MCA and hudud: Part 3

By Stanley Koh, FMT

Few will disagree that politicians are often trapped in history and history in them. MCA politicians should take heed. Unfortunately, when they throw stones at their rivals, they often forget that they live in a house of glass.

When in 1993 the Kelantan government proposed the law allowing hudud punishments, the two Umno representatives in the state assembly supported it. The law, formally called the Syariah Criminal Code (11) Enactment 1993, was passed in November of that year.

There was no public outcry and the MCA leadership did not threaten to leave Barisan Nasional. The only justification for the silence was that the then prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, had already objected to the passing of the bill.

Fast forward to the present. MCA President Dr Chua Soi Lek recently said he would pull his party out of BN if its political master, Umno, ever decided to impose hudud. Is he in fact trying to rehash the anti-hudud position that his party took during the campaign for the 1999 general election? The results showed that the ruse worked.

Five years earlier, the MCA publication Guardian featured an article by Dr Ling Liong Sik, in which the then party president remarked: “The MCA has always chosen partners who are moderates and are willing to discuss. Malaysia has no room for extremists and religious fanatics.”

Was he referring to PAS and hudud? The answer lies somewhere in a subsequent sentence: “The DAP, being a party of opportunistic bankrupt politicians who are constantly criticising for the sake of criticism, are a threat to the wellbeing of all Malaysians. I am grateful the hudud law issue has exposed the DAP.”

Taliban types

At the MCA-organised forum in 2001, held soon after Mahathir declared Malaysia an Islamic state, Abdul Hamid Othman of the Prime Minister’s Department suggested that MCA should watch out for “Taliban-type” Malays. “We must tell our people that we are already an Islamic state,” said the prime minister’s religious adviser.

He acknowledged that Mahathir’s announcement might frighten the non-Muslims but explained that the idea was to prevent the emergence of the Taliban types.

Hamid in fact tried to teach MCA how to explain the issue to its constituents. He said they should be told that the Malaysian-style Islamic state would be based on locally established traditions and practices as well as universal practices suitable for Malaysians. These would be unlike the practices associated with such countries as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which were, according to him, based on local traditions and not necessarily Islamic.

He noted that while men and women were segregated at Saudi airports, for instance, there was no such segregation inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Zainah Anwar, the executive director of Sisters in Islam, spoke at length on the impact of Islam on legal and political systems and the concerns it raises.

Among other things, she said: “Islam 1,400 years ago granted women equal rights unheard of in other religions and societies—the right to divorce, rights of ownership and disposal of property, dowries and the banning of female infanticide.

“We believe that our fellow Malaysians who are non-Muslims have the right to seek clarification, understanding and to express their concerns, their confusion in these uncertain and difficult times as to what is going on in the Muslim world in general.”

She said one of the main concerns of her movement was the “injustice and discrimination” against Muslim women at the hands of religious authorities.

“The challenge for us today, and in many Muslim countries, is the main political conflict—not so much between Muslims and others, but rather among Muslims with contending visions of Islam and the shape of the nation state. And in this battle on what is Islam and who practices the right Islam, it is the status of women that is the first casualty.