by Scott Ng
February 23, 2017
Those who attended Saturday's rally must have neglected to consider the implications of the party's move to change the law.
PAS has made no bones about this move being the first step towards introducing hudud in its stronghold of Kelantan. And if the amendments are passed, the maximum penalties for shariah offences will be raised to a 30-year jail term, a RM100,000 fine and 100 strokes of the cane.
Prominent personalities such as Zaid Ibrahim have spoken out passionately against this revision of Act 355, citing a lack of faith in PAS’ ability to ensure that the proposed new powers won’t be abused. Other pundits have spoken of the possibility that the revised law will foster distrust and encourage busy bodies. Still others have raised the fear that the rights of non-Muslims will be affected. Indeed, the lives of Muslims and non-Muslims in this country are so intertwined that what affects one will ultimately affect the other.
Another significant point was brought up by Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin. He spoke of the fallibility of man’s interpretation of God’s law. He questioned whether amputation for theft was what made a law Islamic. He even said that PAS’ drive to adopt its interpretation of hudud reminded him of the mentality of the Daesh. “They think only of punishing.”
Reminding Muslims of their duty to debate and criticise the desire for such a law, Asri said it was clear that time and context would apply to the adoption of laws from centuries past.
Perhaps the greatest fear is that PAS’ version of hudud will turn us into a regressive society, constantly concerned with the sins of our neighbours and far too obsessed with punishment to truly change anything. The Prophet was clear in saying that the punishments prescribed under hudud are meant to be taken in the context of a village, a town, a community, where the first option was indeed not punishment but mitigation of the very behaviour that would lead to punishment.
The law is often too obsessed with little details to worry about having a caring kind of justice. Codifying hudud can only lead to a rigid, paranoid society that sees not the opportunity to change behaviour but instead to punish and deter. Such a society would use fear as a weapon against dissatisfied members of society. Hadi Awang’s authoritarian streak belies a nature some fear may be unkind and unforgiving.
The question should not be “How can we punish better?” but “What can we do to change things?” Without this fundamental paradigm shift, the conversation on hudud in Malaysia will remain one dominated by words like fear, repression, and unfairness. That’s the opposite of what a divine law should be seen as.
Perhaps the Perlis mufti said it best: “I fear that a person who steals a car will get his hand amputated but a nobleman who steals millions will not get his hand amputated.’’
If that doesn’t defeat the intention of hudud as implemented by our politicians, perhaps then we are too far gone.
Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.