Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Too little, too late - Muslim women caning

THREE women who were guilty of illicit sex were subsequently caned in Kajang prison last week. All along, it was widely assumed that Kartika, who consumed beer in public, would have been the first Malaysian woman to be caned, but since her sentence was passed last July, was still awaiting punishment.

This is the backdrop for Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s proposal to hold a conference on caning, with experts and ministers from the Muslim world presenting their views under syariah laws.

The surreptitious flogging of the three unwed mothers precipitated fierce domestic and international condemnation. It hurt Malaysia’s reputation as a moderate Muslim country that the minister now seems keen to raise the issue, which many in her government were previously reluctant to talk about.

But any attempt at serious discussion should have been made a long time ago, before the sentences were meted out. She is re-acting to the public outcry.

When various women NGOs, human rights organisations and political parties were crying out for debate to review the caning of women, they were howled down by various religious authorities and politicians.

shahrizat-kartikaShahrizat should have added her voice to the dissenting chorus then. Not only was the misinformation about Kartika being the first woman to be caned, badly managed, the fact that these girls’ punishments were concealed until the last minute, is also highly irregular. Why the open-mindedness about discussion now?

Shahrizat said, “The ministry hopes that through the conference, we can make a comparative study whether the sentence is normally practised among Muslim countries.”

This is all very commendable but our concern is that taxpayer’s money will be wasted on this conference, just for the sake of comparison. There must be some studies by a PhD student who has written a thesis on this particular subject. Her ministry need only appoint a research assistant to look into this.

She also expressed keenness to exchange views, “We can share ideas and practices and gain in-depth knowledge on how each country views the caning sentence”.

Sometime in February 2009, the minister attended the launch of Musawah, an international organisation which promotes equality and justice in Islam. She even chaired some of the discussions. Thus, Musawah should be her first port of call, as they have experts and scholars worldwide with the information she seeks.

But what is most worrying is when she said that syariah laws were implemented with wisdom and fairness, and were the 'most beautiful laws' in the world.

If these laws are fair and just and are currently in use, why is there a belated need to discuss, expound and analyse. One assumes that before implementation, all the crucial factors pertaining to the issue, which in this case is about caning for women, would have been flogged to death before it was passed as law.

It is baffling that this particular syariah law seems, as if someone has put the cart before the horse.

A Muslim woman,

Kuala Lumpur

news courtesy of Malaysian Mirror

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