No obligation for Islam’s followers to back hudud, law professor says

Professor Dr Abdullahi A. An-Naim from Emory University based in Georgia, the US, says a secular country will protect freedom of belief, including among Muslims. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Professor Dr Abdullahi A. An-Naim from Emory University based in Georgia, the US, says a secular country will protect freedom of belief, including among Muslims. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 1 ― Muslims have no obligation to support hudud as the Islamic criminal code is not mentioned in the Quran, a Sudan-born law professor said today amid debate over a proposed Bill in Parliament that has divided Malaysians along religious lines.

Professor Dr Abdullahi A. An-Naim from Emory University based in Georgia, the US, who professed to be a Muslim said a secular country would protect freedom of belief, including among Muslims.

“The term 'hudud' itself is a misnomer,” An-Naim told a press conference organised by pro-moderation group G25 here.

“The Quran doesn't mention the term 'hudud'. It's not in the Sunnah,” he added, referring to the verbal record of Prophet Muhammad’s teachings and practices.

An-Naim labelled the purported obligation for Muslims to support hudud law as “personal speculation” and said: “Give me a Quranic text that gives this obligation”.

PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang recently tabled a private member’s Bill in Parliament to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.

The private member’s Bill seeks to empower Shariah courts to enforce punishments ― except for the death penalty ― provided in Shariah laws for Islamic offences listed under state jurisdiction in the Federal Constitution.

However Hadi’s Bill provided no details on the nature of the punishments.

Shariah court punishments are currently limited to jail terms not exceeding three years, or whipping of not more than six strokes, or fines of not more than RM5,000.

Local daily Berita Harian reported recently Shariah adviser to the Attorney-General’s Chambers Tan Sri Sheikh Ghazali Abdul Rahman as claiming that it is compulsory for Muslims to support the proposed amendments to the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act.

An-Naim said today that a secular state was not a Western objective but about protecting freedom of belief given the “wide variety” of Muslims.

The scholar of Islam and human rights pointed out that the Shiites in Sudan are forced to live under Wahhabism, an austere branch of Sunni Islam, which they consider heresy, while Iran enforces the Shiite doctrine that must be followed by Sunni Muslims.

“Separating the state from religion is necessary for Muslims to believe with conviction and honesty,” said An-Naim.

Local hudud proponents claim that Malaysia is an “Islamic” country. Malaysia, which practises Sunni Islam, labels other denominations like Shiism as deviant.

An-Naim said the term “Islamic state” does not appear in the Quran and was not practised in the history of Islamic civilisation until the 20th century, noting that the idea of a separate state for Muslims only emerged in the 1930s for a state in colonial India to break away as Pakistan.

An-Naim, who wrote a book on Islam and the secular state, said the government should enforce a single law on all citizens equally.

He described the dual legal system in Malaysia, in which Muslims can be punished for “personal sins” like “khalwat” (close proximity), as confusing.

“A crime should not be made a crime just because it’s a sin to some people,” he said.

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