Malaysian Islamic leader says furor over his Sharia law proposals is misguided
The Malaysian Islamic leader spearheading a campaign for severe Sharia punishments chuckles as he dismisses the firestorm that has ensued, saying visions of thousands of law-breakers with amputated limbs are way off the mark.
Hadi Awang’s party has passed a law in its northern stronghold permitting amputation for thieves and stoning for adulterers, heightening fears about growing Islamization in the moderate-Muslim country and threatening to break apart a successful three-party opposition coalition.
The Pan-Malaysian Islamic party’s (PAS) law in conservative Kelantan is unlikely to be implemented due to federal constraints, but has sparked debate in the Muslim-majority nation and riled PAS’ ethnic Chinese and multi-racial party allies.
Hadi, the PAS president, told AFP in an interview that the “hudud” penalties were largely symbolic and would be “almost impossible” to impose on law-breakers, even if implemented, due to strict limits on their use under Islamic law.
He added the move was meant largely as a gesture to his party’s Islamic base.
PAS’ passage of the law — which would only apply to Muslims — on March 18 angered their coalition friends, the Democratic Action Party, representing the large Chinese minority, and the multiracial People’s Justice Party.
The country has large numbers of Christians, Hindus and other faiths, who already complain of shrinking space to practice their religions as Malaysia’s Muslim ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), increasingly caters to its Islamic base as voter support dwindles.
The tiny neighboring sultanate of Brunei began implementing hudud penalties last year, fanning fears in Malaysia of accelerated Islamization.
Using Fear to Deter Crime
But Hadi noted hudud’s high proof threshold — multiple direct witnesses are required in adultery cases, for example — as making it unlikely severe action would be taken in the vast majority of cases.
Hudud’s value is more as a symbolic deterrent, he added.
Hadi’s uncompromising push for hudud has prompted PAS’ two partners in the multi-faith coalition to accuse him of violating a pledge not to pursue it.
The alliance, which came close to winning power in 2013 polls, now teeters on the brink of collapse.
But Hadi said PAS’ hudud campaign was partly a reaction to the ruling regime’s courtship of Muslim voters, which has included a high-profile campaign to limit use of the word “Allah” to Muslims, though Malay-speaking Christians also use it for their creator.
PAS has submitted a bill in parliament to change the constitution to allow hudud to actually be implemented. Hadi hopes to have it tabled next week.
It is considered unlikely to pass even with the support of UMNO, which has been coy on the issue to protect its own base, but is not expected to support it.
Many analysts view the episode as a game of “chicken” between PAS and UMNO, allowing them to posture on Islam while knowing hudud will never pass.