A look at Sharia as the parallel legal system in Indonesia

Sharia is the Islamic law based on a very particular interpretation of the Koran and Hadith, developed by Islamic scholars and codified in more or less the current form by about the 1200’s.

Many people suggest that Sharia ought to be introduced into Western countries, to be used as a parallel legal system.  The idea is that ‘regular’, State-run and State-regulated courts would be available to Muslims, but, they would also have the option of choosing to have their cases heard by Sharia courts.  Once this choice is made, the Sharia rulings would then be legally binding.

Britain, for example, had instituted Sharia courts as a parallel legal system since 2008.

Elena Kegan, soon to be sworn as the 112th justice to the  US Supreme Court, also actively promotes this idea.  This anti-free-speech activist has been responsible for the inclusion of Sharia in the constitution of several countries, including Pakistan, and appears to think the USA would also benefit from a parallel Sharia legal system.  She herself has worked hard to built the institutions of Sharia banking, through which money can be channeled to finance violent jihad.

In my never-humble-opinion, multiple legal systems which divide the population along ethnic, cultural of religious lines are not only immoral, they are highly destructive to the social fabric of a country.  The moment there are different laws for different segments of society, perceptions of unfair benefits/inequalities will always exist.  These will serve to tribalize a society – and be a tool through which governments can manipulate the populace.

The old ‘divide and conquerer’ thing.

The only way all citizens can truly be equal in the eyes of the law is if there is one set of laws which applies to everyone equally.

This seems so straight forward and logical to me that I have difficulty understanding how some people simply seem unable to grasp these facts – even before we even talk about the implications of replacing civil authority by a specific segment of the population and replacing it with a religious authority.

Which leaves the question:  am I over-reacting?  Would a society with Sharia as a parallel legal system be better than the one we have now?

Perhaps looking at examples of how its working out in some country where this situation exists might help show us how a religious parallel legal system  impacts society.

Malaysia neighbours Indonesia – a country with the world’s largest Muslim population.  And, even though only 60% of Malaysia’s 28 million inhabitants are Muslim, Islam permeates its life.  Its legal system used to be solely based on the British civil code, until Sharia was introduced as a parallel legal system for Muslims.

This is exactly what proponents of a parallel Sharia system in the West are advocating – so let us look at a few, real-life examples of how this is working out in Malaysia:

Child marriage

The age of consent for girls/women to  enter into marriage in Malaysia is 16 years of age.  This, however, is at odds with Sharia, which places no minimum age on marriage for females.  In order to become Sharia-compliant, this minimum age will now no longer be binding on Muslims, provided the father/guardian approves the marriage.

Sharia permits child prostitution – as long as the clergy gets its cut.  This accommodation to Sharia strips each and every female child born to a Muslim family of any legal protection from being forcibly married or forced into child prostitution…

Personally, I do not think this is a positive thing.

Flogging of Muslims for alcohol consumption

In Malaysia, alcohol consumption is not illegal.  It is legally sold, and available in places like, say, night clubs, where anyone may legally purchase and drink alcohol.  Unless, of course, one is a Muslim.

Because Sharia forbids the consumption of alcohol, any Muslim caught consuming this legal substance will be handed over to Sharia courts for punishment.  The linked story documents a case of one Muslim woman who was caned for drinking a beer at a night club.

OK – perhaps alcohol consumption is not as cherished a thing as our core human rights.  Granted.

But, that is not the point – the ‘subject’ of the religion-selective-behaviour is less important than the division itself.  On a practical level – how does one go about policing a society where what is legal for one citizen will result in the caning of another? You cannot tell what a person’s religious beliefs are by simply looking at them!

Just consider the every-day implications for existing in a society that needs to ascertain each individual citizens’ beliefs at every step of policing….

The next few stories require a little introduction to Sharia for those not already familiar with it.

Officially, there is freedom of religion in Malaysia:  this is guaranteed by Article 11 of the Malaysian Constitution.

Thus, a person born to Christian or Hindu or Taoist or Sikh (or one of the many other religions officially practiced there) parents is permitted to practice that faith.  To this end, the religion to which a person has been born is officially recorded in their citizenship record and appears in their passport as well as all government-issued documents.  Should one choose to convert from the religion to which one was born, there is a mechanism through which one can petition to have one’s religion officially changed.

Now, here is an interesting point to Sharia:  if a Muslim is living in a country which does NOT recognize Sharia as any form of a legal system, the Koran directs that the secular laws of the land must be followed.  However, if a country recognizes Sharia in any kind of a legal or semi-legal form, all Muslims are bound to

Among other things, Sharia states that a non-Muslim may not be in a position of authority over a Muslim.  Therefore, to be Sharia-compliant, a Muslim may not work for a non-Muslim; a Muslim may not accept a binding ruling by a non-Muslim (if a Sharia court is available, effectively making Sharia mandatory for all Muslims where Sharia courts are recognized).

This also means that a Muslim woman may not be married to a non-Muslim man:  according to Sharia, a husband is in a position of authority over his wife.  Therefore, a non-Muslim man may not be the husband of (and thus in a position of authority over) a Muslim woman.  It also means that non-Muslim parents are not permitted to raise a child perceived to be Muslim.

Sharia courts split inter-faith marriages, forcibly remove children

There are numerous cases where, after Sharia was implemented, families had been forcibly split up.

The first well-known case was that of 21-year-long marriage between a Muslim woman and a Hindu man – and with 6 children’s lives to consider – being ruled illegal because the husband did not convert to Islam.  The woman was taken away for Islamic ‘re-education’ for an indeterminate period of time:  until she re-embraces Islam.

Here is a case where a woman born to Muslim parents married a Hindu man and attempted to officially change her religious status to reflect her conversion to Hinduism.  Sharia courts still had jurisdiction over her, imprisoned her until she recants her conversion away from Islam and denied the father custody of their child, placing her with Muslim relatives instead.

Under Sharia, divorce rules strongly favour the husband, both when it comes to marital property and custody of children.

Here is a case of a Hindu couple, wed in a Hindu ceremony and subject to civil law, took a surreal turn.  The husband had officially converted to Islam – then, as a Muslim, he sought divorce under Sharia.  The wife remained Hindu and while she did not oppose the divorce, she wanted the case heard in civil courts – as was her right.

She lost.  As the husband is a Muslim, Sharia takes precedence….

Barring conversion after marriage – could the Muslim women who wished to marry non-Muslim men have prevented the legal problems under Sharia?

Well, that is another problem:  because Sharia has supremacy over Muslims, the civil courts do not have the jurisdiction to record the religious conversion of any person who is officially registered as ‘Muslim’.  To record a conversion away from Islam, a person must petition the Sharia courts to make the required administrative changes.

Except that…

Sharia does not permit conversion from Islam to another religion!

The penalty for even wanting to convert is severe:  from death to caning and imprisonment until one ‘chooses’ to re-embrace Islam.

Here is a case of a Muslim woman who wanted to convert to Christianity.

And then there is the case of Rani:

Rani born to a Muslim mother but since a sixteenth day old baby was adopted and brought up as a Hindu by a Hindu family. Rani practices Hinduism and wants to live and die as a Hindu . But the UMNO Jabatan Agama Islam stormed into her house and her husband Muniandy that very same night was forcibly circumcised. Muniandy was earlier threatened with a six year jail sentence if he did not convert to Islam. Now after thirty years later Rani’s daughter Vijiyaletchumi and Sasikala ( who is now 6 months pregnant ) are now suffering the very same predicament her mother Rani faced some thirty years ago because their identity cards carries a Muslim name although she practices Hinduism and has never practiced Islam.

I wonder if this is what the proponents of introducing Sharia here want our society to be like.

Update:  Sorry, but I forgot to include this story of a young woman who was born and raised a Hindu.  When she was 7 years old, she spent time in an orphanage run by Muslim workers.  While she was in their care, they officially changed her religious status from ‘Hindu’ to ‘Muslim’.  An adult now, she hopes to marry a Hindu man and wishes to live as a Hindu, the religion she was raised in.  Unfortunately, she is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim, as a Muslim she is under the jurisdiction of Sharia courts, and Sharia courts do not permit her to leave Islam, even if her ‘conversion’ was not her choice and considers herself a Hindu.