By Haris Zuan

During the 13th General Elections, PAS compromised Hudud and the Islamic State – both long-time agenda of the party – in order to join the PR coalition, together with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

PAS shifted the focus of its campaign during the 13th General Elections to a Welfare State agenda, with emphasis on social welfare and civil rights – a common ground in Pakatan Rakyat. The results of that election saw PAS only winning 21 parliamentary seats, as compared to DAP’s 38 seats and PKR’s 30 seats. PAS lost in the fight for rural seats to UMNO, a conservative Malay party leading the BN.

Demographically, even as Malaysia’s political culture is making progress as a whole with emphasis on civil matters, there remains a substantial number of Malay Muslims who, living in rural areas and at the lowest economic class, subscribes heavily to communal politics – based on the idea that religion is the principal basis of a social community. As such, conservative elements in PAS began to push for the party’s conventional agenda – Hudud and the Islamic State.

This is in tandem with Brunei Darussalam (a neighbouring country) suggesting complete implementation of Syariah law for itself. UMNO, the party ruling Malaysia since the country’s independence for more than 50 years, is lending support to PAS on this matter, even though UMNO itself has never been very interested in Hudud.

For the record, Malaysia has a dual legal system – the common law and Syariah. Syariah laws apply only to Muslims and covers marriage, divorce, testacy, and other related matters.

Hudud A Pawn in the Political Survival of Conservative Malays?

For the above reasons, PAS is beginning to resuscitate Hudud, first in Kelantan, a state the party governs with 95% of Kelantanese being Muslims. This has caused anxiety in the DAP, its coalition partner, which claimed that Hudud has never been agreed on as the common agenda of PR.

The suggestion to execute Hudud is more likely than not a move by conservative elements in both PAS and UMNO to remain relevant in Malaysia’s political scenario, which is becoming more progressive and dynamic, featuring democratic issues, human rights, good governance and policy-based politics.

The timing of Hudud’s resurfacing bears evidence to this: when conservatives in PAS and UMNO are being sidelined. PAS as an organic party with the highest number of members in Malaysia – despite claims by UMNO to have 3 million members – is undergoing a dramatic political transition. PAS is not only having success in cooperating with non-Muslim leaders, the party has also managed to attract more progressive Malay Muslim professionals into its ranks.

The new dynamics in PAS is enabling the party to face more challenges outside the realm of communal politicis. The party is now more actively involved in fighting for ownership of Felda land by second-generation settlers – the world’s largest systematic land scheme – and addressing rising costs of property in urban areas, while playing an important role in the refinement of the relationship between races, nation building, etc.

The bringing of Hudud into the public sphere is fuelled not by ideology, but as a by-product of the political contest between the two most dominant Malay Muslim political party in Malaysia. In other words, the race is between PAS and UMNO to ‘out-Islam’ each other. UMNO’s willingness and sincerity to champion Hudud deserves more suspicion, as not only the party has never presented its Hudud draft despite dimissing as unholistic PAS’ Hudud draft, UMNO has never had the courage to fulminate the bluntness of its coalition partners, vis a vis MCA and Gerakan, in opposing Hudud.

Is Hudud wanted by Malay Muslims in Malaysia?

The Hudud Private Member Bill recently mooted by PAS is not only seeing opposition by the DAP and non-Muslims, but also by some in the Malay Muslim community. Their views are not widely heard due to non-existence of open and transparent public discussion of the Islamic law, and the tight leash kept on the mainstream media by the ruling party.

Too often the voices of majority Malays are drained by the screams of conservative ethno-nationalistic politicians who crave publicity in the mainstream media. The lack of a healthy dialectic culture has also caused many who disagree with Hudud to be defensive when pressed for opinion, using excuses like ‘the experts know best’, ‘Malaysia isn’t ready’, ‘more research needed’, to avoid being labelled as going against God.

This is further corroborated by a survey conducted by pollster Merdeka Centre, an opinion research firm, during the election season, which found the Malaysian public, including Malay Muslims, to be more affected and concerned with rising costs of living instead of racial and religious issues.

One way to understand the Malay mind and mentality is through forms of popular culture, for instance, novels, films and fashions. As with other communities, Malaysia’s Malay Muslim community has layered and overlapping dimensions of identity. While it is conceded that generally Malaysian Malays do not oppose Syariah jurisprudence as they are also Muslims, it is near impossible to implement the Islamic law here Middle-Eastern style due to a chasm of context. An important aspect of this difference is the power relation between Malay men and women.

Many examples of female emancipation are available to be gleaned from the culture of the Malay community. The theme was a featured focus in works like Hikayat Faridah Hanum (1925) by Syed Syeikh al-Hadi, and the novel Iakah Salmah? (1929) by Ahmad Rashid Talu. The two classic modern Malay novels were positively received before the Second World War, and helped in championing women’s rights to determine for themselves their future and way of life, including the right to education and the selection of a spouse.

The same theme appeared in the popular film Madu Tiga (1964) directed by the celebrated P. Ramlee, a nationally-acclaimed artist. The film is concerned with polygamy and displayed P. Ramlee’s approach to the attitude of the Malay community, which does not degrade women in the household setting or dismiss their right to fair treatment. In another film called Musang Berjanggut (1959), P. Ramlee depicted how a clever woman managed to hoodwink the state, including its ministers and the monarch.

While there still exist in Malaysia structural obstructions to more involvement of women in politics and other professions, access to education remains equal; female higher education graduates have reached 60%.

Hudud and Tudung

What is the link between Hudud and male-female power relation? Firstly, in most Hudud countries like Pakistan, societies are extremely patriarchal and Hudud has been criticised as being oppressive towards women. In a patriarchal society, Hudud which is supposed to liberate women and protect their dignity, have become a nightmare for women and children. As mentioned, Malay women have traditionally enjoyed more space and freedom. On one side, PAS could seize the opportunity to show that Hudud is not oppressive of women, but this could pose a challenge to how far should the state have influence on and over private space.

To take an example, in Malaysia’s Malay Muslim dressing code, wearing a hijab became widespread practice since the rise of Islam in the 70s. Unlike women in Arabian countries who for hundreds of years, if not thousands, have been linked to the black robe and hijab, Malay Muslim women in Malaysia and Indonesia have been more expressive in their fashion.

The fashion phenomenon is seeing the emergence of a variety of stylish Fareeda hijabs. Malay Muslim women in Malaysia enjoy more freedom, and are more economically independent, which empowers them to define their own identity and not be easily ‘bound’ by a strict dress code. In the event Hudud were implemented, will Malay Muslim women be able to continue donning their Fareeda hijabs, or switch to black ones like Taliban women?

It is clear that the obstruction to having Hudud in Malaysia lies in not only the multi-racial and and multi-religion demographic, but also the diverse political identity of the Malay community and the glaring difference in experience between itself and the Arab community. Without understanding the diversity of this identity, Hudud would remain as political capital of conservative Malays, while Fareeda tudungs will continue to flourish in the market