04/05/2008, 00.00
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Proposal to apply sharia to non-Muslims also

During a seminar of Islamic scholars, discussions are held about extending to all citizens the crime of khalwat, meaning excessive closeness between persons. The chorus of condemnations has been immediate: lawyers, women, and religious Muslims denounce the unconstitutionality of the proposal.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - Lawyers, minorities, but also women and religious Muslims in Malaysia are expressing their strong concerns about the proposal to apply sharia to non-Muslims as well, which has emerged in a recent seminar of Islamic scholars and jurists.  The chorus of condemnation was unleashed by the declaration of a judge of the Islamic court of appeal, Mohamed Asri Abdullah, who said that during the meeting there were discussions about applying the penalties for the crime of khalwat (excessive closeness between two persons) to non-Muslims well as well, through civil tribunals.

In fact, in Malaysia there exist two forms of law: Islamic and constitutional, and the two often are in conflict.  One example is religious freedom, which is guaranteed by the constitution but violated by sharia, which punishes those who "abandon" Islam by converting.

According to the president of the lawyers' council, Ambiga Sreenevasan, "we are facing a violation of the federal constitution, and the proposal is unacceptable".  In an official statement, the council expresses its concern about other proposals as well: a sharpening of penalties and the institution of a rehabilitation centre for Muslims condemned of crimes of "morality and faith".

One of the organisers of the seminar is also against the proposal. Syed Ali Tawfik al-Attas, director of the Islamic Institute of Understanding Malaysia, says the positions are "mistaken", and has distanced himself from the declarations of Mohamed Asri Abdullah.

Also concerned about the situation is the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism, whose president emphasises that the khalwat is not a crime contemplated by the civil law, and that sharia must be applied only to Muslims. Condemnation also comes from the women's rights group Sisters in Islam.

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