Mahathir unveils measures to review Islamic justice

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 July, 1996, 12:00am

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has announced plans to revamp the sharia court system and suggested the need for a review of some of the Islamic laws that come under its jurisdiction.

He said the administration of Muslim courts would be restructured to improve their management and overcome 'weaknesses'.

Dr Mahathir insisted the Government was not 'taking over' sharia courts from the states, which have autonomy in religious matters.

But the proposed administrative changes would give Kuala Lumpur important new powers, he said.

A sharia justice department would be set up under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister's Department.

Dr Mahathir's announcement follows his criticism of sharia court justices earlier this year for delivering unfair judgments against women and his complaint that certain states were blocking the standardisation of sharia court rulings.

The Government could run into resistance from some state governments, sultans and conservative clerics, but Dr Mahathir has shown he is determined to make Islam in Malaysia compatible with his plans for the country's modernisation and economic advancement.

In one of his strongest affirmations of Islamic moderation, Dr Mahathir stressed the administration of justice could not be the same as in the time of the Prophet.

Addressing an international seminar on the administration of Islamic laws, he argued against accepting all the laws formulated by Muslim jurists as inviolable.

'These laws are the work of ordinary humans with their fears and prejudices, influenced by the cultures and practices of the time,' he said.

He said Muslims should 'not rush to condemn' anyone who questioned the correctness of a jurist's interpretation of the Koran.

'Only when Islam is interpreted so as to be relevant in a world which is so different from what it was 1,400 years ago can Islam be regarded as a religion for all ages,' he said.