Kartika’ caning – Round peg in square hole

While Mr. P. Gunasegaran (No to whipping for drinking, 28 Aug 2009, Star) and those in the similar vein are entitled to their freedom of expression, it nonetheless needs to be pointed out that his abrasive intrusion into the intoxicating whipping debate is in extreme bad taste and a blatant affront to Muslim sensitivity.

His high and mighty pronouncement (read fatwa) based on his secular theology and his one sentence reference to some unnamed Muslim scholar, makes him an overnight jurist (read Mufti)!

Despite 52 years of Merdeka, quite apparently and most unfortunately, the civilized and democratic values of mutual respect is sorely missing in our multi-religious co-existence. And as far as Muslims are concerned, there has been one too many Islamophobic sentiments snowballing by the day in the mainstream editorials, press reports and cyber portals.

Fed by deep-seated prejudice, and popular misconceptions towards Islam and the Shariah, the words "barbaric", "cruel", and "inhumane" are hurled without regard for the sensitivity of Muslims.

Barbaric, cruel, and inhumane are after all relative terms that are employed to demonize the other. This media onslaught, directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, attempts to belittle and humiliate the Shariah justice system, an entire institution whose place in our nation is legitimated by history and the Constitution.

What else does one make of the following headlines “and lets do away with a slew of outmoded, archaic laws in the statute books, both syariah and civil”. He further adds “there is real danger of disarray when man purports to speak for God”. I hasten to respond by asking – should we then let him (the editor) play God or better still be God ?

Islam, meaning ‘submission’- however awkward such a notion is to secular liberal thinking – is acceptance with a free conscience both the tenets of the faith and outwardly the injunctions of the Shariah which encompasses formal ritual worship and the regulation of personal and social mores based on sacred texts.

Believers of other faiths, liberal secularists and secular atheists need to understand that Islam is the governing principle in every aspect of a Muslim's life to a degree seldom seen in the adherents and practitioners of other religions. Islam is not just a matter of rituals and worship; Islam is a complete way of life. For those who cannot or will not accept the crucial importance of this most important reality in the life of all Muslims we can only say, hopefully without insult, please stay out of our business.

As Muslims we have no difficulty accepting that non-Muslims have different beliefs and live their lives differently than we do. Please show us the same courtesy.

His editorial among others, reflect the distressing trend that non-Muslims are making ill-informed, prejudiced and unwelcome comments on the religion of the majority of people of this country. This is very unhealthy, and dangerously crossing the lines of civilized discourse.

There exists a myriad of opinions on the issue of consumption of intoxicants. But the Muslim scholars are unanimous that the offender must be punished.

If the offence is considered under the jurisdiction of hudud (limits), as is embraced by the schools of thought of Syafie, Maliki and Hanafi, caning must be meted without exception. This being the stipulate of God for the good of the bigger society.

However, Al-Qaradhawi, the celebrated contemporary scholar, in consonant with the likes of At-Tabari, Ibn Munzir, As-Syawkani and Ibn Qayyim opines that this offence is within the domain of ta’zir (discretionary penalty). Thus, the judge may choose to forgive the first time offender or he may elect to cane the offender and would stipulate the number of canings. As alluded by others, the caning is unlike the brutal and vicious whippings as prescribed by the civil courts.

Asst. Prof. Dr. Zulfakar, who lectures Islamic criminal law in the International Islamic University of Malaysia, and Datuk Abdul Munir Yaakob, SUHAKAM commissioner, concurred that the courts acted within the State Shariah Criminal Offences Act notwithstanding the seven day remand order.

The Shariah court is part of Malaysia's dual justice system which has jurisdiction over Muslims and the decision of the Kuantan Shariah High Court must be respected as such That is the rule of law enjoyed by both the Shariah and Civil courts and outside interference would tantamount to contempt of court. The due process of appeal is open to the victim if justice is not done or seen to be done.

In this media frenzy, the irony has not been lost that Kartika herself has accepted the sentence and has refused appeal despite the suggestion by no less the Prime Minister himself. This underscores one of the objectives of the Shariah, to guide Muslims to be more observant of their religious obligations through remorse and repentance.

The controversy surrounding Kartika's sentencing also exposes the sometimes uneasy co-existence of the world views of Islam and that of modern secular society. Attempts to fit Islam into the secular world view is like forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that alcohol causes 1.8 million deaths (3.2% of total) and 58.3 million (4% of total) of Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). The U.S. Department of Justice Report on Alcohol and Crime found that alcohol abuse was a factor in 40 percent of violent crimes committed in the U.S. The British Home office reports a figure of 45% which rose to 58% in cases of attacks by unrecognized persons. We have not even begun to mention the primary role of alcohol in road traffic accidents, domestic violence, drug dependence, alcoholism, women and alcohol, adolescents and alcohol, fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol and liver cirrhosis, alcohol and brain damage, alcohol and cancer risk, the causal link between alcohol and 60 different types of diseases etc.

God says in the Quran, Chapter 2, Verse 219 :
“They ask you concerning wine and gambling. Say: 'There is a great sin in both of them, and (some) profits for people; but their sin is greater than their profit …”

As Muslims, our absolute love and allegiance is to our Creator, whose infinite wisdom we do not question. Thus, it is completely unacceptable and reprehensible that any from amongst his creations, should instruct us otherwise applying their fallible human and secular opinions and standards.

(Board of Directors Muslim Professionals Forum
Dr. Mazeni Alwi
Dr. Jeffrey Abu Hassan
Dr. Shaikh Johari Bux
Haji Mohamed Ali Ghazali
Dato’ Dr. Musa Mohd. Nordin
Kuala Lumpur
28 Aug 2009