Malaysia is one of those countries that have been cited, along with Indonesia and Turkey, as evidence that a predominantly Muslim country can have a secular government and can, in general, be modern. A prominent commentator wrote some years ago that the Arab world may be hopeless, but the Islamic world isn’t. That didn’t sound overly optimistic at the time, but with hindsight, it may have been.
We all know what has been happening in Turkey. In Malaysia, Reuters reports that Islamic Sharia courts are increasingly coming into conflict with secular law. You can guess who is winning. Reuters begins with a story about a Hindu family in which the husband, after leaving his wife, became a Muslim and purported to convert his children. This resulted in his gaining custody of them, contrary to orders of the “regular” Malaysian courts:
In Subramaniam’s custody battle, and another similar case, Malaysia’s national police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, has declined to act on judges’ orders for children to be returned to their mothers, citing competing orders from the civil courts and state shariah courts. His stance has been backed by the home minister.
Legal experts say that is an unprecedented challenge to the secular courts’ authority.
Unprecedented in Malaysia, perhaps.
Shariah courts operate at the state level and have been limited to Muslim family matters.
But the family that is the subject of the story was a Hindu family, at least until the absent father’s likely opportunistic conversion.
Law experts say they had been recognized as subordinate to civil courts, but the legal lines have become blurred as shariah courts have expanded their powers in recent years to areas such as homosexuality and gambling.
Got that? Homosexuality. America’s Democrats liken Republicans to the Taliban because they mostly oppose gay marriage (as Democrats did too, of course, until a year or two ago). But in places where Sharia governs, the question is not, What do you think about gay marriage? But rather, what do you think about gay stoning?
“The civil courts have totally abdicated whenever there is a whiff of an Islamic issue,” said Shad Faruqi, a law professor at Malaysian university UiTM. “We are witnessing a situation where a silent re-writing of the constitution is taking place.”
But don’t worry. It couldn’t possibly happen here. One more thing: it turns out that there are a few more areas of the law over which Sharia asserts jurisdiction:
In January, state Islamic authorities raided the office of a Christian group and seized more then 300 copies of Malay language Bibles because they contain the word “Allah”, which Christians here say they have used for centuries.
My advice would be to start calling him “God.” But don’t think that is going to have any effect on Islamic authorities’ hostility to the Bible.
The heart of the problem, of course, is that Islam doesn’t recognize any such thing as a “secular state,” or equal liberty among religions. If you didn’t know better, you might almost think that there is some sort of clash of civilizations going on.