Hudud and the 1946 hangover


Wong Chin Huat, The Malaysian Insider

To the disappointment of many, the hudud issue dominates Malaysian politics a year after the 13th General Election (GE13), threatening to break up the 6-years-old Pakatan Rakyat, as how the same issue contributed to demise of previous opposition coalitions after the 1990 and 1999 elections.

Perhaps not realised by many, it is but another hangover (metaphorically and non-alcoholically speaking) from what I would call the 1946 Question that haunts Malaya and Malaysia since then.

The 1946 Question concerns identity and citizenship in the post-colonial state: Can or should there be common citizenship with cultural diversity? Put bluntly, can or should the non-Malays demand equal rights when they refuse to be culturally assimilated and absorbed by the Malays?

The two opposite answers to that question would be known in the later years respectively known as “Malaysian Malaysia” (Yes) and “Ketuanan Melayu” (No).

How is hudud related to this question of ethnic politics?

Two misperceptions on hudud

The proponents of Hudud would indeed claim that the implementation of Hudud is theologically unnegotiable and not driven by political expediency. It has got nothing to do with Kelantan PAS’s new leadership wanting to demonstrate its political will or PAS and Umno wanting to outdo each other in the one-upmanship in the Islamisation race.

In other words, all practising Muslims must support hudud and whoever opposes hudud cannot be practising Muslims.

However, the call for a moratorium on hudud punishment like stoning has been made by, among others, Islamic theologian Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan al Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1927.

We are also made to believe that there is only one standard canon as it is divine, hence there is no need to examine the details of the implementation of different models of hudud or shariah in diverse countries and territories ranging from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the 12 “Shariah States” in northern Nigeria, Aceh in Indonesia to Iran.

Whether amputation should be done with the assistance of medical professionals is but one of the many technicalities that requires detailed examination. What about the claimed advantage of the implementation of hudud in peace and security? If none of the countries implementing hudud now can serve as an example, then thinking allowed, what can be done to make hudud work?

The assumed homogeneity of hudud means that there is no need to study the details, and reinforces the first popular perception: all Muslims, if practising, should just support the implementation of hudud, with no questions asked.

One would be forgiven if one only reads Malaysian media or listens to speeches of Malaysian politicians, and believe that the entire Muslim world thinks the same.

Brunei v Tunisia – Why “look east”?

On October 22, 2012, in the far east of the Islamic world, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanah Bolkiah announced the implementation of shariah penal code in his absolute monarchy.

Never mind many members of his royal household have spectacular international reputation in drinking, clubbing, gambling and sexual adventures, the pious monarch now wants religiously-informed punishments including death by stoning for adultery, the amputation of limbs for theft, and flogging for alcohol consumption and abortion.

Brunei’s shariah code is now in force since May 1 and it applies to non-Muslims alike. Never mind about inclusiveness for the sultanate’s religious minorities.

On January 27, 2014, barely three months after Brunei’s announcement on Hudud law, a completely different development took place in the far west of the Islamic world, in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring started three years ago.

With 200 votes from 216 members, the Tunisian Parliament passed a new constitution that spells out categorically separation of state and religion in Tunisia. The Constitution states in its first article that the nation’s religion is Islam but it also contains two articles that promise equal citizenship and religious freedom:

*Article 2: Tunisia is a civil state that is based on citizenship, the will of the people and the supremacy of law.

* Article 6: The state protects religion, guarantees freedom of belief, conscience and religious practice; protects sanctities; and ensures the impartiality of mosques and places of worship away from partisan use.

The Constitution is not imposed by a secular military junta by a Parliament dominated by the ruling Islamist party Ennahda.