No. 4 Lorong 11/8E, 46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia.​

RUU355 is a matter of concern for all Malaysians

Sisters in Islam (SIS) unequivocally opposes the proposal to amend Act 355 (RUU355) to increase punishment for syariah crimes to 30 years’ imprisonment, RM100 000 fine and 100 lashes of the cane from the present limit of 3 months years imprisonment, RM5000 fine and 6 lashes of the cane.

RUU355 is a bill that will potentially result in more injustices in the long run and paint a bad image of Islam as a punitive religion. The public deserves an explanation of the rationale behind the leap in expansion of punishment from the present limit to the proposed limit. Furthermore, how will the syariah court decide on the proportionality of punishment to be given out under the existing Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (SCOE) of each state? Will the punishment of the crimes be the same or would they differ from state to state?

Under the existing Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997 (SCOA) there are over 40 offences ranging from possession of religious publication contrary to Islamic Law to moral crimes such as khalwat (close proximity), both of which carry the maximum sentence of 2 years jail or RM3,000 fine or both. With punishment as severe as 30 years jail, RM100,000 fine and 100 lashes in RUU 355 how will the syariah courts be guided to determine that the punishment will not be disproportionate to the crime?

As it stands, the existing Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (SCOE) of each state has been implemented in a discriminatory fashion, often targeting minority groups of society and groups of a lower income. For example, khalwat (close proximity) hotel raids have been largely concentrated in budget hotel areas and the process of these raids completely disregarding one’s right to privacy and dignity. Muslim trans-women have been constantly targeted by religious authorities and inhumanely treated by being placed in male prison, where they are then subject to sexual violence. How will RUU355 ensure that further discrimination will not happen, once the bill is passed?

Bulldozing a law through parliament will not solve the present inconsistencies and conflict of jurisdiction between civil and syariah courts. While proponents of RUU355 insist that the bill will not affect non-Muslims, reality shows that existing syariah laws are already impacting non-Muslims in Malaysia.

The unilateral conversion cases of Indira Gandhi and Deepa Subramaniam are just two examples the far-reaching impact of the dual legal system in Malaysia. Indira’s case has been ongoing for seven years, yet only now discussions on reforming laws pertaining to unilateral conversion of minors have risen. SIS believes that it is irresponsible of politicians to dismiss the fears and concerns of non-Muslims in Malaysia, as they too are equal stakeholders in RUU355.

Systemic weakness of syariah courts must be addressed, instead of focusing on increasing punishments. The status of syariah courts can be elevated by improving the implementation of the Islamic Family Law, which Muslim women have often complained is unjust to them. 2015 statistics compiled by SIS’ Telenisa service recorded that the second highest number of cases involved unpaid child maintenance, while the highest was child custody cases.

These cases often continue for years, the main reason is that the ex-husband does not show up to court. Despite this, the syariah courts rarely issue arrest warrant for the men who fail to show up in court, leaving Muslim women bearing the brunt of the injustice.

SIS calls for the state and other proponents of RUU355 to focus on Islam’s message of forgiveness and repentance. Allah’s forgiveness and mercy (for both men and women) is a constant and recurring theme that is emphasised in the holy Qur’an as stated in Surah Al-Maidah (5:39) and Surah An-Nur (24:5) which read, “…those who afterward repent and amend their conduct, God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

Why then are our lawmakers more focused on implementing harsher punishments, without providing space for forgiveness and repentance as promoted in Islam? As citizens, we deserve a proper explanation and justification from law-makers on the effectiveness of retributive justice in reducing “syariah crimes” rather than a blanket explanation that existing punishments are not effective in deterring crimes.

What is abundantly clear is that this proposed legislation has become extremely politicised.  The impact of all these political manouverings have raised fears and created a divide between Malaysians.

We call upon all Malaysians, Muslims and non-Muslims alike to make your voices heard.  Speak to your family, community, your leaders and express to them your concerns and reservations that this Bill proposes.  This is a matter of national interest.  All of us have a stake in this.  It is time for the voices of the people to come together and reject a future that undermines our unity and threatens our way of life.

Sisters in Islam
26 November 2016