By Hamka Rosli
Malaysia has been known as one of the countries that places Islam as the main religion. Based on Article 3 of Federal Constitution, it is stated that Islam is the official religion and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the head of Islamic religion in Malaysia.
For that, besides having the civil law, the state also accepts the Sharia law to govern legal matters. But the power of Sharia law only pertains to personal matters of the Muslim misdeeds such as fornication or adultery, gambling, and consuming of alcohol. This is the jurisdiction given to the Sharia court which has been agreed by the Parliament.
Recently, the political atmosphere in the country has been heated up with debates over the motion to enact Rang Undang-Undang 355 (RUU 355) or Bill 355 (a private member’s bill) to amend certain provisions of the Act. There are those who agree with the motion and also there are those who argue over the motive of the motion. While the motion is not yet set to be debated in Parliament, people are already talking about it and airing views whether it should be approved or rejected by the Parliament.
The motion stated that the RUU 355 should be enacted in order to empower the Sharia law’s jurisdiction in Malaysia. The main enactment of the bill is to increase penalties of the crime once convicted. The amendment of the act is not sudden and definitely it is not new, in fact, it has been done three times previously.
The first amendment was done in 1984 where the penalty was increased from RM1,000 fine and six months in prison to RM5,000 maximum fine, or not more than three years imprisonment, or six time lashes, or the combination of any of the penalties. After that, this act was again amended in 1989 to expand to Sabah and Sarawak. The last amendment took place in 1997, but only on the interpretation, and it held the Interpretation Act (Amendment) 1997.
The need to enact this bill is due to it being regarded an outdated act and also it does not terrify the wrongdoer anymore. This is especially to the rich wrongdoer who can afford the punishment with their money. What is proposed is to increase the maximum penalty to any punishment, other than the death penalty, which is consistent with Islamic law. Total fines, imprisonment and strokes of rotan will be determined by the State Assembly.
Those who oppose this amendment claim that this is the ‘backdoor’ to implement Hudud laws in Malaysia. Bill 355 has no relevance to the implementation of Hudud as Hudud implementation is closely linked to the amendments to the Federal Constitution. They also claimed that the Sharia court will impose inhuman sentences to offenders. This is not the truth as Islam will not harm the lives of people whether he or she is guilty for doing the transgression.
Besides that, the non-Muslims should not be afraid of this enactment because it will not affect them as the Federal Constitution stipulated that the Sharia court’s jurisdiction is only applicable to those who profess the religion of Islam, which is the Muslims. For Muslims, this effort must be supported to strengthen the Sharia court. We are obligated to uphold the Islamic justice system because we believe that it will not only benefit the Muslims but also the whole community. This is the teaching of Islam, by providing justice and equity to the whole.
Proper measurement to amend RUU 355
The effort to strengthen the Shariah Court in Malaysia is like “having the permit to build a five-lane highway,” quoting the words of Prof. Madya Dr. Zulfakar Ramlee, a lecturer at Ahmad Ibrahim Kulliyah of Law (AIKOL) in IIUM. He said that the idea to amend the act is important and fit into the current condition of our state. Furthermore, he believed that the existing penalties for Shariah offences are unreasonable due to some offenders who do not feel deterred enough by the penalties.
Before we can proceed with the amendment, the authority must first have a proper measurement to ensure the plan runs smoothly without having technical problems. Just like having a plan to build the five-lane highway, the planner must think of a budget to do it, how much manpower they need to build it, and also the maintenance cost to ensure the highway stays in good condition. If the highway does not provide a place to rest or a gas station for its users, then the highway fails to provide the necessities for the users. It would seem meaningless having a wide road with no adequate facilities.
Same goes to issues surrounding Bill 355, the government needs to play its role to scrutinise the amendment. Having discussion in parliamentary session only is not enough to enact the bill, but there must be full readiness of the authorities involved, especially the Malaysian judiciary.
Several aspects must be looked upon in advance, such as the number of Sharia background lawyers must be adequate. That is how the empowerment of Sharia Court should be seen. It is not just having the plan to strengthen Sharia jurisdiction, but also having enough manpower and facilities to ensure that there will be no technical hitches in its implementation in future.***
photo taken from the rakyat post