Opinions divided in Kelantan over hudud law debate

Islamic students take a class at Madrasah Ad-Diniyyah Al-Bakhriyyah in Kota Baaru, in the northern coastal state of Kelantan. ― Reuters pic
Islamic students take a class at Madrasah Ad-Diniyyah Al-Bakhriyyah in Kota Baaru, in the northern coastal state of Kelantan. ― Reuters pic

KOTA BARU, April 16 ― Opinions are divided in Kelantan over a nation-wide feud over an Islamic penal code, ignited by the state's Islamist party, which stipulates stoning for adultery and amputation for theft.

The “hudud” controversy was triggered by the Islamist party that rules Kelantan, a northern state where nightclubs are banned and there are separate public benches for men and women, and has put a spotlight on Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's struggle to secure the majority Muslim vote and fend off attacks on his leadership.

Parti Islam se-Malaysia's (PAS) push to have “hudud” recognised under federal law, so it can be implemented in Kelantan, risks splitting the national opposition coalition to which it belongs: an already wobbly three-party alliance.

At a local wet market in the Malaysian state, one stall seller said he had faith in the religious authority's final decision.

“When the (religious) scholars have collectively agreed... (we) should not question once they have agreed on it. It gets complicated when you involve the public; there are just so many different opinions,” said Muhammad Nafsir Husin.

Another shopkeeper, however, felt the interpretation of Islamic Law being considered was not in line with her belief.

“I do believe in (Islamic law) but for me it is too extreme. If you take their hands, how do they find work? If they are guilty, you can consider prison. People can repent and learn, but if that happens and their hands are gone, what can they do?” said Rohani Jusoh.

PAS, however, says a poll it carried out in Kelantan found more than 90 percent support for hudud, which would introduce the amputation of hands for robbery and raise the maximum number of lashings for crimes to 100 from six.

“If one person has his hands cut off, your state or country will be safe and crime will be reduce, and this is God's promise,” said Wan Qussairi Wan Mohamed, an official at one of the many madrasas, or Islamic schools, in Kelantan's main city of Kota Baaru.

PAS is now lobbying lawmakers in the 222-seat national parliament to support its hudud move, which has already been approved by the state assembly.

“We never question them because that (is) their belief, the issue is “hudud” - the belief of the Muslims, Muslim's conviction. And I think people should respect that. We always look from the perspective of the Western world. Do you think the westerner is 100 per cent correct?” Kelantan Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Nik Amar Abdullah told Reuters.

“There are 136 members of parliament who are Muslim and we want all of them to support it, on the basis of religion, not the party,” he added.

PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang said his party would keep pressing for hudud with or without the support of its allies in the national opposition alliance, Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

Outside Kelantan, hudud has become a political football as parties jostle ahead of elections due in three years, mindful that the ruling coalition only just clung to power in 2013 with its thinnest majority since independence.

Many United Malays National Organisation (Umno) leaders, fearing they could lose the 2018 election, want Najib to keep the party in tune with what is widely seen as creeping conservatism among ethnic Malays.

Najib himself has not stated a view, but he is widely seen as a moderate on Islamic issues. The prime minister's office did not respond to a request for comment. ― Reuters

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