On July 8, 2002, the Terengganu state assembly passed the Syariah Criminal Offences (Hudud and Qisas) Bill (hereinafter referred to as Hudud Laws Bill). Viewed by many as draconian and oppressive in nature, hudud laws calls for Taliban-like punishments for relatively minor offences: whipping for alcohol consumption, hand amputation for theft and stoning to death for adultery.
However, the promulgators of the Hudud Laws Bill will hasten to point out that these laws are girded with noble purposes. According to a recent issue of Time magazine (Sept 2, 2002), this is all part of a drive by the PAS government to create what it calls a "pious, religious, disciplined, dignified, noble and trustworthy society".
The boiling question of the day is this: Can the mere imposition of hudud laws create the ideal society as envisioned by the PAS-led government?
Muslim scholar Dr Chandra Muzaffar, in his book Rights, religion and reforms , has this to say:
"In fact, there are a few examples of Muslim regimes today which adhere strictly to hudud and yet their people remain trapped in poverty, ignorance and ill health. One of these hudud-oriented societies in West Asia has an incredibly high rate of illiteracy, in spite of its huge oil revenue. It is also totally autocratic, does not even observe minimal public accountability and denies the ordinary people any form of participation in government.
"The ills of this and other Muslim societies cannot be overcome through the mere imposition of hudud laws...Though it is only too obvious that the colossal challenges confronting most Muslim societies today, ranging from poverty and exploitation to authoritarianism and foreign domination, cannot be resolved through the promulgation of hudud ordinances, a significant segment of the ulama continues to believe that allegiance to these laws demonstrates fidelity to the faith."
I think Chandra has made a grand point in the ongoing hudud laws debate. The ills of society cannot be overcome through the mere imposition of legislation, no matter how noble the intent. If the promulgators of the Hudud Bill are desirous of regulating society's private morality through stiffer punishments, it will be but a futile attempt.
This is because private morality is a matter of the heart. It lies in the unseen realm of our inner worlds of thoughts, emotions and values. The hands of the law are too short to transform and empower the society to be a "pious, religious, disciplined, dignified, noble and trustworthy society".
While hudud laws can set a code of external conduct, it can never give the power for true internal change of character. Hudud laws can prohibit adultery, but it can never make a man love his wife and family.
Hudud laws can prohibit theft, but it can never provide the antidote for greed and materialism.
Hudud laws can prohibit murder, but it can never wash away the spirit of anger, ill temper and bitterness that poisons countless number of people. The real disease of societal ills comes from deep within us.
About 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ proclaimed:
"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defiles a person."
It is only God who can write His holy precepts on our minds and hearts (Hebrews 8 v 10). When this happens, there will be true and lasting transformation for individuals, families and societies. God is in the business of changing hearts; not legislation.