Malaysian Islamic opposition plans to extend Islamic laws on non-Muslims

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Fresh from passing laws prescribing stoning, whipping and amputation in a state it controls, an Islamic fundamentalist party has vowed to impose the harsh penalties across Malaysia if it ever takes national power.

Abdul Hadi Awang, chief minister of Terengganu state and leader of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, was quoted by The Star newspaper Tuesday as saying that the Islamic laws will apply to non-Muslims `when the time comes."

The national government, which accuses the fundamentalists of promoting extremism, has promised to block such attempts on the state and national levels.

Zahari Mohamad, a senior aide to Abdul Hadi, confirmed the remarks were correctly reported. He said the laws would be imposed on non-Muslims if the fundamentalist opposition topples Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's moderate government in general elections scheduled for 2004.

"We cannot enforce Islamic laws as the supreme law of the country unless federal legislation is amended," Zahari told The Associated Press. "We have to form the federal government to be able to do that."

The controversy comes ahead of by-elections July 18 in another state, Kedah, for the state assembly and parliamentary seats of Fadzil Noor, the relative moderate fundamentalist leader whose recent death left the party more under the control of hardliners like Abdul Hadi.

Under a bill approved Monday by the Terengganu state legislature, where the fundamentalist party controls 28 of 32 seats, a robber who kills his victim can be sentenced to death and crucified.

A thief's right hand is amputated for his first offense, and his left foot for the second. A Muslim who renounces Islam is punished by death. Sodomy and adultery are punishable by death by stoning. Muslims who consume alcohol can be whipped up to 80 times.

Mahathir, who has overseen multi-racial Malaysia become one of Asia's richest countries during 21 years in power, has promised that the federal government will block the law from being implemented in Terengganu, as is the case with the other state the fundamentalists control, Kelantan.

The fundamentalists acknowledge the laws cannot be enforced, but maintain they pass them as a obligation.

"We are doing what is required by Islam," Zahari said. "Even if we lose the elections because of these laws, we don't mind because we are doing our duty."

Capitalizing on anger over the firing and jailing of Mahathir's popular deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, the fundamentalists made electoral gains in 1999 but have been losing popularity amid fears over their plans to establish a hardline Islamic state.

A majority of Malaysia's 23 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims and Islam is the official religion, but there are also large non-Muslim Chinese and Indian minorities.

The Democratic Action Party, which has backing mainly from ethnic Chinese and broke an opposition alliance with the fundamentalists earlier this year, reacted angrily to Abdul Hadi's statements.

"They might as well ask everyone to convert to Islam," said spokesman Ronnie Liu. "It is not feasible for a multi-racial country like Malaysia to have harsh Islamic laws."

In Terengganu and Kelantan, the fundamentalists have imposed — but unevenly enforced — rules banning gambling outlets and the open sale of alcohol, and forced shops to have separate payment counters for men and women. Terengganu is considering rules banning bikinis from beaches, though tourism is a pillar of the local economy.

Mahathir, 76, has cast himself as a moderate Muslim leader and won strong support from the United States for rounding up scores of suspected militants since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, including one who allegedly hosted two of the hijackers in 2000.