KELANTAN’s move to allow shariah caning in public resonates with urban Muslims in Shah Alam, the capital of Malaysia’s richest state Selangor, whose Muslim-majority population mirrors Kota Bharu’s. Some even think the rest of the country should follow suit.
Interviews with Shah Alam residents found that several welcomed the Kelantan assembly’s passing of amendments to the state’s shariah Criminal Procedure Enactment 2002 (Amendment 2017) Bill on July 11 to allow for caning outside prison walls.
It may not be too surprising as Shah Alam is home to a large Muslim population from Malay heartland states like Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah. Shah Alam is Malaysia’s first planned city after independence and there were even plans to make it an “Islamic City” in terms of its planning, architecture and design. Although it has a number of western-style shopping malls, entertainment centres like cinemas are only allowed in the outskirts.
Muhammad Zaidi Rosli, 29, said public caning was meant to serve as a lesson to others and to discourage people from repeating the same offences.
“I’m okay with Kelantan’s plan to enact public caning because it will serve as a deterrent. And if you are not committing any wrongdoing, you shouldn’t be afraid of this kind of punishment,” he said.
A retiree who has lived in Shah Alam since 1984 said public caning was part of Islamic laws that needed to be implemented.
“I don’t understand why people are against it because it is good that we are applying islamic law. This thing should have been done long time ago and I have no qualms even if they want to implement it in here,” Che Man, 68 said.
Mohamad Zin, who runs a sundry shop in Shah Alam’s oldest shopping complex, Kompleks PKNS, said Kelantan had moved in the right direction by implementing shariah laws, something other states, including Selangor, should emulate.
“This matter (public caning) only involves muslims, it will not interfere with our multiracial society. Those who disagree will say caning is a form of punishment practised in ancient times. It means they don’t understand Islam because they can’t differentiate between shariah caning and civil caning,” he said.
Another Shah Alam resident, Azman said religious authorities had the right to enforce moral policing on muslims as offences like ‘khalwat’ (close proximity) could be curbed.
“Shariah-related offences are not private matters. It all related to islamic law, which must be upheld in Malaysia. We have to do this even though some people don’t understand it,” Azman said.
To teach or to humiliate?
Although the Kelantan legislature has passed the bill, public caning cannot be implemented unless a federal law, the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (also called RUU 355) is amended in Parliament.
If that were to happen, Kelantan would be the first state to conduct shariah caning in public, a move which mufti of other states and some ministers have praised and defended, with assurances to non-Muslims that the punishment is only meant for Muslims.
Kelantan is led by Islamist party PAS, which has introduced segregation of sexes in supermarket queues and public seating, and banned traditional Malay theatre such as wayang kulit and dikir barat. Aside from Quran recitals, public performances by women are also prohibited.
Deputy Kelantan Menteri Besar Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah had said that the state would gazette venues for public caning but it was up to the shariah courts to decide whether offenders should be punished in or outside prison. He said shariah caning would not necessarily be carried out in public spaces like stadiums.
He also said public demonstrations of caning under shariah would also show people the difference between the Islamic and “secular” ways of caning. The cane used in shariah caning is said to be thinner and lighter, and less force is used.
In 2010, three Malaysian women were caned under shariah law for committing illicit sex. The punishment was carried out at the Kajang prison and all three, aged between 18 and mid-20s said the caning did not leave physical scars on their bodies. They were the first women in Malaysia to receive such punishment under shariah law.
One Shah Alam resident, however, was sceptical of Kelantan’s move, saying it wasn’t the right time to implement public shariah caning.
Kamalia Ramlan, 30, said the roots of social problems and certain offences should be understood first.
“They have to educate people first. The religious authorities need to know the issues affecting Muslims and why they commit certain offences, before punishing them with something that might humiliate them.
“Moreover, our society is really judgemental. I don’t know about the effectiveness of public caning when our society is so quick to judge people. And I’m not saying ‘no’ to public caning just because I’m against it, but we have to know the real reasons that cause them to do something that is not allowed in Islam,” she said.
‘Part of Islam’
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Inter-ethnic relations expert Prof Mansor Mohd Noor said whether one was an urban or rural Muslim may not matter as much as the belief that Islamic laws and public caning were important parts of the religion.
Such a view may be among the reasons why many were in support of amending RUU 355 to enhance shariah punishments, even though they lived in the city.
“In religious and Asian culture, public (punishment) is to shame the social transgressor and is seen as an effective way to deter future criminal behaviour.”
Mansor said the the influence of the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s that that resulted in the world’s first Islamic state has transformed the way Islam is practiced as a way of life. Despite modernisation, Malaysian Muslims still think about and practice their faith with a deep rootedness in ethnic and religious identity.
“If we accuse Malays who support RUU 355, hudud and public caning of religious intolerance, what’s the difference between them and the overzealous Mandarin speaking Chinese of the DAP and the Chinese community, and so too the Indians,” he said.
Mansor added that inter-religious dialogues among Malaysians should be held so that people understood what shariah penalties were about.
“As each ethnic group has their own interpretation of religion, Malaysians should have more religious dialogues and when there is disagreement, they should resort to mediation and not politicise religion,” he said.
Senior lecturer at the Socio-Cultural Department in the Academy of Malay Studies, University of Malaya, Assoc Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said urban Muslims might support the idea of public caning for its educational and deterrent function.
This was not so different from western penal laws where corporal punishment was meted out for certain offences.
“That’s why a country like us, Brunei and Singapore have corporal punishment,” Awang Azman said, adding that corporal punishment was first introduced by the British here in the 19th century.
“Those who support public caning do not necessarily support hudud. They just want heavier punishments imposed on offenders to instil fear and educate offenders,” he said.- Malaysia Insight