For­give­ness and mercy should be our watch­words

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

SIS­TERS in Is­lam (SIS) op­poses the pro­posal to amend Act 355 (RUU355) to in­crease pun­ish­ment for syariah crimes to 30 years im­pris­on­ment, RM100,000 fine and 100 lashes from the present limit of three years im­pris­on­ment, RM5,000 fine and six lashes.

RUU355 is a bill that will po­ten­tially re­sult in more in­jus­tices in the long run and paint a bad im­age of Is­lam as a puni­tive re­li­gion. The pub­lic de­serves an ex­pla­na­tion of the ra­tio­nale be­hind the leap in ex­pan­sion of pun­ish­ment from the present limit to the pro­posed limit. Fur­ther­more, how will the syariah court de­cide on the pro­por­tion­al­ity of pun­ish­ment to be given out un­der the ex­ist­ing Syariah Crim­i­nal Of­fences En­act­ment (SCOE) of each state? Will the pun­ish­ment of the crimes be the same or would they dif­fer from state to state?

Un­der the Syariah Crim­i­nal Of­fences (Fed­eral Ter­ri­to­ries) Act 1997 (SCOA) there are over 40 of­fences rang­ing from pos­ses­sion of re­li­gious pub­li­ca­tion con­trary to Is­lamic Law to moral crimes such as khal­wat (close prox­im­ity), both of which carry the max­i­mum sen­tence of two years jail or RM3,000 fine or both. With pun­ish­ment as se­vere as 30 years jail, RM100,000 fine and 100 lashes in RUU355 how will the syariah courts be guided to de­ter­mine that the pun­ish­ment will not be dis­pro­por­tion­ate to the crime?

As it stands, the Syariah Crim­i­nal Of­fences En­act­ment of each state has been im­ple­mented in a dis­crim­i­na­tory fash­ion, of­ten tar­get­ing mi­nor­ity groups and groups of a lower in­come. For ex­am­ple, khal­wat (close prox­im­ity) ho­tel raids have been largely con­cen­trated in bud­get ho­tel ar­eas and the process dis­re­gards one’s right to pri­vacy and dig­nity. Mus­lim trans-women have been tar­geted by re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties and in­hu­manely treated by be­ing placed in male pris­ons. How will RUU355 en­sure that fur­ther dis­crim­i­na­tion will not hap­pen, once the bill is passed?

Bull­doz­ing a law through Par­lia­ment will not solve the present in- con­sis­ten­cies and con­flict of juris­dic­tion be­tween civil and syariah courts. While pro­po­nents of RUU355 in­sist that the bill will not af­fect non-Mus­lims, re­al­ity shows that syariah laws are al­ready im­pact­ing non-Mus­lims in Malaysia.

The uni­lat­eral con­ver­sion cases of Indira Gandhi and Deepa Subra­ma­niam are two ex­am­ples of the far­reach­ing im­pact of the dual le­gal sys­tem in Malaysia. Indira’s case has been on­go­ing for seven years, yet only now dis­cus­sions on re­form­ing laws on uni­lat­eral con­ver­sion of mi­nors have risen. SIS be­lieves that it is ir­re­spon­si­ble of politi­cians to dis­miss the fears and con­cerns of nonMus­lims in Malaysia, as they too are equal stake­hold­ers in RUU355.

Sys­temic weak­ness of syariah courts must be ad­dressed, in­stead of fo­cus­ing on in­creas­ing pun­ish­ments. The sta­tus of syariah courts can be el­e­vated by im­prov­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Is­lamic Fam­ily Law, which Mus­lim women have of­ten com­plained is un­just to them. Sta­tis­tics com­piled last year by SIS’ Te­lenisa ser­vice recorded that the sec­ond high­est num­ber of cases in­volved un­paid child main­te­nance, while the high­est was child cus­tody cases.

These cases of­ten con­tinue for years, the main rea­son is that the ex-hus­band does not show up in court. De­spite this, the syariah courts rarely is­sue ar­rest war­rant for the men who fail to show up in court, leav­ing Mus­lim women bear­ing the brunt of the in­jus­tice.

SIS calls for the state and other pro­po­nents of RUU355 to fo­cus on Is­lam’s mes­sage of for­give­ness and re­pen­tance. Al­lah’s for­give­ness and mercy (for both men and women) is a con­stant and re­cur­ring theme that is em­pha­sised in the holy Qur’an as stated in Su­rah Al-Maidah (5:39) and Su­rah An-Nur (24:5) which read, “… those who af­ter­ward re­pent and amend their con­duct, God is OftFor­giv­ing, Most Mer­ci­ful.”

Given these ex­am­ples, why then are our law­mak­ers more fo­cused on im­ple­ment­ing harsher pun­ish­ments, with­out pro­vid­ing space for for­give- ness and re­pen­tance as pro­moted in Is­lam? As cit­i­zens, we de­serve a proper ex­pla­na­tion and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion from law­mak­ers on the ef­fec­tive­ness of re­tribu­tive jus­tice in re­duc­ing “syariah crimes” rather than a blan­ket ex­pla­na­tion that ex­ist­ing pun­ish­ments are not ef­fec­tive in de­ter­ring crimes.

What is abun­dantly clear is that this pro­posed leg­is­la­tion has be­come ex­tremely politi­cised. The im­pact of all these po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vrings have raised fears and cre­ated a di­vide be­tween Malaysians.

We call upon all Malaysians, Mus­lims and non-Mus­lims alike to make your voices heard. Speak to your fam­ily, com­mu­nity, your lead­ers and ex­press to them your con­cerns and reser­va­tions that this bill pro­poses. This is a mat­ter of na­tional in­ter­est. All of us have a stake in this. It is time for the voices of the peo­ple to come to­gether and re­ject a fu­ture that un­der­mines our unity and threat­ens our way of life.

Sis­ters in Is­lam

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