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Militants in Malaysia seeking to expand strict Islamic law

WASHINGTON (BP)–A Muslim party that rules two of Malaysia’s 13 states hopes to introduce strict Islamic laws with punishments including stoning to death or amputation, despite opposition from the federal government and other critics, CNSNews.com reported June 17.

The Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) confirmed June 16 that despite opposition, it would press ahead with legislation in July bringing in the controversial “hudud” punishments in Terengganu state in northeast of Malaysia.

A lawyer brought an application in Malaysia’s Federal Court on June 14 asking the court to declare that state legislatures have no power to pass criminal laws.

Women’s campaigners also oppose the move, saying it will hit women especially hard.

Zainah Anwar, executive director of the Sisters in Islam group, said it was particularly concerned about a section of the Shari’a Criminal Bill requiring a woman rape victim to produce four male witnesses — Muslims of good character — if bringing a complaint.

Failure to do so would result in the woman instead being accused of adultery, an offense punishable by flogging, she said.

Hudud (the plural of “hadd”) are described as the “limitations imposed by Allah” — punishments for serious wrongdoing under Islamic (shari’a) law.

They cover offenses such as theft, adultery, falsely accusing of adultery, consumption of alcohol and apostasy, and punishments can include whipping, amputation of limbs or stoning to death.

The punishments are regarded as having been set down by Allah, and therefore to be fixed, with no possibility of plea-bargaining or reduction of punishment.

The hudud have been imposed in several strict Islamic societies, including Afghanistan under the Taliban, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, where dozens of women have been imprisoned for adultery — though none yet executed — since its implementation.

Sisters in Islam and other Malay women’s organization held talks with the PAS during the June 14-16, but the sides failed to reach a compromise, a PAS spokeswoman said.

Malay Muslims comprise almost 60 per cent of the country’s 23 million population. In a 1999 election, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad lost control of Terengganu state to the PAS, which also saw its support surge from single digits to 27 seats in the federal parliament.

The group, which envisages a Malaysia governed by a more fundamentalist Islam, now controls two states. In Kelantan state, which adjoins Terengganu, PAS introduced hudud punishments in 1993, only to have Mahathir’s government block them.

Noteworthy in the Terengganu case is that both the women’s groups and the lawyer bringing the Federal Court challenge are themselves Muslims. The lawyer, Mohd Zaid Ibrahim, is a member of the Muslim Lawyers’ Association of Malaysia, while Sisters in Islam describes itself as a group working for women’s rights within an Islamic framework.

In his application, Mohd Zaid argued that the move was unconstitutional and that the “fundamental liberties” he enjoyed under the federal constitution were being threatened.

Malaysia expert Clive Kessler of Australia’s University of New South Wales said June 17 the PAS was once again trying to call into question the Islamic credentials of Mahathir’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party.

Although the 1999 election had brought significant setbacks for Mahathir, he had since last September’s terrorist attacks on the United States been able to undermine PAS by exploiting its associations with radical Islam.

Kessler predicted that Mahathir would prevent PAS from introducing hudud punishments in Terengganu, as he had done in Kelantan in 1993.

But whereas Mahathir in the 1990s had the help of his then-deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, to combat any perception that he was not being “a good Muslim,” this was no longer the case. Anwar was fired, accused of corruption and sodomy, controversially tried in 1999 and imprisoned.

Without the help of Anwar’s Islamic influence this time, Kessler said, Mahathir would instead have to appeal to the materialistic instincts of middle-class citizens — both Muslims and members of the Indian and Chinese minorities.

“A large part of the Malay Muslim middle class may be embarrassed about opposing political [radical] Islam, but they value the civil peace, their comfortable lifestyles, investment, jobs, homes — everything that is tied up with the continuation of Mahathir’s rule.”

“Everything they care about they owe to Mahathir and depend on him as custodian and guarantor,” Kessler said. “It will all be put at risk by any further increase in the Islamic party’s power.”
Goodenough is the Pacific Rim bureau chief for CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Patrick Goodenough