RUU355: Umno, Pas take Malaysia to the brink of crisis

Najib and Hadi at a rally for the Rohingya inside the Titiwangsa indoor stadium: Najib will unashamedly use Pas to corner the voters in the rural hinterlands - Photograph: themalaymailonline.com

The prime minister and the new Umno team of loyalists that he has cobbled together are resorting to political gamesmanship to recover eroding support as GE14 looms closer, observes Francis Loh.

All indications are that Malaysia is heading towards a critical juncture.

The economic forecasters are warning us of a serious downturn in the economy only partly caused by an economic go-slow globally. In Malaysia’s case, this potential economic collapse has been complicated by the 1MDB financial fiasco involving the prime minister.

Instead of addressing the problem as any would-be political leader ought to, he has denied that there is one. So he removes his Umno critics and replaces those public servants like the former attorney general and the Bank Negara chief who were getting nervous about the knock-on effects of the fiasco.

Worse, the prime minister and the new Umno team of loyalists that he has cobbled together are resorting to political gamesmanship to recover eroding support as the next general election looms closer. I refer, of course, to Najib’s Umno dancing to Pas’ RUU355 tune.

Whereas no private member’s bill has ever been allowed to be put on the agenda of an Umno-BN dominated Parliament for almost 60 years, an Umno minister has created history by acceding to the opposition Pas leader’s request to move a bill.

Now we face the possibility of the bill being read in Parliament in early March, possibly its adoption by the government, and then its re-submission as a government bill to Parliament.

The members of Parliament will then be required to vote, and most would probably vote along ethno-religious lines. No thanks to the joint efforts of Pas and Najib’s Umno, ethno-religious relations will worsen, adding fire to the critical economic and political problems that we already have on the hot plate.

RUU 355, proposed by Pas leader Hadi Awang, seeks to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (Act 355) to increase the Sharia courts’ maximum sentencing powers, the so-called ‘3-5-6 limits’ from three years’ jail, a RM5,000 fine and six lashes to a maximum of 30 years’ jail, a RM100,000 fine and 100 lashes.

In Hadi’s Folly, Aliran guest writer ‘Wandering Malaysian’ disagrees with Hadi and his supporters’ contention that the changes sought will only apply to Muslims and ought not worry non-Muslims. Non-Muslims, it is contended, should not get involved in deliberations on RUU355 for it is really none of the non-Muslims’ business!

In fact, the amendment to a federal law will open the doors for any state legislative assembly to make laws empowering the Sharia court to impose punishments permitted by Islamic law, including hudud qisas and ta’zir, if they choose to, except the death penalty.

The Johor state religious committee chairman has already declared the support of the state government for the amendment. Every state could potentially end up having a parallel criminal justice system – with secular penalties for non-Muslims and draconian hudud penalties (enacted by the state legislature) for Muslims.

This blurring of the lines of the jurisdiction of the Sharia courts and the Federal Constitution opens the door for the displacement of civil by Sharia law ultimately. The passing of this seemingly innocuous law opens the door for a divided apartheid-like system which will lead to the unravelling of Malaysian society.

In this regard, we are concerned that Hadi has proclaimed that any Muslim elected representative who does not support the implementation of the Act will be going against the will of God and cannot therefore be a true Muslim!

To this end, he has also mobilised popular support in the Padang Merbok rally, which was widely reported by the Malay mainstream media.

What is the prime minister’s and Umno’s stance not merely with regards to RUU355, but on the bullying of Muslim MPs by Hadi? Several prominent leaders in G25 have urged the Umno-BN government to distance itself from Hadi’s private member’s bill.

Bebas, a coalition of NGOs that represent Muslims and non-Muslims, has rallied in protest and launched a campaign to get ordinary voters to contact their MPs and to push them to vote No to RUU355. See #YBUndiApa

In a recent forum organised by Angkatan Amanah Merdeka Malaysia (AAMM) on 12 February 2017 in the University of Malaya, various prominent Muslim scholars debated the RUU. Among the speakers were constitutional law expert Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi of Universiti ITM, political scientist Prof Ahmad Fauzi Abd Hamid of Universiti Sains Malaysia, and Perlis Mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin.

Check out the mufti’s speech in Part I here. Mohd Asri reminds us that the question of implementing hudud in Malaysia is not simply one of promoting Allah’s Law – for it is an issue that has been politicised by the political parties.

Pas, claiming to promote Islam with RUU355, has stated that if a Muslim MP does not support the bill, he or she should no longer be considered a Muslim – for opposing hudud is tantamount to opposing Allah’s Law.

Mohd Asri highlighted that hudud is mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah but is not spelt out in great detail with regards to the context and conditions. And while the Qur’an and Sunnah are divine, their interpretations are not!

He also asked rhetorically why some Muslims were so attracted to promoting Islam via introducing hudud laws including the chopping of hands, caning and stoning. In fact, Muslims do not promote Islam to the world by stressing punishments like these, as IS or Daesch does. We give non-Muslims the wrong ideas about our religion, he says.

Rather, Muslims should be showing to the world how Islam is a religion of peace, of compassion, of justice, of combating corruption and promoting the welfare of the ummah, and conserving the environment that Allah gave us as well.

He was particularly critical of Muslims who are so keen to catch petty thieves people by passing hudud laws that will allow for the chopping of hands, yet, remain silent, even kissing the hands of those steal from the people, presumably in reference to the 1MDB fiasco.

Muslims ought to be showing their compassion for the needy and downtrodden, promoting spiritual growth, strengthening family bonds, and ensuring peace and har,mony in society. There’s so much to do, he said, concluding that Malaysia does not need hudud right now.

Thank heavens for progressive Muslim scholars like Mohd Asri.

By the way, if you have not already done so, read three pieces that were recently uploaded:

Salam perjuangan.

Francis Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter.

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Francis Loh
Dr Francis Loh served as honorary secretary of Aliran for 20 years and then president of Aliran for five years from 2011 to 2016. He was formerly professor of politics at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

1 COMMENT

  1. I think its good that UMNO is supporting PAS bill. If the majority of Muslims want it, why not ,so long as it does not affect Non-Muslims. This is a democracy. MCA and MIC alos support this bill by their silence , so why are the Non-Malay, Muslim making a FUSS!! I say go ahead and enact the legislation.

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