Will Muslims lose their freedom of religion without hudud?

Malay Mail Online
June 19, 2016

KUALA LUMPUR, June 19 — Assertions that Malaysian Muslims will be denied their constitutional right to practise Islam without hudud have no basis either in law or the religion, two scholars have said.

Hudud proponents, notably from PAS, seeking to sway Muslims to their side have long argued that the harsh Islamic criminal code is a divine law but Muslim intellectual Dr Chandra Muzzafar said it is not an integral component of the Quran.

“I do not think that if a society does not have certain forms of punishments, penalties for certain offences, it cannot be regarded as the criterion for determining whether the person is able to practise his or her faith,” the president of the International Movement for Justice told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.

“The essence of faith in Islam is tawhid, which is the oneness of God and if you can live according to that principle in terms of the conduct of your life, I think you are living as a Muslim. Tawhid doesn’t include this notion of certain forms of punishments,” he added.

Tawhid in Arabic means believing in the oneness of God. It is the most crucial aspect of the aqidah (belief), which in turn defines a Muslim.

Tawhid is professed in the shahadah, which is the first of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. The other four are: performing prayers; helping the poor by giving alms; fasting in the month of Ramadan; and performing the Haj or pilgrimage to Mecca, depending on affordability.

As long as Muslims can observe the five pillars — and Muslims in Malaysia have been able to without interference — they are considered to be practising the religious lifestyle required of them in the Quran, Chandra said.

“As long as you are able to live an honest life, you’re upright, you are fair to other human beings, you can pray, you can fast, you can pay the zakat and perform the haj, I suppose you are able to live as a Muslim,” he said.

As example, he cited Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim nation with a population of over 220 million, that abides by secular laws.

Islam is free

Constitutional law expert Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi described the assertions made by PAS leaders on hudud to be “incredible, naive and narrow”.

“There is absolutely nothing in the law that prevents a Muslim from being a good Muslim… what is it that a Muslim in this country cannot do, that the law stands in their way? Is it that we can’t dress in a modest way that is required by our religion? Even the police force allows women to wear a scarf,” he said in a recent interview.

PAS leaders who want hudud and the establishment of an “Islamic state” have made both issues the core of its ideological campaign, declaring them divine laws and labelling those opposed to its implementation “infidels” or deviants.

The Islamist party’s president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang asserted during its annual general meeting earlier this month that civil laws and democracy are an “alien concept’ introduced into the country by its former colonial British masters.

Hadi also reiterated that both civil laws and democracy have failed to uphold social and economic justice, and called it to be replaced with what he termed the divine path of the ad-Din (the Religion).

Shad Saleem disagreed with Hadi, saying Malaysia’s civil laws are already Islamic by nature.

The law professor at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) pointed out that both the civil and Shariah courts share the same objectives, which is to deter crime and ensure justice.

This means that even without hudud, a Muslim can strive to live according to the teachings of Islam by following secular laws.

“It is not systems or laws that produce justice and virtue; it is people who produce justice and virtue. And our [civil law] system doesn’t stop us in any way from being virtuous or living our life according to the message of the Quran and the life of the Prophet,” he said.

The UiTM don said hudud as a criminal justice system is only a small component of Islamic laws.

“And even in the criminal law aspect, almost everything that hudud forbids is forbidden by our legal system. The Penal Code punishes almost everything… we have laws against gambling, laws against corruption, almost the whole of hudud in terms of what is right and what is wrong… everything that is makruf [good], everything that is mungkar [bad], our legal system almost duplicates that,” Shad Saleem said.

Power, control

Chandra said the collective misunderstanding about hudud among Malaysian Muslims is rooted in the anti-intellectualism culture that developed after the destruction of the last Islamic caliphate in the 13th century, which he claimed the religion’s clergy worldwide subscribe to.

He added that the push for hudud today is more worrying because it is largely driven by the Islamic clergy’s thirst for power and exert control on Muslims, in their self-prescribed role as the religion’s custodians.

“The vast majority, whatever their sect or inclination, adopt a legalistic, traditionalist approach to Islam. Laws, not universal values or eternal principles, in their opinion embody the sanctity of the religion.

“It explains why laws — though only about 300 out of 6,666 verses in the Quran deal with various types of laws — are given so much prominence in the writings of the ulama. By overemphasising laws, the ulama, who alone exercise authority over interpretation, enhance their own power. It is a power derived to a great extent from their role as the custodians of the whole tradition of Islamic law,” said the author of the book Rights, Religion and Reform.

Malaysia took a step closer to introducing hudud through Hadi’s Bill, tabled in the Dewan Rakyat last month, which ostensibly seeks to enhance the Shariah courts’ punitive powers to be on par at least with the civil magistrate courts.

The majority of Malaysian Muslims today appear to subscribe to PAS’ view that hudud is a key component of their faith, as seen in the whopping 83 per cent of 22,304 votes received in a recent Twitter poll conducted by Asia’s top debater Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman.

However, Syed Saddiq told Malay Mail Online that most of the Muslim respondents to his study possessed little understanding about the Islamic penal law, with many assuming hudud to be an effective tool to fight corruption.

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