WASHINGTON (BP)–Under legislation passed in a Malaysian state July 8, any Muslim who converts to Christianity or any other faith faces death, CNSNews.com reported July 9.
The “offender” is given three days to repent for renouncing Islam. Failure to do so will result in execution, with all property to be forfeited and held in public trust.
This is just one of the controversial provisions of a bill approved by lawmakers in Terengganu state, which is governed by a radical Islamic party.
Others provisions provide for the amputation of a right hand for theft, stoning to death for adultery, execution followed by crucifixion for robbery in which the victim in killed, and lashes for drinking alcohol.
The party governing Terengganu, Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), wants to turn one of the world’s more moderate Muslim countries into a state under Islamic shari’a law, which already exists in Malaysia but it is limited to non-criminal matters such as divorce.
Although it holds power only in two of Malaysia’s 13 states, PAS also is the official opposition in the federal parliament, where its representation tripled in a 1999 election. It remains far behind Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s UMNO-led coalition.
In Terengganu’s state legislature, all 28 PAS lawmakers voted in favor of the legislation. Three of the four UMNO members abstained and the fourth was absent.
During the debate, attempts by UMNO representatives to establish exactly how amputation would take place — for example, whether anesthesia would be used — were brushed aside.
The state’s chief minister, Abdul Hadi Awang, who is also PAS leader, told the legislature that introduction of the strict punishment code would result in a drop in the crime rate in Terengganu.
“Although our penalties are harsh and terrifying, we must realize that these offences and sins … are truly evil and despicable,” he said.
But a leading women’s group, Women’s Aid Organization, in an article in the New Straits Times daily countered that in countries where the punishments had been introduced, such as Saudi Arabia, “there is no evidence of a crime-free society.”
On the contrary, it said, provisions for rape in countries like Pakistan and Nigeria may even facilitate crime, as potential rapists may be encouraged by the knowledge that a conviction is difficult to obtain.
Particularly contentious in the newly passed law are clauses relating to adultery and rape. After protests from women’s groups, the state government amended these clauses, but the law retains a punishment of 90 lashes for a woman who accuses a man of rape but cannot provide witnesses or evidence.
An earlier provision that would have seen pregnancy in an unmarried woman sufficient evidence that she was punishable for adultery was amended. Now, a pregnant, unmarried woman cannot be punished if she was forced or tricked — by “black magic,” alcohol or drugs — into having sex.
However, a married man or woman who is found guilty of adultery will be stoned to death.
In 1993, PAS tried to introduce the punishments in the other state it rules, Kelantan, but the federal government overruled it.
Mahathir has said he would do so again in the case of Terengganu if necessary, but PAS legal advisor Abdul Muttalib Embong told reporters the state government had no doubt it could get around the “technical problems” faced in 1993.
Although the law will apply only to adult Muslims, non-Muslims could be affected in various ways, most obviously in cases of converts to other religions.
The offense of apostasy (known as “irtidad” or “riddah”) and what punishment it merits remains a contentious issue in Islam, although Sudan, Iran and Mauritania are among countries where people have been accused or convicted of apostasy.
The Koran says in Sura 2:256: “there is no compulsion in religion,” but the Hadith (Islamic canonical tradition) contains a number of references to execution for apostasy, including one in which Muhammad commands, “Any [Muslim] person who has changed his religion, kill him.”
The Barnabas Fund, a British charity working with Christians in Muslim societies, said Christians were “fearful” about the situation in Nigeria — like Malaysia, a country divided between Muslims and non-Muslims — where the introduction of shari’a in some states had sparked bloodshed in recent years.
“Despite repeated promises that shari’a law would be applied to Muslims only, both Muslim and Christian men and women have been segregated on public transport; Islamic vigilantes are enforcing shari’a dress codes on Muslims and Christians alike; and churches have been intimidated and closed in Nigeria’s shari’a states.”
The Barnabas Fund also warned that both women and non-Muslim men in Terengganu state could become second-class citizens.
“Shari’a law … counts the evidence of non-Muslims and women as worth only half that of Muslim men in legal courts, in some cases discounting their testimonies altogether.”
Muslims make up around 60 percent of Malaysia’s 23 million people.
Goodenough is the Pacific Rim bureau chief with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.