Push for hudud law raises tensions in Malaysia

Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party president Abdul Hadi Awang during a weekly sermon on April 26, 2013.

Story highlights

  • Proposal will be debated in October and if approved will replace current provisions
  • Hudud law allows for penalties such as amputation of limbs and stoning

Kuala Lumpur (CNN)A proposal in Malaysia's Parliament to introduce the strict Islamic penal code known as hudud law is threatening to split the country's government apart.

The proposed bill was introduced in parliament last Thursday by Abdul Hadi Awang, the president of the country's opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party.
It will be debated in October and, if passed, will replace current provisions in the country's Sharia courts -- which govern Muslims -- with harsher hudud punishments. Hudud law allows for penalties such as amputation of limbs and stoning.
    The tabling of the bill was made possible with the support of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the majority party that makes up the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. Prime Minister Najib Razak has been trying to calm the uproar that has erupted since the tabling of the proposal, denying that the bill will lead to the full implementation of hudud law.
    Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak
    "I would like to state that it's not for the implementation of hudud. It's just to give the Sharia courts enhanced punishments. From six-strokes caning to a few more," he said, in an interview with local media.
    However, non-Muslim component parties of Najib's ruling Barisan Nasional coalition government -- which has led the nation since its independence in 1957 -- have formed a consensus decrying it.
    One of these parties is the Malaysian Indian Congress, whose president, S. Subramaniam, in a statement, called it "inconsistent with the Federal Constitution."
    "The MIC is of the view that the proposed bill is inconsistent with the provisions of the Federal Constitution, which protects the rights of all Malaysians for equal treatment before the law and against the duality of sentencing."
    Sim Kui Hian, president of the Borneo-based Sarawak United People's Party, is also opposing the bill, saying all signatories to the forming of Malaysia in 1963 agreed that the country would be run by a secular government.
    "The passing of the bill could motivate Sarawakians to part ways with Malaysia," he said. A huge proportion of the population in East Malaysia are non-Muslims, as opposed to the peninsular where the majority are Malay Muslims.
    Malaysia's Transport Minister, Liow Tiong Lai, and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Mah Siew Keong -- both of whom are non-Muslims -- have threatened to quit Prime Minister Najib Razak's Cabinet if the bill is passed in Parliament. Subramaniam has also vowed to resign as minister should the bill be passed.

    'Political strategy to gain Muslim support'

    Meanwhile, former law minister Zaid Ibrahim -- a noted critic of the Najib administration -- says this is a clear sign that the idea of democracy and rule is changing in the country.
    "Islam is defined by those in authority, and they define it however they want. This is all political and the corrosive effect is going to be in the long term.
    "There is growing conservatism in the country and it is driven by politics. It used to be very subtle but now it is getting bigger," said Zaid.
    Zaid believes allowing the hudud bill to be debated in Parliament is a political strategy by Najib, to garner the Malay-Muslim support.
    Those advocating hudud law in Malaysia argue it will be applicable only to Muslims and not affect non-Muslims. However, Chandra Muzaffar, the president of non-governmental organisation, The International Movement of a Just World, says the implementation of hudud will create an unjust dual legal system.