Are we going less and less secular?

“YBs, where are we heading for?”

In the play ‘Julius Caesar’, written by William Shakespeare, there is a soothsayer.

One day, as Caesar appears in public, the soothsayer calls out, “Beware the ides of March!”.

According to a 16th century Roman superstition, the 15th of March is an unlucky day. So is the 13th of anything – hour, day, or even the number of floors in lifts in a condominium – unlucky for many Malaysians.

The story continues.

After the morning has passed, Caesar shows up again in public and boasts to the soothsayer,

“Look at me, you dreamer, nothing has happened!”

“But, Tok, the day is not over yet ” answers the soothsayer.

Caesar is assassinated in the afternoon!

(Above is a simplified, plagiarised, version of what happens at the beginning of the play. The English teacher in my  Class of 1956 told us that the Shakespearean language in the play would be  grammatically wrong as judged by the modern English usage).

The price of fish

Now what has this 1599 play got to do with the price of fish – with the Hadi Bill?

Nothing, except the month of March. On Tuesday, the 7th of March, the controversial RUU355 appeared in the Order Paper again in the current 13th Parliament, having been tabled there  since May and November of last year without debate.

As it contains controversial proposals, the ruling parties in the Coalition  adopted it as their own Bill; an unusual procedure, but in the Bolehland, this novel political move is a means to justify an end: political power.

The manifest purpose of amending  the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 is to increase the quanta of fines, and to  enhance  the terms of imprisonment, in respect of specific offences under the Malaysian Syariah law. That much is clear.

Disagreements among even the intelligentsia who should know better have been palpably vocal – many reading into the proposals as a prelude to the introduction of punishment of hudud into the Malaysian legal system, a substitution for the penal code or something parallel to it. Others have insisted that the RUU355 is not hudud at all. Yet others are having the herd mentality. And in the midst of conflicting views, no one who is not politically biased has come up with a sound answer: Is there or is there not a POSSIBLE link of the Hadi Bill or the TOTAL absence of a linkage to the amended Kelantan Syariah Enactment, 1993?

Confusion reigns even among the federal legislators from the ruling Coalition, many fearing that it might undermine the freedom of religion enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

In the Opposition camp, PKR is waiting for the explanation by Hadi in parliament itself before making a stand.  The other parties, especially the newly-minted ones, are not very open about their position vis-a-vis the Bill until the voting time.

In Sarawak there is a confusion of stances too. While PRS and SUPP have reiterated their individual position: not to vote for the Bill, two MPs are reported to have told the media that they would toe the Umno’s line.  Another MP was reported to have said she was not even sure of attending the meeting of parliament whenever  the Bill came up for voting. The other MPs from PBB are waiting for the green light from the  party’s new chiefs before they act.

Those MPs who profess the religion of Islam are in a state of serba salah (can’t do the right thing). So are some of the MPs who are non-Muslims, especially those allied with PBB in Sarawak.

It seems that everybody would wish that the Bill be withdrawn or even swept under the carpet for the time being.

Those MPs who oppose the Bill tend to associate the Bill with PAS’ long standing aim of making Malaya into an Islamic  state – government by the Ulamas, beginning with Malaya and, when Malaysia came into being, that too, ought to be an Islamic state, for good measure.

I’m not saying that a theocratic government is bad as such. The  double barreled question: In the present form, Is Malaysia ready for it or is it good for us?

It is being implemented in stages next door, by our neighbours, Brunei Darul Salam (The Abode of Peace). It has been the system of government in Saudi Arabia since the Saud Family came to power and adopted Wahhabism as their key Madzahab  (branch of the Sunni school of law). In the Vatican the government is also theocratic and it’s good for the Catholics there.

In Malaysia, however, there is fear, real  fear, among the millions of Non-Muslims that the punishments called Hudud, Qizas, and Ta’zir may be applied to them as well, eventually, citing as an example an incident in Acheh last year of the application of hudud there. That has happened in Indonesia. What can happen in Acheh can also happen here, so it is being perceived over here in Borneo anyway.

Case for a legislation to reinforce the constitution

I wish someone with authority but who is not politically-biased will enlighten the non-Muslims on the true intent of Hadi Bill/Government Bill, particularly the LINKAGE, if any, between that Bill and the amended but dormant Kelantan’s Syariah Criminal Code, 1993.

Someone or some neutral authority must allay that fear soon. Explain to the Non-Muslims here that there is DEFINITELY no linkage between the Hadi Bill/Government Bill with the Kelantan enactment. Period. The assurance that hudud will not apply to Non-Muslims is not enough as far as most of the Non-Muslims in Malaysia are concerned.

Even among many Malaysian Muslims themselves there remains the question of likely injustice to the Muslim where one party to a crime (e.g. Zina) is not a Muslim, though the Kelantan’s enactment provides for an option for an accused (non-Muslim) to be tried in a Shariah court, if he/she pleases.

Assurances that the punishment of hudud only applies to the Muslims in Malaysia and that the non-Muslims have nothing to fear are, repeat, not insufficiently convincing. People would want to be assured preferably by some kind of a federal legislation, repeat, to reinforce the existing provisions of Articles 3 and 11 of the federal constitution, despite the control or restriction on the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.

This Bill has unsettled the partners of the governing Coalition. And there does not appear to be a workable formula with which to minimize the extent of divisiveness that the RUU355 has caused. Of course, withdrawing the Bill would be one way out, though one party would be very unhappy indeed. For instance, Hadi’s political leadership of PAS may either suffer a credibility gap or else his courage in fighting for the RUU355 will be greatly enhanced. We shall see which one.

If Umno, being the Chief Whip in parliament, fails to convince the other partners in the Coalition to toe the line, it may lose some of its credibility in controlling that Coalition in future dealings. And anything can be read into this scenario which is not for me to speculate. I wish I were a soothsayer.

I wish it were just a Bangsawan (stage play). It is a serious political move by two major racial parties in the Peninsula competing for the support of the Ummah; their ultimate aim is to make Malaysia into a Shariah – compliant State, step by step, beginning with the Kelantan model of Shariah law. I may be wrong here.

Having waded through the political muddy water above, let’s go back to the play.

In a true Shakespearean language, Caesar boldly announces, “The ides of March are come!”. To this, the soothsayer responds, “Ay, Caesar, but not gone.”

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]

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