Act 355 was first enacted in 1965 and at that time, it was known as the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 and has undergone a number of amendments. Currently the Act empowers the Syariah Court to sentence a person up to three years in jail, RM5000 fine and six strokes of the cane.
Private Member’s Bill by PAS president and Marang MP Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang proposes to increase the maximum sentences in accordance with Islamic law other than the death penalty.
BEBAS, a movement that upholds equality, opposes racial discrimination and advocates for religious freedom in Malaysia organised a forum on RUU355 at Sarang Paloh Heritage Stay to discuss the above bill and how it affects Muslims and non-Muslims.
Azrul Mohd Khalid, spokesman for BEBAS questioned what is wrong with the current system. What problems need to be solved? Syariah system is in chaos and must be made better.
Azrul emphasised that Malaysia is a secular country and agreed that this is not a Hudud Bill. However, it gives opportunity to include many offences under this Bill and punish offenders under the Syariah system. Even now, non-Muslims are affected by existing laws. The harsher Syariah punishments that PAS is seeking would most likely target the weaker and more vulnerable members of society.
Azrul pointed to recent incidents such as non-halal paintbrushes being seized and fast food chain McDonald’s only allowing halal-certified birthday cakes at its premises. These are just small issues in comparison with what will happen. These affect non-Muslims.
Azrul cited the example of Indonesia’s Aceh province, where an elderly non-Muslim woman was whipped in public for selling alcohol and said this proves that non-Muslims can be affected by the Syariah amendments.
Siti Kasim, lawyer and activist said that Malaysians do not understand their rights. The Bill will give a blank cheque to punish the Malays. Malays are the most oppressed people in the country. Instead of giving harsher punishment PAS must promote Islam as a religion of compassion, harmony and mercy.
It is a political ploy of PAS. In addition, imperfect implementation of Islamic law will also pollute the name of Islam itself. Instead of destroying Islam, PAS must fight against corruption, help single mothers and Orang Asli. Investors will not come and the country will go down the drain.
Azrul and Siti called on all Malaysians to speak out against the amendments popularly known as Hadi’s Bill. We elected our MPs and they must represent our interests. All of us must meet our respective MPs and ask them to vote against the Bill.
This Bill is not of Islamic law and so, every Muslim can choose to support or reject the bill.
In spite of the wide publicity only about 30 people attended, which included representatives from the media and the organisers. Except for Dr M. Jeyakumar, MP for Sungai Siput, no other politician turned up. This is an important issue and will decide the future direction of the country. It looks like we have elected the wrong guys to represent us. Of the four speakers, only two turned up. There is no point in being complacent now and regret when the damage has been done.
After the function I spoke to Dr Jeyakumar and he said that Malays have met him and asked him to support the Bill. So the MPs will have a tough time in making their decision.