Wong Choon Mei
"The Kartika case is only the latest example of Umno's failure to take a leadership role in establishing an integrated and functioning Syariah system. The confusion they have created because of politicking is just fantastic and may take years to unravel,” Mariah, who is also a PAS central committee member, told Harakahdaily.
She was referring to recent conflicting decisions by the Islamic authorities in Pahang to withhold caning Kartika Sari Dewi - a Muslim mother of two who was caught drinking beer - although in the Federal Territory, three women have already been caned for having illicit sex.
“There is this huge grey area in our current system. It is high time the Muslim jurisprudence did something to standardize and clean up the way we pursue Islamic law in this country,” said Mariah.
Kartika was due to receive 6 strokes of the cane for drinking beer at a hotel in Cherating, Pahang in 2009. However, a day before the sentence was carried out, the Pahang Sultan commuted it to performing 3 weeks of community service at a children's home. Consuming alcoholic beverages are prohibited under Islam.
In a rare challenge, the Malaysian Muslim Lawyers Association (PPMM) argued that the royal decision may be viewed as not defending the position of Islam.
Although the Ruler cited humanitarian reasons, the PPMM said Kartika herself had wanted the caning to be meted out and did not appeal even though Prime Minister Najib Razak had advised her to.
Experts also said community service may not be part of the Pahang Syariah enactment whereas caning was. As such, commuting the sentence may confuse and create the perception that the position of Islam had not been upheld.
“PPMM is concerned that royal decree does not have legitimacy before the law because even though the Sultan is head of the state’s religion, he must defend Islamic laws and strengthen the institution of Islamic courts,” PPMM secretary-general Abdul Halim Bahari said in a statement.
“The rights and power as the head of the state’s religion must be conducted according to the canon of the law.”
Indeed, although the royal decree may appease international human rights groups, there are clear rumblings of discontent amongst the Muslims in Malaysia – not just among the conservative but also the mainstream.
Kartika was to have been the first woman to be caned in the country but the other three women preceded her. They were sentenced by FT Syariah authorities to between 4 and 6 strokes of the cane.
“It is clear there are double standards in the system itself. Authorities in different states practice differently, the enactments are also different,” Mariah said.
“Mind you, it is not that we desire Kartika's caning. But she was caught, admitted she was guilty and wanted to be caned. Also, there was no question about the Pahang authorities trying to punish her in secret unlike the FT authorities, which was wrong.”
In a bid to rush through the punishment of the three women, the FT Islamic authorities created controversy for themselves by wrongfully caning them in secret, incurring a hail of criticism from both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Ta'zir not hudud, politics not Islamic
Mariah also stressed that the caning of Kartika and the other three women was not part of hudud law but rather ta'zir or corporal punishment administered at the discretion of the kadi or judge.
Hudud law is fixed by the Quran and the Hadith. Under hudud, there are only the six crimes for which punishments are fixed and these are theft (amputation of the hand), illicit sexual relations (death by stoning or one hundred lashes), making unproven accusations of illicit sex (eighty lashes), drinking intoxicants (eighty lashes), apostasy (death or banishment), and robbery (death).
“It is important to make the distinction because there is so much misunderstanding and bad publicity about hudud, even among the Muslims themselves,” Mariah said.
“Confusion arises when we don't do things for the right reasons. In this case, there is speculation of PM Najib's unseen hand. I hope the issue will be resolved peacefully. Some of the Muslim lawyers are hoping to send a memorandum to the Rulers’ Council to seek their advice."
(Wong Choon Mei is the Consultant Editor for Harakahdaily - English Edition)