Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hudud in Kelantan: Malaysia at Crossroads

I read Kelantan Chief Minister's Malay speech on the tabling of the Hudud bill in full as reported in Utusan Malaysia. The adoption of Hudud or Islamic Criminal Code and Punishments in Kelantan two days ago is a watershed moment in Malaysia's 51 years' history.
What makes it more significant was that not only PAS (Parti Islam SeMalaysia, ruling party in Kelantan) but also all 11 or 12 UMNO members of the Kelantan Legislative Assembly gave their assent to the bill. It was a historic moment when these two rival Muslim-dominated parties united to adopt Hudud for Muslims in Kelantan.

For that purpose PAS would table a private member's bill in the Federal Parliament in May and expect all Muslim MPs across the political divide to support the adoption of Hudud in Kelantan with its ultimate aim of nationwide implementation in the future.

Even if all PAS and UMNO MPs support the bill, they are far from getting majority support unless opposition PKR (Anwar's party) members get in behind the bill as well. In my last count, out of 222 MPs, 60% are Muslims and hence, lies the conviction and quiet confidence of PAS that Hudud will yet see the light of day in becoming the law of the land for all Muslims in Malaysia.

As Muslim population increases (62% of Malaysians are Muslims) and once the threshold of two-thirds (67%) is reached, the argument for Hudud and possibly for a more comprehensive Islamic law and jurisprudence to be adopted either as a parallel system to the current civil and criminal law based on a secular model or perhaps even superseding it will only grow louder and stronger.

The change in demographics is such where politics lie in the strength of numbers, it will be harder to go against the majority as Muslims in Malaysia become more conservative and entrenched in their religio-political worldview.

The quandary then lies with what happens to the one-third of Malaysians who are not Muslims. One likely outcome is that by 2020 Malaysia will become a very different country from what it is now if religious conservatives have their way.

The window for action is perhaps 5 or at most 10 years for the moderates, both Muslims and non-Muslims to speak out and take action to persuade the silent majority to think carefully what form and shape the nation will take as its overarching narrative and identity as expressed in its laws, cultures and norms. In short, there is at present a crisis of national identity.

Is Malaysia going to be a tolerant country where all races and practitioners of all religions can feel safe, accepted and live together in peace and harmony where all citizens are treated equally under the law with one unified system of jurisprudence and one supreme law of the land in the form of the Federal Constitution as it stands now?

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