SHAH ALAM: Education on hudud is important before any such laws can be implemented.
Noted Zimbabwean Islamic scholar mufti Ismail Menk said hudud has been misinterpreted over time and discussions were needed to clear misconceptions about it.
“The sad part is when people hear the word hudud, they are tuned to believe that this is barbaric, unacceptable and wrong.
“So we need to educate people before anything happens. Minimising bad perceptions of hudud will only come about by thrashing out the differences, speaking, discussing, answering and educating. That is a very important part of implementing anything new," he told the New Straits Times during a visit to Malaysia for a two-day Islamic convention at the Shah Alam Convention Centre, here.
Ismail stressed that hudud was more of a deterrence or a moral, social and economic cleansing than anything else, with one of its aims to cut out criminal behaviour.
He said people equated hudud with the cutting of hands, whipping and stoning but that was not what it was really about.
"If you take a look at the history of Islam, most of the hudud is a deterrence. In the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, hudud was only carried out upon very few people because it was more of a deterrent than punishment.
“It is not there in order to destroy mankind or penalise them, it is a deterrent because the minute you have very severe punishments for a crime, it deters people,” he said.
For example, he said traffic fines in some countries were so exorbitant that they encouraged people, even the speed demons, not to commit traffic violations.
"Can they call the fines barbaric? They just drive slow, that is it. In Dubai, anyone who disobeys the traffic light gets a 30,000 UAE Dirham (RM30,052) fine. I was shocked and said this is mad but the people in Dubai said it is just a deterrent.
"The same applies to hudud. It is there to make sure people live in peace and do not harm each other because when you have a high price tag on crime, people just think of it and don't commit it because they know they are going to be paying big time," he said.
On the flip side, Ismail questioned why should people be against establishing major penalties for crime in hudud such as for raping and armed robbery.
He argued that letting a rapist loose with minor punishments would be an insult to women, just as small penalties would be an insult to those whom the crimes were perpetrated against.
In fact, Ismail believed that very high rates of crime was closely related to the relaxed laws some countries have that aid criminal behaviour.
“For example, in Zimbabwe, we have strict laws for armed robbery and raping but just across the border in South Africa, they are much more relaxed.
"For that reason, our criminals go across the border and commit crimes there because they know they can get away with it, but they would not do the same thing in our country,” he said.
In this manner, he said hudud can benefit a community in the sense that when there exists a big deterrent; it brings about peace and stability.
He added that the supporters of the implementation of hudud may very well come from those who were really fed up of crime and want to see a cleaner and clearer system.
“If a person is clean and clear and have no worry about themselves falling into a crime, they would not mind whatever penalty it is because they know they are not going to engage in it,” he said.
Ismail added that what people needed to understand was that there were lesser punishments, such as jail time or fines alongside the maximum punishments, like the cutting of hands, in hudud.
He explained that the maximum punishment is only meted out when there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever in the mind of the judge that the person has committed the crime and this was hard to achieve because if there was even a speck of doubt, the person can be penalised in a lesser way with a prison sentence or a fine.
He clarified that even in hudud law, evidence such as DNA and video recordings were also admissible despite perceptions that in some cases, four pious men as eye-witnesses was needed before one can convict and mete out punishment.
Having such scientific evidence and not eye-witnesses, in fact, could save a person from being penalised to the degree where his hand is actually cut off because someone could have tampered with the evidence.
“It does not mean that because the evidence came from video or DNA, then we let the criminal go scot free. It just means that the penalty is lesser."
During the interview, Ismail was careful to refrain from commenting on the specifics of Malaysia’s issues with the Kelantan state government pushing for hudud laws as he admitted that he was no expert on the Malaysian situation.
He acknowledged that it would be more difficult to work out the details and fine print of hudud laws in a multi-cultural and multi-religious country, but said it was workable if it was implemented in the proper framework and if everyone was committed to it.
Nevertheless, he advised that before implementing any such laws, the leaders and the people need to arrive at some form of agreement as to what exactly is the way forward.
“It needs to be done in a mature way, where discussions take place. People discuss issues and raise concerns and deal with the concerns, that is a very healthy way of doing things.
He emphasised that hudud law is sacred to every believing Muslim and thus they cannot deny it or turn it away.
“That’s the reason why you will have a lot of support because people feel this is sacred to them and it is close to their hearts. From a religious perspective, implementing hudud would definitely be a plus, something that is considered an achievement for all Muslims.
“The thing is we must educate others and educate those who do not know because when people don’t know, they are skeptical and fear the unknown,” he said.
On how a nation can function with both civil and hudud laws, particularly in criminal cases that involve people of multi-religions, Ismail said these would be teething problems that need to be clarified.
“Generally what happens is these laws would cover certain aspects of living and they would allow the non-Muslims to use other methods, I do not think it (the laws) would be overlapping. If there are fears of them overlapping, these need to be clarified.
Ismail pointed out that some democratic countries hold referendums or the people go out to vote before they change laws and he stressed that how Malaysia chooses to implement or not implement hudud, was entirely up to Malaysia.
“What is good for Malaysia, only Malaysia should decide.”