevent a parent, who is one half of an estranged couple, from converting his children to Islam as part of a battle for child custody.