Encounter with the Sharia Police
Kuantan (Malaysia), May 2nd 2011 

After a lousy night of sleep in our noisy hotel in Kuantan at the east coast of Malaysia, somebody knocks eagerly at our door. For a while, we try to ignore the knocking, but the people at the other side of the door are of the persistent kind: it’s the Sharia Police! With sleepy eyes, we open the door while three men with green identity cards are peeking inside our room. They want to know whether we are Muslim and when they understand that this isn’t the case, they move on to another room and leave us alone. Sharia law in Malaysia has its place alongside regular law and only applies to Muslims. For the raid of our hotel, this means that Hindu’s, Buddhists and Christians can share a room as unmarried couple while Muslims can be prosecuted and punished according to Sharia law for this fact.

The implementation and enforcement of the Islamic laws, is the responsibility of the various states of Malaysia. States with a larger majority of Muslims normally have stricter Sharia law and enforcement than states with higher percentages of Chinese and Indians. For us as “unbelievers” it seems strange that in a country like Malaysia it isn’t tolerated when a Muslim chooses to be a “not perfect” Muslim or when they want to experience their religion in their own specific way. When your identity card mentions that you are a Muslim, this means that you have to comply with Sharia laws that are not valid for other Malaysians. The rulings of Sharia courts in the different states cannot be changed by the regular courts of Malaysia. Sometimes, both legal systems are in conflict with each other; like when a Muslim wants to convert to another religion. Malaysia has laws to protect the freedom of religion, but as a Muslim cannot renounce their religion this means that the Sharia court can make sure that someone who, for example, wants to be a Hindu will always be a Muslim on his identity card.

We don’t know enough about Sharia law to have a clear opinion about whether it is right or wrong, but we have the feeling that it should be a personal decision of every Muslim whether he likes to “sin” and have a beer or he doesn’t. The Sharia laws in Malaysia mainly deal with personal matters like alcohol, divorce, inheritance, and sex but they leave alone the enormous problems of corruption that Malaysia is facing. The raid of our hotel has made us curious to learn more about the Sharia law. Our (still sleepy) heads have enough to think about.


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