Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What is Islamic law?

It may sound ironical to ask the question what is “Islamic law” in the 21st century when it is generally thought that the body of what constitutes Islamic law has already been crystallised and settled.
If indeed it has crystallised into a recognisable and unchangeable body, then it is logical that there would only be one universal Islamic law. However, an observation of Islamic law between various countries and even between various states in Malaysia would evidence the fact that the laws are not uniform.
It would seem that what is Islamic law is still developing, in a state of flux and diverse. Shariah, on the other hand is a separate concept altogether.
Every Muslim would agree that Islam is a simple religion. The pillars of Islam are said to be only five that is, declaration of faith or the syahadah, the daily five times prayer, fasting in the month of Ramadan, payment of the zakat and the performance of the pilgrimage by those who can afford it.
However, Islam is seen not only as a religion in the typical sense but also as way of life that is complete and encompasses every aspect of our life.
In other words, Muslims believe and accept that Islam provides the necessary guidance and imposes certain obligatory behaviour in order to achieve the pleasure of God in this life and the next.
It is this belief that has lead the scholars of Islam to discern principles, precepts and law affecting life from the scriptures and the Sunnah of the Rasul.
Thus, began the role of the jurists or scholars of law in interpreting and developing various legal, social, economic and religious laws, conducts of behaviour and so on for the Muslim. These active role of the jurists began some many decades after the passing of the prophet.
I believe they reflected the intellectual response to the needs of a growing civilisation to derive various legal principles and codes of conduct necessary to create an orderly society consistent with the understood commandments of Allah in the Quran and the injunctions of the Sunnah.
It is from such need and environment that the development of usul al fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence took place.
In Islamic jurisprudence history, the al madhahib or schools of law that became famous are the Hanafite, the Malikite, the Shafi- ite and the Hanbalite though there were also other schools in the history of Muslim jurisprudence.
It is important to pause at this stage to reflect and note that prior to the development of these schools of jurisprudence, the primary source then for Muslims was simply the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet.
With the development of the schools of jurisprudence, therefore, the primary sources of Islamic law expanded to become the Quran, Sunnah, Ijma’ (consensus of the jurists) and Qias (judgement upon juristic anology).
Later, other secondary sources of Islamic jurisprudence were developed. Hence, there clearly was liberalisation of the sources from which Islamic jurisprudence began to expand and develop.
Any modern lawyer will appreciate this development as law is considered to be a “living creature” that develops as life and its circumstances change and develop.
However, it is worrisome whether some conservative scholars today are fully aware that no human being’s interpretation of Allah’s will can be absolute because only Allah alone is the Absolute Interpreter.
If this point is correct and properly understood then “Islamic law” as developed and developing can be relevant to contemporary situations and the very understanding of what embodies “Islamic law” can undergo fresh perspective without departing from its fundamental adherence to the Quran and most authentic Sunnah.
In the history of Muslim jurisprudence, a study and consideration of what are the objectives of the Shariah also too place. From a modern perspective, this would be an inevitable development.
The great university professor and scholar of Islam Imam Al Ghazali identified five essentials of the maqasid or the objectives of Syariah namely, preservation of religion, human life, the faculty of reason, progeny and material wealth.
As to whether or not the objectives or the maqasid should be limited to five is a subject of vigorous debate among the scholars.
Later scholars have added on to these five for example, the attainment of justice. This debate is understandable and in fact encouraging because life is constantly evolving with new experiences, new sets of circumstances, higher levels of knowledge, information and technology and discovery of new facts.
Hence, the perception and understanding of life today cannot be limited to the experiences and perception of life by previous scholars alone.
After all, Muslims believe that the law giver is Allah and any scholar cannot have a claim to monopoly of interpreting Allah’s intent, however knowledgeable he may be acclaimed to be.
It can, therefore, be seen from the discussion that “Islamic law” is in a state of development as is the case with many other aspects related to Muslim thinking such as political Islam, Islamic economics and so on.
The field of Islamic law and jurisprudence has become a complex discipline and Muslims must be careful that the legalistic aspect of Islam does not overshadow the spiritual and moral aspect of the religion such that it stifles faith or creativity of the individual Muslim in particular and the society in general.
In the context of Malaysia, as a Muslim, it is my hope that contemporary Muslim scholars maintain an open mind within the principles of the Quran and the most authentic Sunnah when they discuss and try to apply the Islamic law as developed by classical jurists who, without doubt has made great and laudable efforts.
There is sufficient evidence in Muslim jurisprudence history that the classical jurists never claimed their interpretations and their views to be beyond criticism or rejection if it is not consistent with the Quran, most authentic Sunnah or not relevant to the times.
In this regard it may be helpful to realign our Muslim outlook, for example, to evaluate whether some of the legislation that has been passed by our Parliament are in fact consistent with the primary sources of Islamic jurisprudence and hence “Islamic”.
This may be a better and useful approach than trying to impose classical formulation of laws in contemporary settings which are different.
If my argument is correct, this may lead to a more holistic understanding of what Shariah is unlike the current trend that what is defined as “shariah laws” are the only ones that are “shariah.” With this approach, probably large segments of what is now classified as “civil laws” may qualify as “shariah.”
I opine that the government’s effort to introduce the idea of Shariah compliance is a step towards this direction in the long run.
* Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos is a senior lawyer and founder of Rapera, a movement which encourages thinking and compassionate citizens. He can be reached at
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.
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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Bercakap mengenai agama, jangan lupakan kemanusiaan

Sekurang kurang nya lebih daripada 30 dekad yang lalu, perbualan, ceramah, diskusi, ucapan, tingkah laku dan pakaian semua nya semakin melambangkan "agama". Ini juga di ikuti dengan penggunaan bahasa Arab dalam banyak hal yang di anggap berkaitan dengan agama walaupun perkara yang sama boleh di perkatakan dalam bahasa Melayu.

Adakah ini menunjukkan bahawa kesedaran mengenai Islam semakin meningkat atau ianya hanya merupakan pencarian identiti oleh satu kumpulan yang kurang secure, kurang yakin diri dan merasakan perlu satu identiti "eksklusif"? Mungkin jawapan nya kedua-dua sekali bergantung kepada kecenderungan atau sifat kumpulan atau individu tertentu.

Perkara yang pasti ialah yang tampak tidak semestinya melambangkan diri atau keadaan yang sebenar. Baru-baru ini saya di perkenalkan dengan satu istilah baru iaitu "penunggang agama". Istilah ini merujuk kepada manusia yang memperalatkan agama untuk tujuan peribadi dan bukan nya beramal untuk mendapatkan keredhaan Allah. Kewujudan penunggang agama bukan lah perkara yang menghairankan kerana Al Quran pun sudah memberi amaran berkaitan dengan ini didalam Surah At Taubah ayat 9 (Q9:9)

"Mereka menukarkan ayat-ayat Allah dengan harga yang sedikit (dari faedah-faedah dunia), lalu mereka menghalangi (dirinya dan orang-orang lain) dari agama Allah; sesungguhnya amatlah buruknya apa yang mereka telah kerjakan".

Apa yang sepatutunya merisaukan Muslim yang benar-benar beriman kepada Allah ialah ucapan-ucapan penunggang agama yang lebih mencetusakn huru hara dalam masyarakat daripada melahirkan keehsaan sesama manusia mahupun sesama umat Muslim. Agama di gunakan sebagai landasan untuk melahirkan fahaman eksklusiviti seolah olah perpaduan diantara manusia adalah tidak perlu. Fahaman ini jelas akan mencetuskan permusuhan serta perpecahan umat manusia. Jika ini berlaku, akhirnya semua yang rugi dan jadi lah kita manusia yang tidak mensyukuri nikmat yang Allah bagi kerana kita telah membenarkan ego dan nafsu kita merosakkan perpaduan manusia yang wujud. 

Maka, dalam kita menjalankan kegiatan yang kita anggap sebagai dakwah Islam atau membicarakan hal-hal yang kita sangka berkaitan dengan agama, janganlah kita lupakan nilai2 kemanusiaan yang manusia sama-sama berkongsi.  Janganlah menjadi seperti manusia yang disebut didalam surah At Taubah ayat 107:

"Dan (di antara orang-orang munafik juga ialah) orang-orang yang membina masjid dengan tujuan membahayakan (keselamatan orang-orang Islam), dan (menguatkan) keingkaran (mereka sendiri) serta meme an-belahkan perpaduan orang-orang yang beriman, dan juga untuk (dijadikan tempat) intipan bagi orang yang telah memerangi Allah dan RasulNya sebelum itu. Dan (apabila tujuan mereka yang buruk itu ketara), mereka akan bersumpah dengan berkata:" Tidaklah yang kami kehendaki (dengan mendirikan masjid ini) melainkan untuk kebaikan semata-mata ". Padahal Allah menyaksikan, bahawa sesungguhnya mereka adalah berdusta ".


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Rakyat, Jangan Terpedaya Permainan Politikus

Saya amat khuatir bahawa rakyat tampak mudah terpengaruh dengan permainan politik dalam Negara sehingga hilang pertimbangan dari pelbagai aspek.

Pertama, kita jangan lupa bahawa untuk Malaysia maju dan jaya, kita perlukan perpaduan yang jitu diantara kita bersama. Kita tidak boleh dipecah belahkan dengan isu-isu perkauman atau agama.  Muslim yang mengetahui Al_Quran nya akan sedar bahawa Allah telah memberi tunjuk ajar dalam Kitab nya bahawa akan ada manusia yang akan gunakan perkauman dan agama untuk memecahbelahkan manusia. Apabila Rakyat bercakaran bersama mereka, mudah lah bagi politikus yang tidak bertanggungjawap serta rakus kuasa menjalankan ajenda jahatnya.

Keduanya, Rakyat wajib sedar bahawa kekuatan mereka ialah kerjasama diantara mereka untuk kebaikan bersama Rakyat dan Negara. Didalam konteks ini, jangan lah Rakyat yang sudah pun lemah melemahkan lagi diri sendiri dengan melebelkan rakyat-rakyat dengan meletakkan mereka dalam kotak-kotak permusuhan. Sebagai contoh, jangan kita mudah terpedaya bahawa mereka yang sokong dasar atau kerja kerajaan semestinya tidak baik atau yang menyokong pembangkang semestinya baik. Jelas, sebahagian pembangkang hari ini pun tidak semestinya bermatlamatkan kesejahteraan Rakyat. Kita harus lihat pada apa kah yang di sokong dan apakah kerja yang di buat.  Saya percaya rakyat yang ikhlas boleh menyumbang kepada kebaikan bersama dan Negara, dimana sahaja ia berada, tanpa di kotori oleh proses politik ekstrim.

Ketiga, Rakyat harus mahu belajar berfikir secara objektif dan tidak mudah di tarik ke hulu atau ke hilir melalui emosi mereka. Jangan yang dewasa di kanak kanakkan kerana malas untuk berfikir atau cenderung kepada semangat kosong. Pihak rakus kuasa tahu bahawa kelemahan manusia ialah ketiadaan kepakaran mengawal emosi. Rakyat harus sentiasa berwaspada supaya kita tidak membakar kelambu kerana marahkan nyamuk, apatah lagi apabila kemarahan kita kepada nyamuk itu tidak bertempat dan telah drancang dengan licik oleh puak rakus kuasa.

Keempat, walau apa pun kaum atau agama kita, jangan kita lupa bahawa kita ada lah manusia yang tertakluk kepada hukum atau undang-undang alam. Dalam bahasa Al Quran, di sebut sebagai Sunnah Allah. Setiap tindakan kita akan memberi kesan kepada keseluruhan masyarakat atau Negara kita. Ini bermakna jika kita mencetuskan tindakan-tindakan, perbicaraan atau fahaman-fahaman negatif, seluruh Negara akan tercalit dengan kenegatifan ini. Lebih baik kita awas, muhasabah diri dan sabar dahulu sebelum membuat sesuatu secara melulu.


Monday, March 6, 2017

What is a ‘just’ justice system?

IT is pointless to call a system a justice system if it is not just. If that is the case, then it is merely oppression by powerful institutions.
There are several features that most of us can agree that a just justice system must have. It is often said that the most pivotal part of the justice system is the administration of justice by the courts of law.
Firstly, it must be accessible to everyone in the country regardless of income levels, status, religion, ethnicity and even nationality. Every citizen and anyone resident in the country, including tourists, should be able to go to the courts to seek justice. The doors of justice must open to everyone without discrimination.
Secondly, justice must not only be done but it must be seen to be done. The fashionable word today is “transparency”. This involves many things. The court proceedings should be public and the contestants in the case should be given liberty to chose the lawyers of their preference.
Reasonable time should be given to the litigants or the accused to prepare their case and mere administrative expediency should never be used to hurry cases.
At the same time, justice should not be delayed too. The judge must conduct himself in an impartial manner and should be careful that his judicial behaviour does not give a perception of prejudice. The Rules of Court 2012, the Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedure Code help to ensure that justice is seen to be done.
Thirdly, the judges must be people of high integrity, intelligent, patient and compassionate. They must have a good grasp of the law and the ability to understand facts.
They must decide in accordance with the law and should give reasons for their judgments as concisely and as clearly as possible. Grounds of judgments are important because, among other things, it will reflect upon our court’s ability to arrive at a just decision on a particular case.
Fourthly, there must be mechanisms put in place to ensure that litigants or even the prosecution do not abuse the legal process to oppress other people. In civil cases, there are various mechanisms by which a baseless suit can be struck out through Order 18 Rule 19(1), Order 14A or even the inherent powers of the courts as provided for under the Rules of Court.
In criminal cases, there is a recourse for malicious prosecution and defective criminal charges may be struck out.
Fifthly, access to justice should be made affordable to the average citizen and to those in the low incomes bracket. I believe that the duty to dispense justice is a divine duty and hence the society should ensure that justice is affordable to those who need them.
In our country, while we do have legal aid bureaus and so on, I feel that much more could be done to lower the cost that has to be incurred by the poorer sections of the community. It has always bothered me when I think of the possibility that many of those accused, who may have been innocent, plead guilty because they are unable to afford lawyers to represent them.
I also feel that magistrates and Sessions Court judges should probably be more compassionate and patient with accused persons who are not represented by lawyers. I am not saying that the current crop of judges are not compassionate but I am merely reemphasising the point.
To me, I am always mindful that we are dealing with human beings with similar fears and hopes. I am of course not talking about the hardcore criminals but people like illegal immigrants, first time youthful offenders who may have slipped their way and such.
Sixthly, in criminal cases, the principle of innocent until proven guilty should be upheld by the courts. This is one area where I feel that sufficient attention has not been given, possibly due to various practical constraints and other reasons.
I am humbly of the view that this principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is largely compromised when a bail that is excessive relative to the ability of the accused to raise is set. The primary function of bail should always be to sufficiently secure the attendance of the accused at the trial.
When a bail is set too high, and the accused is unable to raise it, he is often remanded together with other prisoners. When this happens, even before he is found guilty he has already lost his liberty, has to live under deplorable conditions in the remand cell and suffer psychological consequences. With respect, this does not augur well for the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”
Seventhly, there should be uniformity and consistency in sentencing. Crimes under like circumstances should attract like punishments. Wide disparities in sentencing will not only upset the public but may also result in loss of confidence with the justice system.
A person stealing RM200 and a person stealing RM1 million should not receive the same punishment. In fact, a person charged for the theft of RM200, there may be valid reasons not to punish him with a custodial sentence.
While the judges ought to be firm in sentencing they should also exercise compassion based on the circumstances and facts of the case before them. Justice and revenge are two distinct things altogether and a harsh sentence need not necessarily be a good thing in certain circumstances.
Eighth, the courts should be mindful of a sociological fact, namely that social cohesion is often achieved through common values, morals and culture of the society. Courts which ignore this will inevitably invite the wrath of the people and the people themselves may lose confidence in the justice system.
Ninth but not the least, the law itself must be flexible to adapt to changing social and technological circumstances of the times. If the laws do not adapt, then it will be difficult for judges to dispense justice in accordance with the needs of the times. Judges, after all, are generally tied to the laws passed by parliament.
I would argue that our civil law courts comply largely with the features discussed above. Our country is blessed that we generally have a fair and just justice system in the civil courts and we should be able to tweak it to make it even better.
* Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos is a senior lawyer and founder of Rapera, a movement which encourages thinking and compassionate citizens. He can be reached at
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.
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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why and what is opposition to Act 355?

There are many aspects of the Private Member’s Bill or Rang Undang-Undang Persendirian (RUU355/Act 355), brought by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang in Parliament, that have interested me.
I have already written and spoken on different occasions on my views about the Act. I am now trying very hard to understand the crux of the opposition to the amendments sought. 
A few things are clear about the arguments by the proponents of the Act 355 if I understand them correctly. Firstly, they say that increasing the sentencing powers will empower the Shariah courts. Secondly, they feel that as Muslims the Shariah law must be implemented by all Muslims.
It is a must according to their understanding of being a good Muslim. Furthermore, they argue that the amendments will only affect three offences; namely that of zina, offence of falsely accusing someone of zina, and alcohol consumption, with their respective punishments of 100, 80 and 40 lashes. These are offences which are already part of the Shariah law in the country.
There is clearly support for the punishment of 100 lashes for the offence of zina in the Quran while the punishment of 80 and 40 lashes is found in other sources accepted by the majority of Muslim legalists. 
The indisputable fact is that the Act 355 itself concerns the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts and what is sought to amend is the sentencing powers of the Shariah courts. It is perfectly constitutional to seek to amend any Act. 
Then why are some Muslims opposing the amendments to increase the powers of the Shariah courts? Why are also non-Muslims opposing the amendments since Shariah laws will only affect the Muslims?
The simplistic response would be that these Muslims who are opposing are ignorant, liberalists, western influenced or agents of some anti-Islam force. I am not convinced by these simplistic responses. I believe the opposing Muslims are concerned whether or not such enhanced powers in the hands of the Shariah courts as existing today will be justly carried out. 
The other concern that I believe these opposing Muslims may have is their understanding of what is justice in Islam and priorities of the Shariah. If this is so, then they should come out more explicitly and clearly what their understanding is so that it can be the subject of useful dialogue with the view to develop Islamic understanding in the country. 
However, these opposing Muslims should not forget that much of the offences that they now appear to oppose are already part of the Shariah law in the country. Why then the opposition now? This is the part that is still unclear to many.
I doubt if these opposing Muslims oppose Shariah laws per se. I believe both sides will agree that the ultimate aim of Shariah must be justice. The proponents of Act 355 argue that justice can only be served when the Shariah as enshrined in the Quran and developed by the jurists are implemented. What is the counter argument, if any, that can be advanced by the opponents? 
I have also heard arguments that this is a backdoor to implement hudud laws in the future. It could very well be. However, what may happen in the future cannot be a valid objection to what is constitutionally permissible today. 
The other argument often heard is that this may give rise to a dual legal system. Such an argument is a separate matter altogether and cannot be a valid objection to the amendments sought.
I have often argued for a single Malaysian legal system but I do not position this argument as an objection to Act 355. What I envision is a total reform of the Shariah system in the country and a possible fusion with the civil law system. Admittedly, this will require a long-term reform of the justice system in the country.
I may have my own fundamental disagreements with the interpretation of what constitutes hudud and I have written elaborately on this on various occasions. I also disagree that merely increasing sentencing powers leads to empowering the courts. However, on the debate relating to the amendments to Act 355, I believe that constitutionally and on the basis of mainstream juristic views, the proponents of the Act have a stronger case. 
For the non-Muslims, as the law now stands, they have nothing to fear in terms of the application of Shariah laws on them. Hence, the opposition by some non-Muslims is difficult to fathom as it appears to be founded more on fear rather than facts. 
I would be surprised if the amendments sought are not passed in Parliament when they are debated.

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