The proposed changes to Shariah Court (Criminal Jurisdiction) ACT 1965 (ACT 355) or RUU 355 by Ahmad Marzuk Shaary that seek to enhance the Shariah Law toward Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) has brought strong public reactions in the country.
Ahmad Marzuk Shaari said the current sentence under the act, which provided for a three years imprisonment, a fine of RM5000, and six strokes of the cane was seen as not having much effect on the group of people. And the amendment should be seen as necessary to address their wrongdoing.
In May 2016, Abdul Hadi Awang, the President of the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), introduced a Private Member’s Bill known as RUU 355 to amend the Syariah Court Act 1965. The Bill seeks to raise the upper boundaries of Syariah courts’ sentencing limit while retaining the offences under the Syariah courts. RUU 355 sought to extend the sentencing jurisdiction of the Syariah court to cover all punishment except for the death penalty.
The debate regarding this issue has become polemical among politicians, scholars, and NGOs. As the debate regarding RUU 355 is too focused on punishment, and does not define any clear offense. Another issue that was mentioned regarding RUU 355 is how the amendment might impact the non-Muslims in the country, as Malaysia is a pluralistic country.
Also, the keynote address by the Prime Minister at the inaugural Asean Digital Minister’s Meeting (ASGMIN1) few days ago said legislation can be created to compel digital platforms to punish hate speech, including for someone’s gender and sex orientation. This clashes with the demand of the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs). His remarks for the region show a contrasting stance taken by his own administration against Malaysia’s gender and sexual minorities.
The above differences are not strange as in Malaysian politics, there are various political streams. That is true even in the context of Islam itself. The companions in the time of Rasulullah had different views and opinions when arguing. However, it is vital that politicians agree on a policy on which people’s freedom (or punishment) might depend.
It is in this context that Muhyiddin Yassin came to be called “an infidel” or was called “anti-Islam”, just because he did not agree with the views of his allies. If differences in opinions are called anti-Islam, infidel or disbeliever (kafir Halbi), how can these people act as wise leaders and how can their policies contribute to advancing the nation?
Highlighting the events of the debate on Bill 355 throughout the years, we have seen the proposed amendment to Bill 355 and also the issue of Hudud (Islamic law) which has long been discussed. This was especially seen as a tool to win votes, by igniting the fire of enmity between Barisan Nasional (BN) and Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) at the time when they were split. Now in the era of Perikatan Nasional (PN) and PAS’s merger, the same conflict of understanding in administration still shows.
The tribalistic support and the introduction of a motion on religious grounds, simply to show the unity of Malay Islamic parties, imply a black-and-white vision of the world, and a lack of understanding of the specific contexts in which other people live.
Meanwhile, the opposition disagrees on the grounds of upholding the value of human rights and also the rights of Non-Muslims. This is because, criminal offenses under the Syariah courts also involve adultery, qazf (qazaf) and alcohol. Even in more detail, the jurisdiction of the Syariah court is broader and includes polygamy, overseas marriage, zakat and more. Supporting this bill without looking in detail at its content and implications it will mean gambling at people’s risk.
Therefore, supporting or opposing the amendment of this act is subject to your own choice. However, in the current critical situation there are many more things that should be prioritized in the development of Muslim or of a positive image of Islam. Additionally, in the Covid-19 pandemic, health and economic issues were more relevant to be discussed.
If the supporters feel the need to amend this act, it is hoped that it will provide a clear appendix and be presented to Parliament, and that it will not oppress and harass any group in the country. As a result, may all contradiction, opposition and support for a policy in the political net be resolved in the best way without making the people the victims of the situation.
Nurfarhana Che Awang is lecturer and researcher in the field of Social Science whose aim is to contribute to the sociocultural and socioeconomic reform among the people.