Why hudud law cannot be enforced


An analysis of state and federal powers on Islam and criminal justice

Shamsher Singh Thind, Free Malaysia Today

I once asked my students “How many states in Malaysia enforce Islamic criminal law?” Some of them had no idea what I was asking and kept quiet but others, referring to the recent development in Kelantan, enthusiastically answered “One”. I do not blame my students for their ignorance since many people in Malaysia are of the same opinion too.

Every state in Malaysia enforces Islamic criminal law, not just Kelantan. In Penang, there are at least 40 offences listed in the Syariah Criminal Offences (State of Penang) Enactment 1996. Among them are:

(a) sexual intercourse out of wedlock

(b) male person posing as a woman for immoral purposes

(c) indecent act in a public place

Although criminal law is listed in the Federal List of the Federal Constitution, a state assembly is empowered to enact Islamic criminal law by the State List.

Syariah courts are conferred with the jurisdiction to punish offences by virtue of the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, extended to Sabah and Sarawak in 1989.

Nevertheless, section 2 provides two limitations: (i) that Islamic criminal law shall only be enforceable on persons professing the religion of Islam and (ii) that such jurisdiction shall not be exercised in respect of any offence punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding 3 years or with any fine exceeding MR5,000 or with whipping exceeding 6 strokes or exceeding any combination thereof.

Neither Barisan Nasional nor Pakatan Rakyat component parties have any problem with such enforceability of Islamic criminal law. However, all hell breaks loose when Kelantan, led by PAS, recently amended the Syariah Criminal Code (II) Enactment 1993.

The 1993 Enactment was a controversial piece of legislation for introducing additional punishments like amputation of limbs and death penalty by stoning!

Unlike other Islamic criminal law, the 1993 Enactment cannot be enforced even after the recent amendment: it goes against the provisions of the 1965 Act.

The State List clearly provides that although state assemblies may create offences against Islamic precepts, Syariah courts shall only be conferred with the jurisdiction to pass sentences by federal laws, like the 1965 Act.

For the same reason, Terengganu’s equally controversial Syariah Criminal Offence (Hudud and Qisas) Enactment 2002, also remains unenforceable.

Obviously, I am against death penalty by stoning in broad daylight. Crimes should be proved in accordance with modern methods of evidence, and punishments carried out behind closed doors. However, my opinion on hudud is simply irrelevant!

Hudud means offences for which the punishments are fixed by Allah as stated in the Qur’an. No Muslim worth his salt will thus oppose hudud. If any non-Muslim opposes hudud, this act may be deemed as interference into the religious practice of another.

If it was wrong for Dr Ridhuan Tee Abdullah to condemn the erection of Lord Murugan’s statue in Batu Caves, then it is also wrong for non-Muslims to tell Muslims to disregard what has been made mandatory by Allah in the Qur’an.

Since law on hudud is an integral part of the Islamic religion, it is better for non-Muslims not to make any comment. There are some Muslim scholars with a different view on hudud. Even then, it is for the Muslims to debate and sort out their religious differences.

If PAS wants to enforce the 1993 Enactment in Kelantan, then the 1965 Act has to be amended by removing the limitation and conferring extended criminal jurisdiction on Syariah courts to pass sentences like amputation of limbs and death penalty by stoning.