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Friday, February 17, 2017

Breaking the silence on Act 355



“As a Malay-Muslim, why I don’t support Tuan Guru Abdul Hadi Awang’s version of Act 355.”
Islam is a religion of peace. A religion of moderation. A religion for humanity. I am a proud Muslim. I am a proud Muslim due to the underlying principles of Islam which I believe are in line with universal values of humanity. Humanity which encompasses all religions, races and ideological beliefs. I will hold on to that belief until the day I die.
I have been told not to speak on this issue as it is “unpopular” and“unstrategic”.
At times, when a nation is at a crossroads, being unstrategic and unpopular is necessary to preserve the moral fabric of our beloved nation.
My fellow Malaysians,
I beg you to think of this newly proposed amendment critically and fairly. Put the labellings aside and think of our beloved nation.
Where is the justice when a serial rapist is seen to be less of a criminal than an innocent Malay-Muslim who consensually engages in khalwat or drinking alcohol?
Selva Kumar Subbiah served 24 years in prison for raping and sexually abusing countless of women. A Muslim caught committing khalwat/drinking alcohol may be imprisoned up to 30 years/caned 100 times/fined RM100,000. Is rape less of a serious offence than a moral mistake? It’s concerning that a victimless moral mistake is punished heavier than those who steal, rape and take bribery.
Where is the justice when the vast majority of the Muslim elite can escape punishment but the lowest rungs of society get punished?
Khalwat raids primarily take place at 1 or 2 star hotels, never at Hilton or Sheraton. Those who drink alcohol in the comfort of their bungalows will be shielded from prosecution while those who get caught sneaking a sip at a bar will be prosecuted. Those who are well-connected can escape the religious raids while those less connected will lose their livelihoods. Where is the justice?
Where is the justice when young and innocent Malay-Muslims will be the primary victims of the disproportionate punishment of this law?
Young people are bound to make mistakes in life. An increase in punishment won’t deter them from committing a moral offence. Act 355 has been amended three times since 1964, yet we don’t see a decrease in offence, but an increase. With the punishment reaching 30 years imprisonment/100,000 fine/being caned 100 times, a mistake committed when one was young could potentially cripple the future of this Malay-Muslim forever.
I don’t like racialising the victims of this law but the reality is that the vast majority of current moral offenders are Malay-Muslims.
Just imagine...
Just imagine what would happen to the future of the Malay-Muslims when a sizeable number of them are imprisoned for years and have a criminal record.
Just imagine what would happen to the future of the Malay-Muslims when a sizeable number of them who are already burdened by the increasing cost of living get slapped with a hefty fine.
Just imagine what would happen to the future of the Malay-Muslims when a sizeable number of those in the working class, especially the poor, get trapped for life for a committing a moral mistake. The stigma which they face for committing a moral mistake is already strong, now added with a criminal record which will permanently debilitate the person’s ability to obtain a job.
Some might say that the judges will be just. That the judges won’t use the maximum range. Unfortunately, this leads to such arbitrariness in the application of the punishment. Since the range goes up to 30 years/caning 100 strokes/RM100,000 fine, this means that even the minimum punishment of a moral offence will increase to at least three years’ imprisonment (10 percent of the maximum punishment).
Three years in prison can destroy a person, especially if the offender merely committed a moral offence between him/her and Allah SWT.
Those who mislabel opposing forces of Act 355 as “deviants”, “kafirs” and “liberal” are truly misguided. They forget that it was Allahyarham Tuan Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat who opposed Act 355 when it was first proposed. He was one of the only MPs who voted against it. They also forget that it was PAS who said that hudud should be put on hold as long as unemployment and justice are not settled.
They forget that internationally renowned Muslims scholars like Tariq Ramadan and Yusuf Al-Qaradawi also share the same views as the “deviant” opposing forces. They forget that Caliph Umar RA suspended hudud (heavy punishments) during times of uncertainty. Let’s not substitute arguments with irrational “mislabeling”.
My fellow Malaysians,
We all have made moral mistakes in the past. Let’s not lie to ourselves.
Imagine. Just imagine, that in the future with the passing of this law, that mistake could potentially destroy your life permanently. You will end up serving a long jail sentence and be fined and caned disproportionately. The corrupt will remain free. The thieves will still roam around. The rapist will be punished the same, but the moral mistake will earn you a punishment which is more severe than these criminals.
Is that a Malaysia we would like to live in?
Is that a Moderate Malaysia?
Is that a Malaysia for all Malaysians?
Is this in line with the human nature of Islam?
Let them label me a “kafir”, a ‘”deviant”, a “liberal”. The very same people who cry for “Muslim Unity” are the very same people who are drawing the line to divide us.
I’d rather be unpopular than remain silent when my country is being robbed of its moderate identity.
I’d rather die than see my people suffer a long suffocating death.

SYED SADDIQ SYED ABDUL RAHMAN is a part-time lecturer at Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA) Malaysia and is Asia’s best debater, winning the United Asia Debate Championship in May 2015.- Mkini

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