Syariah court debate 'only for Muslims'

Parti Islam SeMalaysia president Abdul Hadi Awang (centre) surrounded by members of the media at the parliament house as he leaves the Dewan Rakyat, on Nov 23, 2016.
Parti Islam SeMalaysia president Abdul Hadi Awang (centre) surrounded by members of the media at the parliament house as he leaves the Dewan Rakyat, on Nov 23, 2016.PHOTO: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

The president of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), Mr Abdul Hadi Awang, has told non-Muslim politicians to stay out of the debate to extend the sentencing powers of Malaysia's syariah courts.

"I want to remind them not to act like Ahok in Jakarta," he told reporters in Parliament yesterday, referring to Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who faces blasphemy charges and violent mass protests in Indonesia for allegedly insulting the Quran.

PAS has submitted a private member's Bill to allow syariah courts to impose maximum penalties of 30 years' jail, RM100,000 (S$32,500) fine or 100 strokes of the cane for offences under Islamic law. Currently, the courts can mete out a maximum of three years' jail, six strokes of the cane, or a RM5,000 fine. The motion to amend the Bill was read out in Parliament yesterday.

Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi said the motion to strengthen the syariah courts concerned Islam, and there should be no interference from non-Muslims. "The law was previously amended twice without opposition. Especially in 1965 when the late Lee Kuan Yew was still around," he said yesterday.

(Singapore was part of Malaysia before it became an independent republic in August 1965). The law in question is the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, also known as Act 355.

Non-Muslim lawmakers from both the ruling coalition and opposition parties have vehemently opposed the Bill, suspicious that it will lead to hudud, the Islamic penal code which prescribes harsh punishment such as lashing, stoning and amputation.

"We are deeply concerned that any attempt to have a parallel legal system with overlapping jurisdictions and duplication of penalties will lead to confusion and disharmony," said the Malaysian Indian Congress, a member of the ruling coalition, yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said yesterday the Bill aims to raise the status of Islamic courts, not to introduce hudud.

There are also concerns among non-Muslim minorities that Islamisation will affect them, as seen in July when a non-Muslim watch retailer was fined in the PAS stronghold state of Kelantan over two "sexy" watch posters in his shop.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2016, with the headline 'Syariah court debate 'only for Muslims''. Print Edition | Subscribe