06/29/2016, 16.22
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Opposition and minorities slam government’s attempt to introduce Sharia law in Kelantan

The bill would allow the stoning of adulterers and the chopping off the hand of thieves. For former Prime Minister Mahathir, the government is trying to win over Islamist party.  “This is not Islam! This is not fair!” For Malaysia’s minorities, the bill is “unconstitutional”; it tears “at the core of the Federal Constitution” and undermines “religious freedom”.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A government proposal to amend the Constitution to introduce Sharia law in Kelantan state, in the northeast of the country, has met with strong criticism.

The country’s political opposition and minorities were quick to point out that such a change would be unconstitutional, expressing concern that other states in the federation might do the same.

One of those opposed is former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 91, who accused current Prime Minister Najib Razak of trying to woo Islamists groups as possible political allies. Razak is currently facing allegations of financial improprieties that threaten to undermine his political future.

An Islamist party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, PAS) is behind the proposed changes, which include adding hudud, Sharia-based punishments, to state law.

Last May the ruling National Front coalition government agreed to debate the issue in parliament. If adopted, hudud provisions would impose stoning on adulterers and hand amputation on thieves.

“What is happening now is that Umno feels itself isolated because of what Najib has done. So in search of alliance, Umno is actually trying to win over PAS,” Mahathir said. Umno is the United Malays National Organisation, the country’s main political party.

Already in Kelantan, there are separate checkout counters for men and women in supermarkets, alcohol is banned and cinemas must have the lights turned on during film screenings.

The proposals would not apply to non-Muslims. However, for some that is one-sided. “Muslims, if they steal, they get their hands chopped, but non-Muslims only get jailed for two months. This is not Islam! This is not fair,” Mahathir said.

Most Malaysians are Muslim, but the country has large Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities. Sharia courts have jurisdiction only over Muslims – mostly in family and inheritance matters – whilst others are protected by the Constitution, which guarantees religious freedom, and civilian courts. However, the two legal systems often come into conflict.

On 30 May, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism reacted to the bill. In a statement, it rejected the proposed changes. Mgr Sebastian Francis, Bishop of Penang, signed on behalf of the Catholic Church.

“It is unconstitutional, tearing at the core of the Federal Constitution and going against the social contract,” the statement said.  “It has the potential to undermine [sic] religious freedom and fundamental liberties as enshrined in Part II of the Constitution. The Non-Muslim’s position too would be in jeopardy under Hudud and they would not have equal rights if implemented.”

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