The Threat of Islamic Law in Malaysia
Political expediency may deliver up harsh punishments that nobody wants except politicians
The political debate in Malaysia appears to be trapped in menace as the specter of Kelantan’s barbaric hudud law, which advocates 7th-century punishments including amputation for theft and stoning to death for adultery, among others, continues to loom over the country.
A paper by the Malaysian Islamic Development Department, known as Jakim, that was discussed on The Malay Mail Online a few weeks ago has further aggravated the already tense situation by stating that the highly controversial law, if implemented at the national level, should apply to all citizens of Malaysia regardless of religion and in spite of the fact that hudud must never exist in the first place.
For the time being, hudud can still be avoided as it has not even become law in Kelantan yet, let alone on the federal level. Its recurrent appearance on the political stage, however, shows that it is merely the symptom of an underlying disease, rather than the absurd product of a few twisted minds that can be trivialized or even ignored.
This disease is never directly addressed by the nation’s highest officials who insist on putting a God for whose existence there can never be any proof at the center of their concerns instead of a populace that, unless one adheres to solipsism, is very real and increasingly isolated from the rest of the world due to the dangerous Islamic ideas of its leaders.
That Malaysia might eventually – and quite soon – collapse on a social, cultural and humanitarian level is not solely caused by the current threat of hudud. And dodging this legal madness alone will not prevent further disintegration in a country that is already plagued by deplorable chasms separating ethnicities, religions and political groups.
Malaysia has arrived at a critical point in its history and whether or not it can survive in the future will be a direct result of the decisions made by its highest officials today.
What might happen to a Malaysia with hudud during the next few decades is of course difficult to predict and would depend on a myriad of factors. Yet, attempts at drawing a picture of the future as it could develop is crucial in order to understand what is at stake for a nation that could be the beacon of understanding and humanitarianism within Southeast Asia, but has consistently failed to live up to this expectation.
This is a rough sketch of such a future.
The most likely development that has been in the making for decades is perhaps the secession of Sabah and Sarawak from the peninsular part of the country. Justified complaints that any implementation of hudud would violate the Malaysian constitution and therefore potentially nullify the historical agreement that bans the governments of the Bornean states from leaving the federation have spread during the current controversy.
That secession is considered a real threat by the elite around Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was clearly expressed by the updated Sedition Act, which explicitly outlaws the promotion of independence for Sabah and Sarawak. From a humanitarian point of view, however, leaving Malaysia and forming an independent nation would probably be the only sensible decision for Bornean policymakers.
Independence would open the gates for a degree of open-mindedness and social inclusiveness that the current political mainstream and obsession with Islam in Putrajaya renders completely impossible. Although Islamic tendencies will remain to be a problem – particularly in Sabah – the newly founded nation would have the potential to become the freest country in Southeast Asia and rise to be a catalyst for positive change in the region. In particular, it would further isolate the religious dictatorship of Brunei whose sultan seems determined to reinvent his country as a humanitarian wasteland.
The comparatively small population of Malaysia’s eastern states might result in a challenging economic situation for a nascent nation. It would therefore be paramount to openly welcome immigrants and nationalize them quickly. Particularly if hudud should ever hit Malaysia on the federal level, an influx of ethnically non-Malay migrants from the peninsular states can almost be guaranteed. Many of them might arrive without any regrets at all as they would be leaving behind a homeland that has never really wanted them in the first place.