What’s the rush with hudud?

KUALA LUMPUR, April 27— By insisting to seek Parliament’s approval to implement hudud in Kelantan this year, Islamist party PAS has certainly put all other political parties in terribly awkward positions.

Chinese-majority MCA, which had long opposed hudud and blatantly so before the 13th general election (GE13) last year, together with Gerakan both risk being seen as “anti-Islam” by publicly opposing it.

PAS’s rival, Umno, another major representative of the Malay-Muslim community, risks an even worse backlash from its own constituents if it rejects the implementation of the Islamic penal code.

Which was probably why it had employed filibustering tactics, especially during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure, to avoid hudud being brought up in Parliament.

But none have been put in a more awkward position than PAS’s own allies in Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
As 16 of its 30 MPs are Muslims, the multi-ethnic PKR will need to come up with a stand to convince their supporters who currently are torn between accepting and rejecting hudud.

Meanwhile, DAP will probably be faced with their biggest challenge yet in keeping Malaysia secular and fending off creeping Islamisation. Even with the recent death of its stalwart Karpal Singh, DAP must stand its ground despite the risk of alienating the more conservative Muslim voters.

So, with analysts and observers noting that the two private members’ bills to pave way for hudud will fracture PR even more than ever before, what does PAS have to gain from all this?

Why has the hudud blitz returned?

It may well trace back to the last PAS annual conference, or muktamar, held in November last year.
This was set post-GE13, when DAP emerged the biggest beneficiary of the opposition pact, winning 38 parliamentary seats ahead of PKR’s 30; PAS won only 21 seats.

After losing two seats from its 2008 haul, delegates made it clear that they felt the pact had not only hindered them politically, but had also halted their progress in trying to establish an Islamic state.

This was especially so after PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang announced the “tahaluf siyasi” concept — roughly meaning political consensus, with PR partners — and “downgraded” their fight for Islamic state to just a “welfare state” instead, all in the previous muktamar in 2012.

Delegates stressed that they no longer wanted to be seen as just a “pillion rider” in PR. The divide between the two factions — those who wanted PAS to go it alone, and those who saw PR as the more resourceful vehicle to Putrajaya — has never been clearer.

The balance between the two factions was nearly unsettled in the party polls, and continues to teeter even now.

PAS president Hadi Awang “downgraded” the goal for an Islamic state in 2012, but the party’s religious faction is now pushing back. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
PAS president Hadi Awang “downgraded” the goal for an Islamic state in 2012, but the party’s religious faction is now pushing back. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

The Kelantan chapter of PAS, dominated by the ulama (religious clerics), probably saw proposing a hudud bill as a masterful gambit.

It would not only instil confidence in an ulama leadership among the delegates who had been clamouring for hudud to go on, but also strengthen the party’s position as the premier Islamic party.

This comes after its religious credentials were questioned by Islamist groups such as Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), and Umno itself, whose delegates had claimed to be “more Islamic” than PAS during its own general assembly in December last year.

At the same time, this will allow PAS to flex its muscles among its allies, showing voters that it is no longer just a “passenger”.

And flex its muscles PAS did; DAP MPs and even the Islamist party’s own non-Muslim supporters’ wing were told to refrain from criticising a move that they — as non-Muslims — have no right to question.

The wish by those who want to see PAS go it alone might even come true; maybe sooner than its proponents expect.

When is the right time for hudud?

Under pressure, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s best response turned out to be along the lines of: “Putrajaya was never against hudud, but the time is not right yet”.

So when will it be the right time, then? To my readers who kindly answered, “the only right time for hudud is probably some time before the 10th century”, prepare yourself for a torrent of abuse from many Muslims who believe that, being Allah’s law, it is immutable.

But ponder a second: it has been nearly 14 centuries — that is 1,400 years — since Muhammad’s death. After all this time, how can you expect those who neither subscribe to Islam or its divine laws, to accept hudud unquestioningly in this day and age?

Yet, there are also many who think that implementing hudud is the be-all and end-all to being a good Muslim. It is as if by implementing hudud, all the other discrepancies and weaknesses that will come from following the Islamic moral code can simply be swept under the carpet.

We saw this with Brunei, whose monarch decreed for hudud, perhaps to instantly elevate the King in the eyes of the Muslims, regardless of the monarch’s less-than-pristine lifestyle in the eyes of Islam.

And it worked! After the proclamation, suddenly we saw Muslims, even those in PAS, praising Brunei for being a model Islamic country and its monarch, a Muslim paragon.

We saw this with Johor, whose monarch also decreed for the weekend to be changed to Friday and Saturday, perhaps in a joint bid with the newly-elected Barisan Nasional (BN) state government to seem more Islamic. (After all, DAP just made inroads in the state in GE13.)

Through a chat with my old friends working in Johor, I found out that people are not entirely happy with the change.

Productivity is said to be going down the drain, as workers take emergency leave on Sundays, while they spend less time working on Thursdays (since before this they spent less time working on Fridays with the three-hour Friday prayers break).

Word is the Sultan of Johor will reverse the weekend decision sometime this year. And for this, he would be praised for listening to the people’s pleas; nothing will be said of the previous decision.

We are not a country that bases our laws and Constitution on Islamic holy texts, nor are the Muslims the overwhelming majority in Malaysia.
To demand hudud in this landscape is to spark a flame, but to rush headlong into it will just fan the fires. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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