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Monday, December 29, 2008

> Get Hudud out of the way for a flourishing Pakatan

With Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang pointing out that hudud law has been passed in Kelantan and Terengganu but never enforced, the roiling debate on the set of punitive Islamic laws has reached a crescendo, with no clear resolution.

Common wisdom says that Pas and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) need to put a fullstop to this before the Kuala Terengganu by-election but Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is currently overseas and unable to make a clear stand on this.

But is hudud, which prescribes amputation, stoning and whipping as punishment for criminal offences, really the elephant in PR’s room?

Only Barisan Nasional (BN) now seems to believe so, with obvious political mileage to be gained from putting a wedge between the Islamist party and its more liberal-minded partners.

Pas in fact, does not seem to hold that hudud is a priority for the party even if PR comes into power at federal level.

In an exclusive interview with The Malaysian Insider, Pas research chief Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said that universal principles such as justice and good governance “are our shared objectives and visions in Pakatan Rakyat.”

“While hudud is important, right now the people are not ready. The focus is on justice and good governance first and then we will revisit this subject some years down the road,” he stated.

Even Pas’s own religious scholars chief Datuk Mohamed Daud Iraqi told Utusan Malaysia that hudud is not a priority but peace and equality were and hudud could only be implemented once all parties understand and accept it.

Does this mean that hudud is simply a ticking timebomb for PR?

Dzulkefly dismisses this with a clinical and pragmatic assessment that may not go down well with party ultras.

“The question of Pas taking the Federal Government is almost academic and hypothetical, given our demographic make-up,” he said referring to the 60:40 Muslim to non-Muslim ratio.

Instead, he said that Pas’s position as the so-called champion of Islam was a political burden.

“Pas must cease to be the champion of hudud, while similarly not be burdened to sustain the backlash, every time the emotive subject is brought to the fore by its political nemesis. It must be shouldered by all Muslims from all divides. Pas should remain focused and consistent to champion more major issues of the nation together with its coalition partners in PR,” he said.

The Kuala Selangor MP believes that Pas simply needs to be more savvy in communicating this message.

“For example, the question asked was whether PR would implement hudud when they take over the Federal Government. Husam could have answered that it is for PR’s top leadership to decide, and his opinion is immaterial to the decision,” he said of vice president Datuk Husam Musa’s initial statement which reignited the hudud debate.

Hadi's comparison of hudud to “surgery” is one such statement that shows this political savvy, likening hudud to a last resort mechanism, an emergency ordinance.

Coincidentally, Professor Abdul Aziz Bari, the Islamic law expert who was also a panellist at the forum on political transformation in Malaysia where Husam had made the statement, told The Malaysian Insider that in fact, there are other laws which are of more concern than hudud.

“By comparison, I think the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 and the Firearm Increased Penalty Act 1974, which contain mandatory death sentences are much, much worse that hudud.

“Under the Internal Security Act, you may indeed be put in jail just by suspicion and association. Under this law you are guilty until otherwise is proven,” he said.

Abdul Aziz believes that the current debate on hudud could in fact turn out to be beneficial for Pas if they played their cards right.

Referring to scholars chief Mohamed Daud’s comments in Utusan Malaysia, he said that it is actually in line with Islamic principles.

“As far as I know Islam is more about justice and appropriateness and not hudud at all cost. So it looks like Pas is turning the table on Khairy Jamaluddin and Umno,” he said of the Umno Youth deputy chief who was the other speaker at the forum.

Umno has been playing the hudud card since Husam made the statement and there is clearly hope that it will weaken the opposition machinery in Kuala Terengganu.

But Dzulkefly is quick to point out that if indeed hudud is PR’s Achilles Heel, then Ketuanan Melayu or Malay Supremacy is BN’s - The Malaysian Insider.

Let's get hudud out of the way. There will be a flourishing Pakatan with so many urgent matters to attend to - My Journal.