A Catholic bishop has proposed that Malaysian Muslims take part in a referendum to decide once and for all whether they want the Islamic criminal law, or hudud, imposed on them.
Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing, head of the Catholic Church in the Melaka-Johor diocese, said the referendum was needed following renewed calls to impose hudud in the wake of rising crime rates.
Speaking to online portal Malaysiakini, Tan said the recent announcement by Brunei to enforce full Shariah law which includes hudud punishments could drive local Islamic law proponents to push for its implementation in Malaysia.
He noted that Muslim scholars like PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang had long spoken in favour of hudud as an effective measure to curb crimes.
Tan said the question of implementing Shariah would not cease in Malaysia and as such it should be put to a vote among Muslims.
"It won't do for non-Muslims to say that they are against the Shariah's imposition in Malaysia if due cognisance is taken of it being an obligation among Muslims to support its imposition.
"Once you take due note of this fact and if you note also that the crime rate is the subject of manipulation by the corrupt and the dysfunctional among the police force and leaders, you will have to accept that the way out of this conundrum is to support a referendum among Muslims on the desirability or not of Shariah's imposition on them," Malaysiakini quoted him as saying.
He argued that a referendum was "the best way to face this issue", adding that it was better than letting it hang in the air in an environment where crime rates appeared to be on the rise and were subjected to manipulation.
Tan said should the referendum show Muslims in favour of imposing the Islamic law, non-Muslims should give their support provided that they are exempted from it with solid guarantees from the government.
On the possibility that Malaysian Muslims might reject the Shariah, the Jesuit cleric, who stressed that he was speaking in his personal capacity, said that would be "something for its proponents to mull over".
"But it would go a distance in resolving the question. Otherwise against a background of rising crime, the question of Syariah's desirability will press heavily and those opposed to it will be portrayed as being unconcerned about crime, which is a dubious deduction," he said, and recalled the Indonesian parliament voting against the implementation of Shariah not long ago.
The decision, however, did not stop the law from being enforced in some regions in Indonesia, like Aceh.
Hudud, which deals with serious crimes under the Shariah, carries capital punishments for such crimes as robbery and adultery. - October 30, 2013.