Friday, February 19, 2010

Like a dog chasing its tail - Syariah canning issue

WHILE the three Muslim women caught for engaging in pre-marital sex have been caned, the case of beer-drinking model Kartika Shukarno is still up in the air.

Pahang Islamic Religious Department director Abdul Manan Abdul Rahman had a definitive message when he told us that Kartika’s punishment by caning would be concluded after her audience with the Tengku Mahkota of Pahang.

With this piece of welcome news, the general public breathed a collective sigh of relief that Kartika’s ordeal would soon be over.

Abdul Manan had said, "After receiving the green light, we are prepared to carry out the sentence at any time," and continued, "Kartika has to seek an audience with the Tengku Mahkota before a decision can be made."

He also confirmed Tengku’s willingness to grant an audience.

Progress not!

In other words, we are back at square one and nothing has changed.

Although Kartika paid her fine, the second portion of her sentence is delayed because of legal and political controversies. The whipping was postponed till after Ramadan.

She was even advised to appeal. But why should she appeal? And why should she meet the Tengku? She has confessed to her crime, accepted her sentence and paid the fine. She has put the ball firmly in the Syariah court.

However, the authorities are hesitant to whip her as international condemnation and disgust from NGOs and feminist groups, have added to the pressure on Pahang.

Compounding the problem was lack of a suitably trained person to carry out the punishment (for whipping women). To further complicate matters, the Sultan disapproves of the sentence.

What began as a display of power and might, has descended into a farcical loss of face. The authorities knew that Muslims who drink alcohol would be whipped; however, they didn’t envisage that women would drink alcohol (male offenders are routinely whipped and Kartika seems to have set a precedent).

There seems to be unpreparedness in the ill-formulated Syariah laws. Now, they are trying to pass the buck to the Sultan and put him into an invidious position.

The whole episode is like a dog chasing its own tail.

Normally, Malays and Muslims are extremely sensitive to criticism of Islam.

But the Kartika issue has divided opinion, even among Malays. Some want compassion to be shown; others believe she should be punished.


Whatever it is, the delay has caused her marriage to fail; she suffers mental health problems and her children especially her eldest child who needs special treatment, are denied an education.

Her elderly father has to help support her and her chances of study and employment in Singapore are scuppered.

The men who hold the moral high ground may have failed to see whipping as barbaric. They probably don’t appreciate the gravity of how a personal choice became a political and religious football. They may never admit that Pahang/Malaysian Syariah law is chaotic and cruel.

It is fine to apprehend wrong-doers and sentence them. But if the authorities don’t have the courage of their convictions to punish, then it’s pointless making arrests.

Until a person in authority is willing to act decisively, Kartika’s life remains in limbo.

news courtesy of Malaysian Mirror

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