Term Paper: Religion and Politics All Religions

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[. . .] The same laws were introduced a few years back in the neighboring state of Kelantan after the elections of 1990.

PAS had won a major victory at the polls in the general elections of 1990 along with the allies in the Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (APU) coalition. This brought the party control of the northern state of Kelantan. The slogan of the party, 'Membangun Bersama Islam' ('Developing With Islam'), swept away a majority since the Islamist party had severed all of their ties with the nationalist-Islamists of the past. The Islamist party had, by then, evolved to become the most outspoken and aggressive defender of Islamisation in the country. The leaders of the party in the 1980s and 1990s comprised of religious functionaries who had played the most important in breaking away from the nationalist-Islamists. such as Tuan Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat who was given the position of Chief Minister after the PAS' victory in Kelantan (Joceline, 2000). He was the first Ulama in Malaysia to hold such a position in government. The president of PAS, Ustaz Fadzil Mohd Noor, backed the idea to select the Tuan Guru as the Chief Minister reasoning on the basis that it would be in the interest of the party. In his words, it would bring PAS closer to realizing its ultimate political goal, which was to create an Islamic state under the government of the Alim Ulama. Thus it was this aim that resulted in establishment of Shariah.

Immediately after taking power as the Chief Minister of Kelantan, the Murshid'ul Am of PAS introduced a set of reforms to the administration of the state. The foremost thing that he did was to change the legal system of the state to that of an Islamic one, which was based on the Shariah. This was followed by ceasing to issue the gambling licenses, barring organizations from using advertisements that displayed women in public and banning all sorts of contemporary or traditional cultural practices. These practices included rock concerts, wayang kulit, Mak Yong and Manora dances that the Ulemas had deemed un-islamic. Moreover the government forbade holding public events including religious ones like nashid performances where there was a chance for men and women to mix together. Moreover the government started campaigning to increase awareness among women regarding wearing islamic hijab or the tudung (head scarf). This was followed by a reduction in the granted expenditure and privileges of politicians and administrators in the state's civil service. There were certain legislations that were not exactly Islamic Law in nature but were introduced to create an Islamic environment. One such step was to begin all state events and assemblies with the recitation of the Surah al-Fatihah and conclude with the Surah al-Asr and the Tasbih Kafarah. Furthermore signs saying 'Allahu Akbar', 'Alhamdullillah' and Subhan'allah' were put throughout the state. However PAS' steps were not limited to being effective locally. Some of the amendments proposed by the party leaders had even greater consequences for the rest of the country as well. The most significant among them was the introduction of Islamic Hudud law through the adoption of the Kelantan Shariah Criminal Code by the Kelantan State Assembly in 1993. As a result of this, all 36 members of the Kelantan State Assembly passed the Kelantan Shariah Criminal Code (II) bill in November 1993. The Shariah Code bill was conceived by a drafting committee that was composed of the leaders of PAS and its most prominent Ulema. The chairman of the committee was Ustaz Abdul Hadi Awang, the PAS leader whose influence extended to the neighboring state of Trengganu. The Kelantan Shariah Code was thus developed under the leadership and guidance of Ustaz Hadi Awang and was designed to meet the goals set by the party. When it finally reached the State Assembly, it passed without dissent.

The Shariah bill included the usual Islamic Laws. It defined a number of Hudud offences that were punishable according to Islamic law. Part I of the bill listed the following Hudud offences: Sariqah (theft), Hirabah (robbery), Zina (unlawful sexual intercourse), Qazaf (wrongful accusation of Zina), Al-li'an (wrongful accusation of Zina by a husband against his wife), Liwat ('unnatural sex' involving anal intercourse- i.e. sodomy), Musahaqah ('unnatural sex' between women), Ittiyan almaitah (necrophilia), Ittiyan albahimah (bestiality), Syurb (intoxication or consumption of liquor) and Irtidad or Riddah (apostasy). Apart from the ones mentioned above, the bill also included provisions for Qisas (revenge killings) and Diyat (blood money) in the case of crimes of murder or homicide (Ismail, 1995)

With such an all-encompassing and strictly Islamic legislation, came an equally all-encompassing reaction. The Federal Government took the move as a direct offense against the administration of the state (Mohammed, 1994) and challenged the Islamist party to turn the bill into law and to put it into practice. Not only the federal government but also various other quarters raised criticism. Human rights NGOs and civil society activists condemned it as an abuse of human rights. Religious leaders from the other communities argued that it would further alienate the non-Muslims within the country. It is important to note here that many of the crimes indexed under the Shariah Bill proposed by PAS were already listed as offences under the Civil Code. Therefore it was not the listing of the crimes themselves as offences that bothered the critics but the way they were punishable. Critics of PAS' Shariah bill denounced it as "archaic," ill-adapted and discriminatory. It was argued that the bill was "an anachronistic attempt to impose in modern times and upon modern Muslims of good faith what is not the essence or culmination of Islamic law but only Islamic law in its most archaic, provisional and historically unevolved form" (Othman, 1994). Other criticisms that were leveled against the PAS by the critics included the argument that the bill contained fundamental contradictions and loopholes, which provided room to discriminate against women and other religious minorities. Moreover the critics condemned the imposition of the death penalty for the crime of Murtad/Irtidad (apostasy) and feared for the status of non-Muslim offenders and victims. This gave birth to the inevitable debate regarding contradictory and incompatible polarities: the Shariah of Islam and the demands of Modern democratic society.

Hence the process of application of Shariah became cumbersome with criticism coming not only from non-Muslim quarters but also Muslim factions. Apart from individual hesitation of modern Muslims to follow as directed, the non-Muslim factions took it as an opportunity to speak against the PAS so that the political power and influence of the party somehow be reduced. These are the problems that are generally faced by any party or government if Shariah is applied to the existing legal system.

Another example is the African country of Nigeria where a similar situation develops whenever Shariah Laws apply. Taking the case of Amina Lawal, a 30-year-old Nigerian divorcee who has admitted to having sex out of wedlock. Under the Shariah, such an offence is punishable by death through stoning. Therefore the Islamic court upon trying her and conferring the death sentence, received great criticism and pressure to reverse the decision from all quarters. The UN Development Fund for Women stating women's rights as grounds said that the "the right of women to choose partners should not be condemned by stoning to death" (Lederer, 2002). A country as far removed from Nigeria as Mexico took part as well. Mexican President Vicente Fox announced that it would oppose the Islamic court's awarding death penalty (AP Worldstream, 2002). Moreover the Nigerian government itself opposed the sentence by saying that it would assist Lawal in her appeal against the sentence (Lederer, 2002). It is interesting to note here that the government does not the right to overrule the sentence; however once Supreme Court rules in Lawal's favor, it would bar Shariah courts from issuing similar sentences in the future (Doran, 2002). There was a lot of pressure that was built upon the Nigerian government from the outside and on the international level. Apart from Mexico, Italy intervened by saying that it would confer honorary citizenship upon Lawal once she can escape the sentence (Rome to honor Nigerian woman once sentenced to death for adultery, 2002).

Other than the above hindrances, it is important to note here that sometimes Islamic Laws are applied in a distorted way which paves the way not only for criticism from outside sources but also to the detriment of religion. Taking again the case of Amina Lawal, the man she identified as her baby's father was acquitted for lack of evidence. According to Islamic Laws, it has to be the both of the parties who get the punishment. Woman alone should not be allowed to bear the brunt just as some Muslim groups have criticized the sentence for not complying with Islamic law (Samuel, 2002). Moreover, Islam has always kept room for forgiveness where the individual should be allowed… [END OF PREVIEW]

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