Catholic Bishop Emeritus Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing said PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang’s private member’s bill to enhance the powers of the Shariah courts is the “penultimate step in the Islamisation of the country.”
“If his bill is passed, we would have crossed the Rubicon in terms of Islamisation of Malaysia,” opined the Jesuit-trained prelate in remarks to Malaysiakini.
The bill that Bishop Paul is referring to seeks to lift the limits, except proscription of the death penalty, on punishments decreed by the Islamic penal code for offences under Shariah law.
Those limits were written into the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act passed by the federal legislature in 1965.
“You cannot talk about hudud without talking about Shariah,” expatiated the retired bishop of the Malacca-Johor diocese, a leading voice in the national conversation on religious liberty and other human rights issues.
Bishop Paul observed that the debate on Hadi’s bill tended to view Islamic penal code as “apart or separate from Shariah”.
“Hudud is integral to Shariah - you can’t talk about the one without the bringing in the other,” he asserted.
What, then, asked the bishop rhetorically, is Shariah?
“It is a totalitarian vision of society which legitimises discrimination against non-Muslims, practises gender inequality, allows child marriage and adopts Jew-hatred - in other words, practices antithetical to liberal democratic norms,” he offered.
Bishop Paul argued that the ethos underpinning the federal constitution, as promulgated in 1957, is liberal democratic.
“The Islamists’ argument that the constitution is a colonial construct and, therefore, invalid for our society begs the question: Where in the Islamic world is the model Shariah-governed society that is comparatively better than liberal democratic societies elsewhere in the world?
“Is Shariah-governed Saudi Arabia, which is bombing Muslim civilians in Yemen, and mullah-ruled Iran, which is helping Bashar Assad massacre Sunni Muslims in Syria, models of the ideal Islamic society?” queried Bishop Paul.
“If they were, why do Muslims fleeing carnage in Syria, hopelessness in west and east Africa, poverty and strife in Afghanistan, opt to brave drowning and other lethal hazards to go to setle in Germany and northern Europe when Saudi Arabia and Iran are closer geographically and Islamically better options than the post-Christian societies to which they flee?” he queried.
“Do you see Islamists in the rest of Indonesia flocking to Aceh where Shariah law is the law of the region because that is where they can lead lives of Islamic rectitude?” he quered further.
‘A ploy to gain leverage in society’
“Hadi's bill is just a ploy by the mullahs to gain leverage in society. For non-Muslims, if this bill is passed, is a matter of time before dhimmitude and the jizra (a tax on non-Muslims) are around the corner,” he argued.
Bishop Paul poured scorn on the argument that Hadi's bill to enhance the powers of Shariah courts has nothing to do with non-Muslims.
“We have heard that argument when Parliament passed an amendment to the constitution in 1988 such that civil courts cannot override decisions of Shariah courts.
“Almost three decades on from that colossal mistake, try asking estranged or divorced wives who have lost custody battles for their children against their newly-Muslim former spouses what they think of that argument,” chided Bishop Paul.
The prelate claimed that the Islamisation of the governance of Malaysia had gathered pace from the time of PAS’ inclusion in the ruling coalition in the 1970s and had accelerated after Anwar Ibrahim’s induction into the federal government in the 1980s.
“Islamisation has now arrived at what I see as the penultimate step in the transformation of this country into an Islamic state. Once this bill is passed, there will be no going back,” he said.