Rulers will be consulted on uniform shariah law plan, govt assures

The Malay rulers need to give their consent before any proposal to standardise shariah criminal laws among the states is adopted. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: The government has sought to allay fears that the rulers will be left in the dark on its proposal for a uniform code of shariah criminal laws for all states, saying they will be updated on developments and their consent sought once the final draft is drawn up.

The assurance by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic affairs Mujahid Yusof Rawa and deputy minister Fuziah Salleh followed a call by a former MP for the rulers’ views to be taken into account since they are the heads of Islam in their states.

Tawfik Ismail, former MP for Sungai Benut, said he feared the move could be a step towards the greater centralisation of power over religion by Putrajaya.

He also said discussions on uniform shariah criminal laws could be used as a back door for implementing harsh punishments for Islamic criminal offences in the future.

“The record has shown that PAS-controlled states lean towards harsher penalties,” Tawfik said, citing the controversial move by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang to table a private member’s bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act with enhanced penalties.

However, Mujahid told FMT the rulers would need to give their consent for the proposal to be adopted, adding that he would personally keep the rulers informed on any updates.

He said decisions made among the states would also be reported to them.

Fuziah meanwhile described Tawfik’s concern as a non-issue as the “natural next step” would be to bring details of the proposal to the attention of the rulers.

She said there was still a long way to go before the proposal would be brought to the Cabinet or made into law.

“At this stage, it does not have to be brought to them (the rulers) for their approval but the final document will eventually be brought to them for their consent,” Fuziah told FMT.

“This is already incorporated in the procedures.”

She said there would be a number of technical discussions and meetings with stakeholders before a draft bill is drawn up and presented to the Cabinet and then the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

“After that, the draft will be brought back to the National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs and only then will the complete document be presented to the Council of Rulers,” she said, adding that the process could take up to a year.

Fuziah said the lack of a standardised system meant there were different punishments for the same offences under shariah law, which was unfair.

“For example, an offence punishable by caning in one state is not the same in another,” she said, citing the case of two women who were caned in Terengganu after being convicted of engaging in same-sex relations in 2018.

If the women had committed the same offence in Perlis, their punishment would have been different because caning is not the prescribed punishment in the state.

Pahang also penalises public drinking with caning while other states do not, she said, adding that it was time for all states to get on the same page on such matters.

Fuziah said five standardised Islamic laws had previously been implemented.

The successful implementation of the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984, she said, was evidence that standardisation was good.

“If this wasn’t uniform, you could get married in one state and avoid certain procedures instead of marrying in another state where it is much stricter.”

Fuziah also said all states must agree on what sort of punishments will be standardised.

“It’s not just a unilateral decision by the minister. Only after all the states agree will it be included in the final draft.”

Mujahid announced plans for the uniform code of shariah criminal laws on Sunday.

He said the inconsistency was an injustice “especially to the accused, the prosecution and those involved in a shariah criminal case”.

Under the proposal, a draft of a uniform set of shariah criminal laws will be drawn up by amending the existing provisions, as well as adding new provisions to the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act.

The draft will then be presented to the other states for their views and agreement. When consensus is reached, it will be used as a guide for the states to formulate uniform shariah laws.