Wed, 17 Mar 2010 09:42
By Jeswan Kaur
Something has gone wrong, if speaking on behalf of oppressed Muslim women by non-Muslims is seen as an “offence”.
The truth of what is wrong is that bigotry has become the order of the day. And women, Muslim women, that is, have always been treated as less than human by the Muslim men, who use the syariah law as a “textbook” approach to making the women submissive and devoid of any right.
The caning of three Muslim women last month for engaging in illicit sex, an offence under the syariah law, unfortunately set a precedent for such punishment to be carried out for the first time in this country, which prides itself as a nation practising moderate Islam.
Not enough, these women were also imprisoned and one is still in jail and will only see the light of the day in June.
Time and again, women become the easy target for chauvinistic males. Why were these three women caned? Because the syariah law dictates so? What happened to the men they had sex with? Why were these men not caned too?
By using syariah as an excuse to persecute the women, the message has been sent out all too loud and clear that Islam is not a religion that is “all merciful and benevolent”.
If it is, then this recent caning of the women would not have taken place. Instead, the three would have been pulled aside and reprimanded and sent for counselling, all for the sake of sending the message that Islam does not condone illicit sex.
But then which religion allows illicit sex?
What exactly has the syariah law achieved by caning women who engage in illicit sex? It has perhaps succeeded in creating fear among Muslim women and certainly disgust among the non-Muslims, be it women or men over such inhumane law.
The syariah, according to authentic Islamic doctrines, is the concrete embodiment of the Will of Allah. Author Seyyed Hossein Nasr in his book A Young Muslim’s Guide to the Modern World puts it succinctly by saying: "The syariah or the divine law of Islam is central to the Islamic religion to the extent that one can define the Muslim as one who accepts the legitimacy of the syariah even if he or she is not able to practise all of its teachings."
Seyyed Hossein hits the nail on the head when he says: "Allah alone is ultimately the legislator, the Syarie, He who creates laws, and only His laws are ultimately binding and permanent in human life.
"This does not mean that the syariah cannot be applied and ’grow’ according to different circumstances like the growth of a tree whose roots and trunk remain firm and whose nature does not change although its branches grow over the years."
The caning of the three women calls for the need to reassess the true effectiveness of the syariah law.
To misuse the law to morally police an individual’s personal behaviour is certainly an act in bad taste. Engaging in sex before marriage is an issue between the doer and Allah? To claim to champion Allah’s teachings and that too in an absolute cruel manner goes against all grains of what Islam is all about.
To treat the Muslim women at the men’s convenience is no teaching of Islam. To practise polygamy because a man has never ending “appetite” is not what Prophet Muhammad preached. But in the name of Islam polygamy is given such importance by bigots.
Is it a sin for a Muslim woman to resist polygamy, for the sake of her well-being and that of her children? Is it wrong for her non-Muslim sisters to speak up against polygamy, to voice out the unfairness that results from polygamy? Likewise, is it a sin if a Muslim wife cries against marital rape?
Under the civil law, caning is prohibited in the case of female offenders. Then why does a law which is based on the word of God, that is Allah, take the opposite stand? Why does the syariah law come across as a much harsher form of legislation? Why has compassion, which is the cornerstone of Islam, been compromised under the syariah law?
Compassion and empathy
Is illicit sex a phenomenon in Malaysia? Let us not pretend to be holier-than-thou, giving those dirty stares at those accused of committing it.
Have we forgotten that “to err is human, to forgive divine”? Is it any of our business to hide behind bushes armed with cameras and torchlights, preying into the affairs of others?
Is it the business of anyone to break open the doors of an individual’s house and accuse them of close proximity or berkhalwat? No one likes to make mistakes but mistakes happen and that is why another name for mistakes is experience.
To merely focus on castigating the wrong-doer using religion as the pretext is not what any religion asks of.
Instead of using religion to play judge, jury and executioner, it will do the legislators of such laws, all the good to understand the real principles behind such a divine rule and empathise with the wrong-doer, working at “punishing” them by way of making them do community service.
Because of the harsh approach adopted at punishing those caught for close proximity, many Muslim women, upon realising their mistake, are afraid of coming forward to seek help when they get pregnant.
These women resort to the worst act anyone can only imagine, that of disposing of their newborns in any way possible, be it flushing the little one down the toilet bowl or leaving the baby in the open as a meal for wild dogs.
When we speak of religion, compassion and forgiveness go hand in hand.
Coercion never works and before more babies of unwed mothers end up as carcass devoured by stray canines, it is going to be in the interest of the religion concerned that a humane approach is taken to help “correct” the mistakes done, be it engaging in illicit sex or consuming alcohol.
Stop persecuting using religion
When a woman by the name of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno decided she “deserved” to be caned after being caught consuming beer in 2007, it was given that caning was the way to teach Muslim women, who misbehaved, a lesson.
But Islam does not promulgate harsh punishment towards women just to send the message across that what was done is wrong.
If Kartika Sari feels she can only face herself with dignity, if she is caned as a way to redeem a sin committed, then this decision is between her and Allah.
The indoctrination of religion as seen in Kartika’s case is worrying. Remember that Allah never asked that you be whipped for you to realise what you did was and is wrong or against his teachings.
Unfortunately, society in a perverted way looks up to the likes of Kartika Sari who vehemently claimed the right to be caned.
Had the punishment not been stalled, she would have made history by becoming the first Muslim woman in Malaysia to face caning. If this was her way of looking for publicity to fulfil an agenda, then sadly it is a very sleazy way of doing so.
As Seyyed Hossein in his book says: "In Islam man does not himself decide what is just or generous but relies upon God’s injunctions while there is also an important role for the conscience which Allah has placed within the being of each person.
"The norms are determined by the syariah for certain basic actions while in each type of human activity, room is left for man to apply the Islamic ethical teachings according to the dictates of his conscience. There is, therefore nothing mechanical or blindfolded in Islamic ethics as some have claimed.
"Islam does provide concrete directives for man to follow but also leaves a vast area of human life open for man to apply Islamic moral principles as a servant of Allah bestowed with conscience, ‘aql’ and the sense of discernment.”
Courage to speak up
Fighting for what is right or speaking against injustices takes a lot of courage and conviction in standing up against wrong doings.
In the case of The Star’s managing editor P Gunasegaram’s article entitled “Persuasion Not Compulsion” where he spoke against the syariah law vis-a-vis the caning of three women for illicit sex, it was his right to speak up against what he feels is not right.
The Star claims to be “The People’s Paper” but does Gunasegaram have no clout as a managing editor in particular and a columnist in general to talk to his readers and share his concerns? The fact that The Star wasted no time in publishing an apology over his concerns shows that the mainstream media will always kowtow to its political masters even if it means belittling the truth.
I realise there is a reason why they say “truth hurts”. The Star displayed this by disrespecting its columnist and pandering to the whims of the “powers that be”.
Jeswan Kaur, a freelance journalist cum writer, is a contributor to Free Malaysia Today