Between image and religious obligation

Public whipping in Banda Acheh, Indonesia

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

KUALA LUMPUR – June 13, 2017: The debate on public caning for syariah offenders in Kelantan continues a day after the law was passed, with those against arguing that it will reflect poorly on the country’s moderate Islamic image.

On the other side, supporters say the punishment will in the long run make Malaysian society more responsible, intelligent and selfless.

The Kelantan legislative assembly yesterday passed amendments to the Syariah Criminal Procedure Enactment 2002, which allow the Kelantan syariah court to decide whether an offender needs to be publicly caned for offences on sodomy, illicit sex, false accusation of illicit sex and consumption of alcohol.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar of the Global Movement for a Just World said he was worried with the positive reception of public caning among many Malaysian Muslims, adding that Muslims could risk being seen as extremists.

He also cautioned that the idea of upholding Islam requires Muslims to support the implementation of syariah law that emphasises on punishment is becoming more widely prevalent worldwide.

“This problematic thinking exists in all parts of the Muslim world. But there’s more to Islamic law than just public caning.

“There’s Islamic law on environmental protection, commerce and agriculture. The Islamic jurisprudence is very rich and illustrious.”

According to Chandra, there are many beautiful principles and noble ideas from Islamic jurisprudence that are often eclipsed by the obsession in championing what are deemed as Islamic punishments.

Responding to Malaysian Muslims’ supposed obsession with Islamic punishments, lawyer Fatihah Jamhari from the Concerned Lawyers for Justice argued that critics should also see its positive side.

“Civil courts mostly administer caning in closed sessions whereby there is little check and balance to ensure procedures are followed through. Should there be any misdoing, the public is slow to find out.

Public caning, wrote Fatihah, can also keep the people on their toes because the embarrassment that comes with it will deter them from doing misdeeds.

“I am surprised no one actually spoke of the other aspects of the Kelantan bill. How about all the other improvements that are meant to keep up with technologies, like allowing video recordings as evidence?

“Those good improvements must be highlighted to show that syariah courts are also moving in line with the advancement of technology,” said Fatihah.

The amendment was also widely cheered in cyberspace.

“Praise be to God. Kudos to all the leaders in Kelantan who made this a reality,” wrote Facebooker Nor Azimah.

“I support this decision wholeheartedly! At least this punishment will help to reduce the crime rate in Kelantan,” wrote Siti Rohaya.

“The public caning session should also be aired on television so that more people will be afraid to commit the offences and then the community will be safer,” insisted Mohd Ihsan.

Those who are against the punishment argued that Islam does not allow anyone to be shamed in public.

“Please stop using Islam to justify this stupid punishment. Islam does not teaches its followers to publicly humiliate anyone,” argued Mijwad Abdul Wahab.

“Stop celebrating. We all know how weak the Pas-led Kelantan government is when it comes to enforcing the law. They can’t even enforce other laws properly and now they want to do this? Give me a break,” quipped Fadzli Kadir.



About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at zaidiazmi91@gmail.com.