Religious panel must review effects of shariah bill


By Tariq Ismail

The April 4 Bloomberg news article regarding Bank Indonesia deputy governor’s unorthodox method to fight inflation struck me as something that all Malaysians, especially our MPs, should adopt.

It was reported that Ibu Rosmaya Hadi worked together with religious grassroots leaders with the message: “Don’t shop excessively, don’t buy things at any price, it is good to haggle”.

Ibu Hadi admitted that the grassroots may not understand the technical jargon coming from the Central Bank but will listen to the local religious leaders who speak their language.

What is most important is that this article truly highlighted that moderation is truly an Islamic virtue.

There has been an increasing move to moderation, or wassatiyah, over the past few years, but in practice what the Malaysian people are accustomed to seeing is quite the opposite, oftentimes discarding responsibility by playing the race and religious cards to enslave the mindset of the people.

Wassatiyah is not a means to employ rule by fear.

Isn’t wassatiyah a platform to hear all sides, using rationale and logic sans emotions? Isn’t wassatiyah owning up to mistakes? Isn’t wassatiyah a means to take responsibility, accept responsibility and be responsible enough so that the civil rights of all Malaysians are taken care of?

Let us look at RUU 355 — amendments to Act 355, or Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 — in essence is a noble, yet ambitious bill to table.

On paper, there is nothing wrong with the law, but laws become a problem when men misinterpret the said laws and abuse it.

In essence, too, it addresses only the final outcome of the shariah spectrum – that of punishment for not conforming to an Islamic lifestyle.

But it does nothing to address the prerequisite of the law that society must be nurtured and developed so as to create an environment and lifestyle that is conducive for an Islamic society to flourish.

These are bread and butter issues, including of income and wealth, and social justice for women, children, orphans and the elderly.

And if such is the case, how can we ensure there will be fairness when this small piece of shariah law is applied to all Muslims? How can a Malaysian citizen ensure that a Muslim, who has no means of hiring a lawyer, has the same rights as someone who can afford a decent lawyer?

Party politics aside, I would like all Muslim MPs to consider RUU 355 and scrutinise it carefully. Ask yourselves: are the courts mentally, physically and financially prepared to enforce this law? I think not.

Salaries for the personnel in shariah courts are still below those in the civil courts. After all, if those in the civil courts can be tempted by corruption, what more those in the shariah courts, given the financial mistreatment?

And this leads us back to one of the preconditions of Islamic governance to rid society of wealth inequality such that it promotes corruption.

To Abdul Hadi Awang, PAS president, I am not opposed to the intent of your bill. But it is the repercussions of what the bill will bring on our polarised society is why I ask for more time.

Before this bill is tabled and voted, there needs to be a technical committee made up of Malaysians from both sides of the religious divide to review the intricacies of the bill and its effect on Malaysian society in general.

Non-Muslims, too, have a right to be heard and given clarity regarding your bill, seeing that we are not an exclusively Muslim nation.

I beseech Hadi, as a Muslim scholar and a man of principle, to reconsider this appeal, act as a leader and give Malaysians the clarity they deserve and not shut them out by calling them all sorts of insulting names.

Islam is about moderation. RUU355 may be a noble and ambitious law but it does not address the prerequisite of creating the necessary social environment for true Islam.

Wouldn’t it be more worthwhile to provide solutions to the Malays in the hinterland so that their incomes are raised and lives improved first?

Let us follow Ibu Hadi to promote true wassatiyah by catering to the people’s hopes rather than demoralising them.

Tariq Ismail is PPBM supreme council member.

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