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Sharia bill 'threatens' Malaysia's secular nature

Christians concerned for the country's future as Prime Minister Najib Razak romances Islamists

ucanews.com reporter, Kuala Lumpur

ucanews.com reporter, Kuala Lumpur

Updated: October 17, 2016 09:59 AM GMT
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Sharia bill 'threatens' Malaysia's secular nature

A file image of Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party president Abdul Hadi Awang who is seeking to enhance the Sharia courts' powers in Malaysia. (Photo by AFP)

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Hardline Islamist politician Abdul Hadi Awang will make his pitch for the full implementation of Sharia in Malaysia during the country's final parliamentary session of the year that began Oct. 17 and ends Nov. 24.

Hadi, president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party and Member of Parliament for Marang, put forward the motion for his bill that seeks to lift official limits established in 1965 on Muslim law punishments mandated by God or "hudud.

Hadi's bill would allow Sharia courts to apply any type of punishment under the Islamic penal code.

Observers say that the bill is a threat to the multicultural country's secular nature and that past leaders — who promoted a moderate from of Islam — would have stopped such moves.

However today's political climate is much different. Observers point out that Hadi, and his party of conservative Muslims, are being wooed by Malaysia's beleaguered Prime Minister Najib Razak who faces unprecedented opposition over allegations of massive corruption.

Public discord is growing against the ruling Barisan National coalition and there are concerns that politicians in its main component, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) headed by Najib, may use the bill to force his opponents to back off and give him time to win back voters.

Subsequently, non-Muslims are alarmed that Najib and his government have done nothing to ensure that the secular nature of the country will remain.

Retired Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing of Melaka-Johor said Hadi's bid to enhance the powers of the Islamic courts in the country is the "penultimate step in the Islamization of the country."

"If his bill is passed, we would have crossed the Rubicon in terms of Islamization of Malaysia," said Bishop Tan according to Malaysiakini, an online news portal.

The bishop went on to say that Sharia is a "totalitarian vision of society which legitimizes discrimination against non-Muslims, practices gender inequality, allows child marriage and adopts Jew-hatred — in other words, practices antithetical to liberal democratic norms."

Bishop Tan said the proposed bill is just a ploy by the mullahs to gain leverage in society.

"If this bill is passed, is a matter of time before dhimmitude (non-Muslim submission to Islam) and the jizya (a tax on non-Muslims) are around the corner," he warned.

The bishop also rejected the argument that Hadi's bill has nothing to do with non-Muslims.

"We have heard that argument when Parliament passed an amendment to the constitution in 1988 such that civil courts cannot override decisions of Sharia courts," said Bishop Tan.

"Almost three decades on from that colossal mistake, try asking estranged or divorced wives who have lost custody battles for their children against their newly-Muslim former spouses what they think of that argument," he said.

"Once this bill is passed, there will be no going back."

The Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary to the Malaysian Council of Churches, agreed with Bishop Tan.

He said that Hadi's bill is about rewriting the constitution and erasing Malaysia's secular nature.

In a letter to the country's lawmakers, the Rev. Shastri urged them to "represent the interests of the people in defending and protecting the fundamental rights and liberties as enshrined in the Constitution."

He said lawmakers should be free to vote according to their conscience on this matter and not be subject to the party whip.

Lawmakers should view Hadi's attempt to alter the country's justice system "with great concern, even alarm," he said.

Darrell Leiking, a Catholic lawmaker from the east Malaysian state of Sabah, which has a large Christian population, said he fears that the debate on the motion will be passed through.

Leiking said there is a real danger that sanctioning the bill could lead to the break up of Malaysia.

"Allowing hudud will be against the understanding of the formation of Malaysia," Leiking told ucanews.com.

"Malaysia is a secular state but it seems UMNO (Najib's party) does not care," he said.

"How can one region of Malaysia dictate to the others. How can this be?" 

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