Two analysts cast doubts over government’s latest effort to empower shariah courts

KUALA LUMPUR: The government has been accused of turning religion into a political issue with the formation of the Shariah Courts Empowerment Committee (JKMMS).

“The government had many years to do (uplift the status of shariah courts and enactments) but they chose to do it now. If they were sincere they would have done it earlier,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the CEO of Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas).

“Why does the revelation come to them only when the time is closer to the 14th general election? It is shameful that they turned religion into a political issue,” he said.

He said this in response to the formation of JKMMS.

Yesterday Islamic Development Department (Jakim) director-general Othman Mustapha announced the formation of special national-level committee, JKMMS.

“Jakim, which has been given the mandate to establish the JKMMS secretariat,  is entrusted to implement the proposals contained in the directive for the purpose of empowering the shariah judicial system, in line with the position of Islam in the Federal Constitution,” he said.

The JKMMS, to be chaired by former minister Yusof Noor, is made up of two implementation committees – steering committee and main committee.

The committee would be looking into six clusters:

i. Harmonisation between Civil Law and Shariah Law

ii. Proposed Amendments to the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (Act 355)

iii. Management and Structure of Shariah Courts

iv. Training of Shariah Judges and Officers

v. Shariah Law Education

vi. Shariah Counsel Affairs.

In April this year Marang MP Hadi Awang, who is also PAS president, tabled a private member’s bill that seeks to raise the punishments that can be meted out under Act 355. The bill was opposed by BN component parties on the grounds that it was Hadi’s bill.

“I am worried that Jakim may usurp the power of the Rulers’ Council quietly by centralising its functions. Matters of Islam are under the jurisdiction of the state,” Wan Saiful said.

“Amendments should be done at the state level based on the sultan’s word and be free of interpretations based on the discussions with the state muftis,” he added.

“The federal government should not be usurping the state’s powers. The last time that was done was when the British proposed the formation of Malayan Union,” he added.

Matters relating to Islam and Malay customs are under state jurisdiction.

Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) director Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa meanwhile viewed the formation of JKMMS as a play by the government for political reasons.

“All this is a ‘sandiwara’ (play) from the government to show that they are sincere about Islam. They want to buy time to ensure PAS support for them,” he said.

“That is why you can see PAS silent in matters of 1MDB and other undemocratic practices. The government wants to maintain its quid pro quo.

“There is no indication of sincerity on the part of the government and this (committee) has nothing to do with Islam.”