Lost in translation


We do not have to agree with an Islamic state or Islamic laws. However, to deny Islamists their democratic right and to disparage Islam, the Muslims and the Malays just because you disagree with the Islamists is pushing Malaysia to the brink of a catastrophe. Be very careful with what you wish for.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Many translate the Islamic Sharia law of Hudud as the law of amputation and stoning. This would be just like translating civil law as the law of hanging. After all, you can be hanged for many things in Malaysia, even for the perceived crime of treason or declaring war against the Agong, whatever that may mean. And if you are caught in possession of narcotics exceeding a certain amount you can also get hanged.

The main opposition to Hudud is regarding the amputation of the hands of convicted robbers. What would happen if later that person is found innocent or it is found that the judge made a mistake? How would you sew back the severed hand?

That is the argument we frequently hear from those opposed to Hudud. What would happen to those you hang who are later found innocent or it is found that the judge made a mistake? Can you bring those dead people back to life? Hence is this argument a valid argument when you cannot also bring dead people back to life if you later find that that person was wrongly convicted and then put to death?

About 35 of the 50 states in the United States still apply the death sentence. And in America it is the states that pass these laws, even laws such as the death sentence. And the US is regarded as the greatest democracy in the world, although this can be disputed. And this is not regarded as cruel while what Kelantan wants to do is.

The next argument is many do not want Islamic laws in Malaysia or the creation of a dual or parallel legal system. But that is just it. Malaysia already has Islamic laws and has had so since long before Merdeka. And the dual legal system was already in existence long before many of you were born. So what is the issue here?

The third argument is that Malaysia is a secular country and hence should remain a secular country and should not be changed to an Islamic country. The other side argues that Malaysia is already an Islamic country so this argument is invalid.

Actually Malaysia is neither. Malaysia is not an Islamic country. Islam is just the religion of the Federation. That does not make Malaysia an Islamic country. And Malaysia is not a secular country either. Not even the United States or the United Kingdom are secular countries as many may think.

The perception is that PAS wants to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state. But then what is an Islamic state? Can PAS show us the model of the Islamic state they are talking about? No two so-called Islamic states are the same. There is no standard model in existence. So which model are we talking about? The Iran model? The Pakistan model? The Afghanistan model? The Saudi Arabia model? Each so-called Islamic state is different from the other. So which one will Malaysia adopt from the dozen or so variances?

The Islamists over the last 100 years since the First World War talk about the Medina model as set up by Prophet Muhammad. Okay, so we are talking about Medina 1,400 years ago. But Medina 1,400 years ago was just a village of wooden huts.

By the time of the Abbasids, when lands under Muslim control stretched all the way to the Mediterranean, India and Africa, the Medina model was no longer in use. It was no longer practical because the Islamic Empire was just too large. Hence from Medina to the Umayyads to the Abbasids to the Ottomans, etc., the system changed according to the changing situations.

An Islamic system based on the Medina model is not just about criminal laws and the punishments for crimes. It is also a system of governing and how you choose your government. If PAS (or any Muslim for that matter) wants Malaysia to adopt the Medina model then the present system of how we choose the government needs to be abolished. We will no longer have general elections or the Westminster system of government such as a Parliament and a Senate.

Hence when we talk about an Islamic system or Islamic government based on the Medina model this will involve not just amputation and stoning but an entire new system where even how we choose the government has to change.

A democracy is not Islamic. Democracies are about the rule of the majority. Democracies are about individual rights and civil liberties. An Islamic system of government cannot allow that. Islam is not about individual rights or civil liberties. It is about the interest of the ummah or community. The rights and civil liberties of the individual have no place in an Islamic system — only the interest of the ummah matter.

Is this what we are talking about? Is this what PAS wants?

Even if more than 51% want freedom of religion to include the freedom of Muslims to leave Islam, that cannot be allowed under an Islamic system of government although under a democracy what the 51% say matters. And that also applies to those who want gay rights and whatnot. What the majority wants is of no consequence although in a democracy we should respect the wishes of the majority.

As long as we debate along the lines of a theocracy and secularism the debate will never see a consensus. This is because Malaysia is neither a theocracy (or Muslim country) as some argue, nor a secular country (also as some argue). Malaysia is something in between. We should discard the theocracy and secularism labels and instead talk about pluralism. In other words, the focus of our discussion should be on pluralism and not on a theocratic or secular state.

PAS has agreed to postpone the tabling of the Hudud motion in Parliament next month. This does not mean PAS has abandoned its aspiration to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state or to introduce Islamic criminal laws into Malaysia’s justice system. It just means PAS will temporarily back off and come back another time when it is more conducive. In other words, this matter has not ended. What we are seeing is just a ceasefire.

Anwar Ibrahim says Hudud has no place in Pakatan Rakyat’s policy. PAS, however, says that it was agreed that they would agree to disagree regarding Hudud and that PAS is at liberty to pursue this agenda on its own, independent of Pakatan Rakyat.

As I told Anwar back in 2010 when we met in London, this matter needs to be resolved once and for all. We cannot allow Hudud or Islamic laws or the issue of turning Malaysia into an Islamic state to be side-stepped on the principle of we agree to disagree. This is a recipe for disaster.

My personal opinion is that PAS has every right to pursue its Islamic agenda. This is what democracy is all about. We should even allow Communists, Socialists, Christian Democrats, gay rights activists, Hindu rights activists, Chinese language activists, and whatnot the democratic right to pursue their agendas as well. If not then Malaysia is not a democratic country.

To silence PAS (or even Christians, Hindus, gays, etc.) is not what democracy is all about. What right have you to push your democracy agenda and deny Islamists their right to push their Islamic agenda?

And that is the trouble with democracy. Democracy means everyone has rights, both the majority plus the minority. However, in the end, what will be adopted is what the majority wants and not what the minority wants. That is the second problem with democracy. But to deny PAS its right to pursue its Islamic agenda just because you do not agree with it is not democracy but hypocrisy.

It is very dangerous to allow this matter to prolong without seeking a resolution. If you think racial strife is bad you have not yet seen what religious strife can do. People of the same race kill each other over differences regarding doctrine. India saw 14 million people displaced and one million killed just because of religious differences even though all were neighbours and of the same race. The Thirty Years War in Europe in the 1600s over religious differences killed half the German population. So be very careful how we handle this matter.

We do not have to agree with an Islamic state or Islamic laws. However, to deny Islamists their democratic right and to disparage Islam, the Muslims and the Malays just because you disagree with the Islamists is pushing Malaysia to the brink of a catastrophe. Be very careful with what you wish for.