KUALA LUMPUR: Activist lawyer Siti Kasim today said there was a lack of constitutional protection for Muslims in the country, especially after amendments in the Federal Constitution placing Shariah laws on par with civil law.
The outspoken lawyer said while Muslims are protected under the constitution, they could not seek redress over Islamic issues through civil laws due to the “judiciary’s lack of courage”.
“No judge would look at the case from the legal perspective. Instead they ask for the cases to be heard in Shariah courts,” she told reporters at a gathering to protest the private member’s Bill tabled by PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang to amend the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, to allow heavier penalties on Shariah offenders.
Siti led about a dozen protesters who gathered as early as 9 am outside the Parliament building, carrying placards with messages of “Islam is beautiful”, “Malays are not lackeys”, and “#RejectAct355 I’m a Muslim and I don’t support it”.
The Bill, slated for debate in the Dewan Rakyat today, has drawn criticism from civil society groups and Barisan Nasional component parties, who say it is part of PAS’ efforts to eventually introduce hudud in Kelantan.
Several Muslim groups including muftis have on the other hand urged Muslim lawmakers to support the Bill when it is put to vote.
Siti said the judiciary’s refusal to get involved in cases concerning Islam leaves Muslims at the mercy of Shariah judges.
She recalled the amendments to the Federal Constitution in the 80s, which gave Shariah courts wider powers including arresting Muslims who consume alcohol or those caught for khalwat (close proximity between different sexes).
“Those are personal sins,” added Siti.
Siti said there were many other rights of Muslims which require attention, such as problems faced by Muslim women in divorce settlements.
“Learn from the experience of other countries. Acheh, Saudi (Arabia) and Pakistan among others, are failed states,” said Siti, referring to countries with Islamic capital punishment.
“I’ve always asked for an example of a country that practises religious laws and is successful. None.
“Do we Malaysians want to head towards that direction? That’s why we Malays have to rise up. Don’t be afraid as it is not against the law to stand up for your rights,” she said.
Siti also questioned claims by PAS and others that the Bill was based on divine law.
“Let us open this up for discussions if this is really God’s law. We are not trying to destroy Islam, but to empower it.
“We want to show that Islam is beautiful, and is not merely about punishment. It’s about education and justice.”