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Whose hudud?

(pic of crescent moon in Sabah © dcubillas | sxc.hu)

Is hudud in Malaysia inevitable? (pic of crescent moon in Sabah © dcubillas | sxc.hu)

IF we were to believe everything the politicians are saying about hudud, we would come to three conclusions. One, that implementing the punishments prescribed under hudud is divine law that no Muslim can question, and hence is inevitable. Two, that hudud cannot be implemented in Malaysia because of the Federal Constitution and our multi-cultural composition. And three, non-Muslims have no business worrying about this Islamic penal code.

Are any of these assumptions about hudud accurate? Beyond that, what are the proclamations by PAS, Umno and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) politicians regarding hudud really all about?

Hudud: Divine or man-made?

When a Muslim says he or she has to uphold hudud, one needs to ask which hudud do they mean? The truth is, hudud as we know it today is human-made and therefore changeable and contestable.

For example, how many of us know that the Quran prescribes punishment for only four types of crimes — theft, robbery, adultery and slanderous accusation of adultery? And that classical jurists, i.e. men, expanded it to six, and in the 2002 Terengganu hudud and qisas legislation, it was expanded, again by men, to seven.

(© hisks | sxc.hu)

Punishment for consuming alcohol is not provided for under hudud in the Quran (© hisks | sxc.hu)

Three crimes that are today punishable under hudud — apostasy, consumption of alcohol and treason/armed rebellion — are not provided for under hudud in the Quran. Neither is the punishment of stoning for adulterers prescribed in the Quran. And neither, by the way, is death for apostasy.

What else about hudud as we know it today is based on human understanding and interpretation, and not divine authority? The requirement of at least four witnesses in a rape case was to protect women from slander and accusations of adultery, not to protect men from rape charges. The Quranic verse¸ Surah An-Nur 24:4, referring to the need for four witnesses stipulates this: “And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations) – flog them with eighty stripes and reject their evidence ever after; for such men are wicked transgressors.” And so an injunction that was originally meant to protect women has been distorted, through human agency, into one where men are protected from accusations of rape.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) has noted that the hudud enactment that disqualifies women as witnesses also has no precedence in the time of the Prophet who, in fact, accepted women’s testimony as valid and legitimate.

Clearly, so much of hudud as we know it today is not divine and runs contrary to the Quran and Hadith because of flawed human interpretation. And yet, Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia are being told, no less by the Opposition Leader, that Muslims cannot but adhere to the implementation of hudud in Malaysia.

“We’re not ready…yet”

Muhyiddin (file pic)

Muhyiddin (file pic)

When politicians such as Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Pakatan Rakyat de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim assure Malaysians that hudud cannot be implemented because of the federal constitution, should we feel secure?

I don’t see any reason to be assured. Because what they are really saying — and it’s apparent in the qualifications they make — is that at some point in time, Malaysia could be ready for hudud to be implemented. After all, the federal constitution can be amended. Indeed, it has been amended more frequently than the much older American constitution.

Politicians from both coalitions are also fond of saying that our multi-racial and multi-religious composition makes it untenable to implement hudud. At the same time, however, we’re hearing that the justification for implementing hudud in Kelantan is because most Muslims there want it.

Since Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country, isn’t it conceivable that the argument will one day, too, be made that the majority of citizens want hudud implemented nationwide? After all, non-Muslims in Malaysia have already been told they can’t use “Allah” and can’t eat publicly during Ramadan, and movies about pigs have been banned because of Muslim sensitivities.

None of your business

Nik Aziz

Nik Aziz (file pic)

Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat has told non-Muslims to stop making a fuss over hudud because it does not affect them. Catholic Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing has a similarly disturbing position. He believes Muslims in Kelantan should be allowed to implement syariah so long as non-Muslims are not affected.

The assumption that non-Muslims will not be affected is a flawed one. We should understand by now that implementing syariah, including hudud, indicates growing theocratic tendencies in government. And the problem with any theocracy — whether an Islamic, Christian or Hindu state — is that human-made laws are decreed to be unchallengeable and unchangeable because they are purportedly from God. It is for this reason that respected Muslim scholars such as Emory Law Professor Abdullahi An-Naim have argued that any Islamic state, since the Prophet, is undemocratic.

If we accept that one should remain silent because one is unaffected, then this is what we are really saying: That men should remain silent when women are discriminated against, Malaysians should not speak up when the Palestinians suffer aggression, and those of us who live outside of Bakun should not protest a mega-project that stripped away indigenous land rights.

If hudud as we know it today is flawed, and results in injustices against Muslims, it would be incumbent on justice- and peace-loving non-Muslims to make a fuss. It would also be well within all citizens’ rights to determine whether we want our government —  at state or federal levels — to wield almighty and divine authority over us.

What’s missing?

What’s missing from the political rhetoric about hudud is that the Quran provides for repentance and reform for the four crimes it names under hudud. Indeed, forgiveness, mercy and compassion are a recurring and constant theme in the Quran. And yet current provisions under hudud laws do not provide for repentance, forgiveness and reformation.

Sisters in Islam Logo

Sisters in Islam Logo

SIS also points to a hadith that says, “Avert the hudud from being inflicted as much as you can, and whenever you find a way for a release (of a defendant), go through it, since it is better for one who rules to make a mistake in acquitting, than to make it in punishment.” Hence, it is accepted Islamic doctrine that it is better for many guilty persons to go free than for one innocent person to be wrongfully convicted.

And yet, this critical aspect about Islam and hudud is nowhere to be found in the rhetoric of PAS, Umno or PKR politicians. What a shame. Want to know what would be a bigger shame? If all of us allowed these politicians to get away with using Islam as the ball they can toss about in the games they play.


Jacqueline Ann Surin is chagrined and yet not terribly surprised that PKR is now also in the race, with Umno and PAS, to out-Islamicise one another.

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10 Responses to “Whose hudud?”

  1. ahmad says:

    I am glad to read this article. It is true that plenty of human interpretations have been inserted into what is called “Islamic law” since 1400 years ago. These human insertions were codified and elevated to divine status. I can see the parallel in the talmudic tradition of the Jewish faith, as well as Biblical tradition of the Christian faith to some extent.

    As for the Nik Aziz’s assertion that hudud is for non-Muslims only, that is a misrepresentation, to politely say it. In Saudi Arabia, the hands of thieves are cut off, regardless of the perpetrator’s faith. From what I’ve learnt, the traditional teaching of four schools of fiqh in Sunni Islam prescribe that hudud encompass all citizens, Muslim or not. So from traditional Islamic point of view, introduction of hudud for Muslims only is deviating from the traditional Islam. I sincerely think that the introduction for Muslims only is a step towards encompassing hudud for all. After all, once Muslims are subjected to hudud, rest assured that Muslims will agitate that it is not fair for only Muslim thieves to have their hands cut off while perpetrators of other faiths get away with much lesser punishment. Then in the interest of “justice for all”, we will all come under the same law.

    Now can i say “PAS for all” theme has acquired an interesting new meaning? PAS for all, justice for all, hudud for all.

  2. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Jacqueline

    For once I agree with you ! The problem with hudud is that the implications goes far beyond the Penal Code applied to Muslims only. The fact is that PAS will be pressured to make the social climate in Malaysia more and more Islamic. They have to do this in order to make hudud work. No more concerts perhaps. Segregation of the sexes perhaps. And so on. Can Malaysians stomach all that?

  3. JW Tan says:

    I like and agree with this article. At its heart, the debate is really about what being an Islamic country actually means. I would rather it be stripped of its ethno-religious overtones. Being an Islamic country ought to mean that Malaysians respect the rights of Muslims to practise their religion as they see fit, without interference or subsidy from the secular government, so long as such practice does not clash with the rights of believers in other religions to practise theirs. In the same way, Malaysia would also be a Christian country, a Buddhist country, a Hindu country, and with any luck, an atheist country as well.

  4. kanchil tua says:

    I am reminded again of the saying amongst Malaysians for many years, that if you want to be a true-blue Muslim, following everything to the very letter of Syariah, then it is best Muslims stay on a island all by themselves far away from non-Muslims. Why, the very breath from pork-eating non-Muslims would contaminate the souls of Muslims. They would also have their own currencies – after all, how do you eliminate the problem of lard on money? I have not found a solution to that one. I am also very careful not to breathe too closely to my Muslim friends. I am after all a very sensitive non-Muslim who tries very hard not to offend my Muslim friends. Who knows what they will do if I am found to have deliberately offended the sensitivities of Muslims? I shudder at the thought.

  5. Adam says:

    First of all, there must be complete freedom of religion to make sense of faith and belief. When a religion does not allow its adherents to leave and also does not allow them to question and decide to accept its laws and regulations, it is double whammy.

    Sisters in Islam, representing half the Muslim population, has a right to question the Islamic laws, whether Syariah or Hudud, as these laws affect them directly. As it is, under Syariah, divorced wives have great difficulty getting alimony payments from their ex-husbands.

    The patrilineal inheritance laws are also a point of contention with the ladies. Unlike women of old, who stay at home and take care of the family, ladies nowadays work just as hard for the family and at the same time take care of the children. They have the right to demand equal share of the family inheritance as the husbands and sons.

    So, the religious authorities better take heed to address the grievances of the womenfolk and reform whatever laws necessary to be fair to the ladies. Otherwise, you will have a rebellion on your hands.

  6. crokked cockerel says:

    Why is everyone so obsessed with hudud? Especially the so-called ‘intellectual Malays’? Haven’t they got anything better to think about? Our best Malay brains seem to stuck in the Islamic groove, repeating, repeating, while the whole world moves further and further away. That is why our universities’ [standard] keeps dropping. By the time [some] Malays realise this, they will be so far down they will alone. They can’t rub shoulders with non-Muslims in case they get “contaminated” [...] How can we let these types of people rule the country? They have proven themselves incapable of running a multiracial, multiracial nation. [...]

  7. Muhammad says:

    Hello there, I just want to know why you did not include some evidence from hadith as well? Because Muslims have to believe in the Quran and also Hadis. Another thing to note is that, hudud is the last resort as a punishment and not the main one. Hudud is not what should come into your mind when you think about Islam; Islam should make you feel safe and at peace. Non-Muslims can choose whether they want to get involved in hudud or not.

    • Jess says:

      Muhammad: Are you kidding us? I cannot believe you just wrote, “Non-Muslims can choose whether they want to get involved in hudud or not.”

      Kindly inform us, since when did non-Muslims choose to be treated as 2nd- or 3rd-class citizens in Malaysia?

      Maybe you should ask yourself why Islam, as practised in Malaysia currently under a secular state, doesn’t make many feel “safe and at peace”?

      Let’s keep this debate to on-the-ground realities and not Utopian visions of a perfect theocracy; there is none that exists, past or present. Ask any Saudi or Pakistani today, or any Protestant Christian during the height of the Papal empire.

      Already we are seeing what little power given to the arbitrators and enforcers of Islamic law in Malaysia corrupting them. What more when absolute power is given to them. If you want to keep Islam free from corruption in Malaysia, keep it well away from the state and politics. Oooops sorry, too late…

    • ahmad says:

      Muhammad,

      I am sick of people [...] who keep on drumming that Muslims must believe in Quran and hadith. Inexorably this only means that Muslims must believe in [one's] interpretation of Quran and hadith.

      As to your assertion that hudud is last resort, why don’t you check the facts of contemporary hudud being practised in Saudi, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, etc. The axe-happy mullahs have no qualms about chopping hands and throwing stones.

      And why can only non-Muslims choose? Muslims also must be given choice. After all, PAS claims it champions democracy, but what kind of democracy would it be if choice is taken away from Muslims? If to be Muslim means one must be subverted to hudud, Muslims must be given freedom to choose their own faith.

  8. Benji says:

    Hey Jacqueline, I really like what you’re trying to do and think you make some excellent points. Just a few things:

    I’m always surprised at the way Malaysians refer to their country as ‘secular’ and ‘democratic’. While the constitution may explicitly emphasise a separation of church and state, the powers that be still demand all citizens profess a religious affiliation and this is enforced by the (supposedly secular?) rule of law.

    I also couldn’t help noticing that you routinely quote SIS in reference to scripture? To some extent, I think this is playing with fire. I’m all for Islamic moderation (to the extent that such a thing can ever exist), but SIS has a rather nasty habit of sifting through the religious texts in a vain attempt to justify their absurd claims. For one thing (if we’re being honest) doesn’t the term ‘Islamic-Feminist’ seem like an oxymoron to anyone that’s ever read the Qur’an/Hadith? I mean, It’s one thing to fight fire with fire, but SIS will often quote the most obscure of Hadith in the hope of convincing hard-core Islamists (and possibly themselves) that they have God on their side. Surely they realise this is never going to work?

    There is legitimate reason for the female half of Malaysia’s population to be apprehensive when many of their male counterparts begin calling for the widespread implementation of a parallel legal system, though it’s not because Hudud is un-Islamic..

    There are far better reasons why Hudud and Syaria are incompatible with contemporary society. For one thing, maybe talk about the devastating effect that it has on economies that aren’t independently oil-wealthy? (Or why Islam is not a comprehensive guide to women’s rights in the 21st century?) -But if the debate remains focused on the specific teachings of Islam (not what individual Muslims want to follow), the extremists will win every time…


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