A sentence not all it’s been whipped up to be

(NST) UNCOILING faster than a snake striking, the whip lunges forward, tail singing in the air. Its journey ends with a crack as distinct as lightning, punctuated by a scream so profound it rips the sound barrier.

Could this be the syariah whipping that theoretically awaits part-time model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, sentenced to six lashes for consuming alcohol?

Er… no.

The reality of whipping under syariah is that it is actually rather light.

In fact, the term "whipping" is inaccurate, because in Malaysia it is done with a rotan (rattan cane).


It is not flogging or flaying, and broken skin is not allowed, says Wahid (not his real name), who metes out 100 strokes every week as a Kajang Prison whipping officer.

"Syariah whipping is more like caning naughty schoolboys.

"In syariah, the punishment is not in the force of the whipping, but to bring shame."

Under the Criminal Procedure Code, caning is physical punishment in the strictest sense and the officer must use as much force as he can muster.

So, the power behind an ordinary criminal whipping (in civil law) comes from the wrist, arm, shoulder and the swing.

But, for syariah offences, it comes from a fairly limp wrist.

In the syariah whipping administered by the prison authorities, the rotan has the diameter of a little finger and is thinner than the one used for criminal offences, which is as thick as a thumb.

The officer has also to exercise a great deal of restraint.

"In syariah whipping, you cannot raise your hand so high that your upper arm moves away from your armpit." An imaginary book clutched under his armpit would not drop, he said.

Unlike in the civil criminal whipping, in which the offender is bound to a frame and his buttocks exposed, syariah whipping only requires a man to stand and a woman to be seated.

The offender must be properly dressed according to Islamic precepts.

The whipping can be inflicted on any part of the body, except the face, head, belly, chest or skin. A pregnant woman cannot be caned until two months after delivery.

But while a syariah whipping may be milder, it still requires a great deal of discipline and training, says Wahid.

"Prison officers are called to execute syariah whippings in Kelantan because we are trained to do it."

And even though the whipping can be administered by a civilian, Wahid thinks this is not a realistic move.

"I think it would be very difficult, unless you practise often. Even (someone) who has witnessed whipping many times wouldn't be able to do it properly."

A syariah whipping would not need a great deal of accuracy, not being limited to just the buttocks.

But Wahid feels that somehow, it would be an imperfect execution.

"It would be lacking in skill; in art," says Wahid.

Islamic Development Department (Jakim) director-general Datuk Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz says the ideal method of syariah whipping is even more gentle than the syariah whipping that is practised in Malaysia.

"In Malay, whipping is rotan (caning), so people think that the whipping implement must be a rotan (rattan cane). But actually, originally, the whipping implement should be just a switch, or even cloth twisted together, since it is not meant to physically harm the person," says Wan Mohamad.

In fact, in a story told of Prophet Muhammad, who wished to express his anger at the behaviour of his wife, he is reported to have hit her with a handkerchief, which caused both of them to laugh, and this resolved the issue between them.

Because of this, Wan Mohamad says the hardness of the rotan used by prison authorities is an issue. Although the rotan adheres to the condition of being not longer than 1.22 metres, excluding the handle, and not thicker than 1.25cm in diameter, in syariah, the rotan cannot have ruas dan buku — that is, it must not have joints, since a branch that has joints is considered mature and hard.

But the rotan used has ruas dan buku. "The whipping implement is supposed to be soft and supple, so as to inflict the least pain," says Wan Mohamad.