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Posted Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Malaysia postpones whipping of woman who drank beer
By Thomas Fuller
BANGKOK — Malaysian authorities gave a last-minute, temporary reprieve on Monday
to a Muslim woman sentenced to whipping for drinking alcohol in a case that has
stirred passions over the increasingly strict enforcement of Islamic law in
recent years in the multicultural country.
Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a 32-year-old nurse who confessed to violating
Islamic laws by drinking beer in a hotel lobby last year, was detained by prison
authorities on Monday but was then quickly released. The authorities said Ms.
Kartika’s punishment — which would be the first whipping for a woman under the
country’s Islamic laws — would be carried out in September, after the Muslim
holy month of Ramadan was over.
“The sentence remains,” said Mohamed Sahfri Abdul Aziz, the chief of religious
affairs in Pahang State, according to Malaysian media. “She has been released
but only temporarily.”
The case has drawn criticism from liberal-leaning Muslims as well as the
country’s Chinese and Indian minorities, who fear that the country is drifting
away from its secular foundations.
“We’ve allowed this huge Islamic bureaucracy to grow over the last three
decades,” Amir Muhammad, an author and filmmaker, said in a telephone interview
from Kuala Lumpur, the capital. “The laws were there to show that this is
something we disapprove of. But people did not expect them to be enforced that
Ms. Kartika has drawn sympathy among many Muslims in Malaysia, who make up
slightly more than half the population of 27 million, because she has repeatedly
apologized and offered to have her caning carried out in public as a warning to
On paper, Islamic laws are strict in Malaysia: Muslims can be arrested and
punished for snacking during the daylight hours of fasting during Ramadan, being
in “close proximity” to someone from the opposite sex who is not their spouse,
and drinking alcohol. But enforcement of Islamic law has been haphazard and many
Muslims flout the laws with impunity.
“The basic principle is that, if you don’t flaunt it publicly, you can get away
with a lot,” Mr. Amir said.
But the scope of Islamic laws appears to have widened in Malaysia over the past
few years. Muslims have been prevented from converting to other religions,
officials have barred Muslims from working in restaurants or convenience stores
that carry alcohol — although this policy has not been fully carried out — and
religious authorities have questioned whether Muslims should be allowed to
practice yoga. When laws are enforced, Malaysians often complain that the elite
Malaysia’s Islamic laws, which cover marriage, divorce and a specific range of
issues related to religious customs, apply only to Muslims. Non-Muslims are
subject to the country’s civil laws, which Malaysia inherited from Britain.
Foreign Muslim tourists visiting the country, however, are subject to Islamic
laws, according to Pawancheek Marican, partner at the law firm Wan Marican,
Hamzah & Shaik and a part-time professor of Islamic studies.
“Among Muslim scholars we are not happy with the way the sentence has been meted
out,” Mr. Pawancheek said. “But no one is questioning the law.”
The judge should have spared the rod for Ms. Kartika, Mr. Pawancheek said,
because she is a first-time offender who has admitted her guilt and has already
paid a fine of 5,000 ringgit, or about $1,400.
Whipping is a common punishment in Malaysia, especially for illegal aliens
caught in the country.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times,
International, of Tuesday, August 25, 2009.
|Wehaitians.com, the scholarly journal of
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