Malaysian PM pledges to block Islamic Sharia law


KUALA LUMPUR, AFP

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad Tuesday vowed to block an opposition party’s plan to introduce Islamic Sharia law and warned its leaders they could be headed for hell.

Describing the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) as deviationist, Mahathir told an impromptu news conference the government would try to prevent the party from enacting a version of Sharia in a state under its control.

Referring to the plan by Terengganu state chief minister Abdul Hadi Awang, Mahathir said: “He will sin because he approves laws that are unfair and when he dies he will face hell.

“Because he has approved laws that are not based on true Islamic teachings and tarnish the true teachings of Islam he will receive his punishment on judgment day.”

He said the government would study PAS’s plans and “if we have the power, we will prevent the implementation of such unfair laws.”

Mahathir said opposition by his United Malays National Organization (UMNO) to PAS’s proposals would not make the party unIslamic.

“We are Islamic. They are unIslamic. Their God is a thug and that is why they deviate,” he said.

Mahathir, 76, who on Monday described Malaysia as an Islamic fundamentalist state because it abides by the fundamental teachings of Islam, said Islamic laws were fair but PAS laws victimized the people.

“They insult Islam by creating a set of laws that is supposedly Islamic but has no justice. It is clear their laws are unfair,” he said.

Sharia criminal law, which PAS wants to introduce, carries punishments such as stoning to death for adultery and amputation of limbs for theft, and has been widely opposed by women’s groups and other civil activists.

PAS is the main opposition within the majority Malay Muslim community to UMNO, which was Tuesday due to launch its annual assembly at which the role of religion in government is expected to be high on the agenda.

Mahathir, who has been in power for 21 years, later said he would travel nationwide to explain to the people about PAS unjust Islamic laws if necessary.

“If I think it is necessary, I will do,” he told reporters after a 90 minute close door session with his party leaders.

Muhyiddin Yassin, UMNO vice-president told AFP that delegates are expected to focus on religion, education, economy and Malay’s special rights.

“PAS insurgency will be debated. PAS plan to table the hudud law will be discussed,” he said.

Muhyiddin said UMNO must be cautious how it reacts because it was a PAS strategy to trap the ruling party.

“It is PAS ploy to paint UMNO bad and to accuse us of not being serious about promoting Islam,” he said.

The issue has become central to Malaysian politics in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States and a crackdown here on alleged Islamic militants, many of them PAS members.

Mahathir, who has condemned the attacks and won praise from the U.S. for his cooperation in the war on terrorism, has said terrorism is unIslamic and in September declared that Malaysia was a true “Islamic state”.

The Chinese-based opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) in this multi-cultural country objected, saying it was against the secular constitution and could make non-Muslims second class citizens.

PAS, on the other hand, derided Mahathir’s declaration as false and is using its plan for Sharia law as an attempt to embarrass the government.

The Islamic party rode a growing wave of support ahead of 1999 elections, in which it tripled its parliamentary seats and took power in a second of the country’s 13 states.

Muslims make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s 23 million population, but large Chinese and Indian minorities follow Buddhism (19 percent), Christianity (nine percent) and Hinduism (six percent).