Moves are under way in Malaysia that could see parts of the country implement full sharia law, including hudud punishments.
Malaysia is a federal country, with sharia courts allowed limited jurisdiction in matters such as family law in each state. However, the main criminal courts operate at the federal level and make decisions based on the Malaysian constitution. Even this situation can create significant problems for Christians, particularly those who have converted from Muslim family backgrounds. They are in effect, locked into the sharia court system for life. Their conversion is not recognised and they are still officially regarded as Muslims. This means for example, that a Christian women who has converted from Islam cannot legally marry a Christian man – as sharia forbids Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims.
However, there have long been attempts to extend both the jurisdiction and sentencing powers of the sharia courts.
In 2015 the state government of Kelantan tried to introduce full sharia enforcement with a bill that included full hudud punishments such as amputation of limbs for theft as well as death for blasphemy and apostasy. For example, section 23 of the sharia bill the Kelantan government proposed imposes the death penalty on anyone “making an act or uttered a word affects or against the aqidah (belief) in Islamic religion”. In other words, anyone brought up as a Muslim who indicated that they have left Islam – such as by being baptised as a Christian – would face being executed. Similarly, anyone who even criticised Islam could be also be executed for blasphemy.
However, the Kelantan government can only implement this if the Federal Parliament agrees to change to constitution.
At one stage this seemed unlikely. However, a bill to allow Malaysian states to implement full sharia enforcement has now been proposed. There are now reports that the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister could possibly agree to support this in parliament.
Christians and other non-Muslim minorities in Malaysia are understandably deeply concerned about the possible change to the constitution that would allow individual states to implement these laws. In an effort to get wider support the Kelantan government amended its original hudud bill to say that it would only apply to Muslims. However, Malaysian Christians point out that if the Malaysian constitution were to be changed to allow states to implement full sharia, then the Kelantan government could simply remove this clause so that full sharia is enforced on non-Muslims. The new law would also automatically apply to Christians who had converted from Islam who could then be prosecuted for apostasy.