PETALING JAYA: A shariah expert who served as consultant researcher and fatwa writer to the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) has taken PAS to task over its plan to introduce heavier penalties for shariah offences, saying it is nothing more than a “political product” to capture the Muslim vote.
Nurul Haq Shahrir, who is currently on a special panel for Islamic law transformation under Majlis Dakwah Negara, the government’s top council on the propagation of Islam, also dismissed claims that the proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act, also known as Act 355, were to uphold the teachings of Islam.
“In fact, it is against Islam and has nothing to do with the shariah,” said Nurul, who is an expert on Islamic jurisprudence and comparative religion and speaks seven languages, including Arabic, Hebrew and Latin.
He said the bill, because it seeks to impose stiffer sentences, was itself contrary to the spirit of the shariah as stated in the Quran and exemplified by the Prophet.
Citing from books authored by traditional Islamic scholars, Nurul said punishing was never the objective of Islamic law and that mercy was a central theme in the Islamic legal corpus.
He said even if it was argued that a certain Islamic law was based on a scholarly interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah (actions of the Prophet), its execution must not be devoid of “benefit, justice, mercy, and wisdom”.
He quoted a famous Quranic description of Prophet Muhammad as “mercy to the worlds”.
“From this, and many other source texts, it can be surmised that mercy is the all-pervasive objective of the shariah,” he said. “For this reason, Muslim jurists have, to all intents and purposes, used it synonymously with public interests. Since mercy is the aim of the shariah, it is evident that this cannot be achieved if the Muslims who enforce it are not imbued with this essential quality.”
He said the amendments tabled by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang in the Dewan Rakyat were clearly not in accordance with such a spirit.
“Surely, the rapacity to inflict punishments and the zeal to heighten them in all haste are not in sync with ‘the completion of God’s Grace’. Therefore, the amendments to Act 355 seeking to impose greater punishments are against the spirit of the shariah.”
If one were to consider the shariah as the embodiment of mercy and justice, he said, one would see hypocrisy in Hadi’s proposal to limit the scope of its jurisdiction to Muslims.
“By this premise, PAS and Hadi seek to victimise the Muslims for nothing but their political gains.
“They are also being hypocritical about the extent of their beliefs. This is due to the fact that the scope of the shariah, which is based upon justice, does not exclude non-Muslims and has never been limited to Muslims.”
He referred to a frequently cited feature of Islamic law – that of prioritising public interest – and said this showed that the shariah was not based only on the Islamic faith but also on the values common to those outside the faith.
“This means that laws are passed based upon public interest and common values not specific to the Islamic faith because the public interests are known rationally and customarily and are also known to non-Muslims.
“This boils down to the primary objective of the shariah, which is dispensing mercy.”
PAS leaders have scoffed at critics of its bill, saying it was the right of Muslims to govern their lives based on what the party claims are divine laws. The bill could be passed if there is unanimous support of Muslim MPs in the Dewan Rakyat. However, many Muslim MPs on both sides of the divide have expressed strong reservations.
Hadi’s bill was first tabled in May last year and was tabled again in November.
The amendments seek to increase maximum penalties for shariah offences to 30 years’ jail, a fine of RM100,000 and 100 strokes of the cane.
On Feb 18, thousands of PAS supporters gathered in the city centre in a day-long event to show support for the amendments.