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.

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