Submitted by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) and G25 22 November 2016
This is a note to advocate for the withdrawal of the tabling of the amendments to the Syariah Court (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 hereafter referred to as Act 355, which is scheduled to be tabled during the 3rd Meeting of the 4th Session of the Thirteenth Parliament (2016). With these amendments, the Syariah Courts are accorded the power to impose any sentence under Islamic law except for the death sentence. It is an extreme stretch from the current limitations of the 3-5-6 provisions. The implications of the proposed amendments are enormous and potentially damaging to the furtherance of justice and fairness in the administration of Islamic laws. The concerns are: • Whilst Act 355 is not strictly a Hudud law, it cannot be denied that the expansion in the ability to punish under the Shariah legal system will be applied to Hudud laws, • Punitive measures and expansion of powers should not be introduced until structural, ethical and procedural reforms have been put in place, • The Bill will lead to greater discrimination against Muslim women, • The blurring of jurisdiction of the civil and Syariah legal systems will be further exacerbated, • There will be stark differentiation between criminal laws affecting Muslims and non-Muslims, • The progressive move towards one standard of Islamic justice for all Muslim citizens of this country must remain a long term goal to be pursued, • This is not to be simplified as merely an issue for Muslims – all interested parties must have the opportunity to voice their concerns, • Government must ensure that religious beliefs that translate into laws, rules and policies accord justice and fairness and achieve the objectives of tolerant and progressive society that respects human rights and civil liberties, • Such radical changes in law and policy must be based on evidence on its need and appropriateness. Furthermore, consideration must be given to alternative means of moral suasion including programmes to be introduced for a better society through education, exposure, tolerance and rehabilitation, • The Bill requires a process of greater transparency and an assurance that all the necessary safeguards are in place.
We as Muslims should engender love for Islam and its practices by concentrating our time, energy and resources in finding ways to end poverty and all forms of corruption, ensuring social justice for all citizens and establishing a rule of law that is just and fair. We urge the Government and all political parties to seriously consider the implications of such growing intolerance and discrimination on this multi-racial society and to take immediate action to halt this trend. We believe that the passing of the proposed Act 355 will have a serious and negative effect not just on standards of justice, societal values, gender and race relations, but also in public trust that the Government sincerely wants to develop into a progressive, tolerant and just society.