Sharia law, LGBTQ and BARMM

Sharia law, LGBTQ and BARMM Featured

I HAVE been under the impression that Brunei, ranked by Forbes as the fifth richest out of 182 countries in the world, would be one of those liberal and progressive developed Muslim countries practicing a benevolent and tolerant kind of Islam. Just last week, the government of Brunei imposed a law against LGBTQ with harsh punishments of stoning and public whipping. Thus, Brunei becomes the first country in Southeast Asia to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. To quote its potentate Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah: “The decision to implement the [penal code] is not for fun but is to obey Allah’s command as written in the Quran.”

The country is Islamic, majority of whom are followers of Sunni Islam, the same as those of Muslims in Mindanao. In fact, before the Spanish presence, areas in southern Mindanao, the Sulu-Jolo archipelago extending up to parts of Luzon, were believed to be integrated with the Brunei sultanate.

The declaration of the Sultan Bolkiah has far-reaching implications as sharia law is applied to both Muslim and non-Muslims alike. The minority Christians and members of other religions are therefore subject to this set of laws. It will be recalled that in 2014, the Brunei Sultan implemented the first phase; that of declaring couples producing children out of wedlock and missing Friday prayers as crimes under the jurisdiction of Islamic courts. A new penal code, enacted also in 2014 but whose application was suspended, may take effect soon prescribing punishments adhering closely to sharia law, like severing of limbs for property crimes.

Brunei and Manila have had an intriguing relationship. Sultan Bolkiah’s brother Prince Jefri, who owned a mansion in the posh Forbes Park in Manila, was once involved in recruiting top well-known Filipino actresses to entertain the Sultan’s guests at the 1,788-room Istana Palace. It was alleged that these highly paid women’s thespian talents may have been exploited for other ‘services’ at the pleasure palace owned personally by Prince Jefri. A leading Islamic religious scholar Resa Asian was quoted in the New York Post referring to the Sultan’s pronouncements: “This is obviously not coming from a place of religious devotion, since the Sultan himself is in violation of every single rule of sharia law you could possibly imagine. Indeed, the Sultan and his equally decadent brother, Prince Jefri, were dubbed ‘constant companions in hedonism’.” The sybaritic life of the rulers are totally incompatible with the teachings of the Quran.

Across the Malacca Strait in Malaysia’s Terengganu state, in a first of its kind, sharia authorities whipped two women in public for a lesbian relationship. This could be the start of an anti-homosexual clampdown based on the strict interpretation of the Quran. The state was once a Malay sultanate that was highly influenced by Hindu-Buddhist culture and was part of the trade routes from ancient times. Terengganu was the first among the Malay lands to receive Islam from whence it spread to adjoining territories.

In the neighboring autonomous province of Aceh in Indonesia, gay men and women are whipped publicly under a newly enforced sharia law. Of Indonesia’s 34 provinces, sharia law is officially sanctioned only in oil-rich and conservatively religious Aceh. Islam spread to Southeast Asia in the 12th century from the Sultanate of Aceh, before the latter became part of modern Indonesia.

In the second of my two-part article on the “Clash of civilizations,” this conflict between civilizations, particularly between the Christian West and Islam, was debunked. Initial empirical data showing that Western, Christian, Hindu or other civilizations are at war with each other is likewise balanced by data showing that clashes of Muslims against Muslims particularly in the countries in the Middle East have been erupting since the end of the cold war. Sunni and Shiite Muslims have of late imposed a stricter interpretation of the sharia law on its own citizens. But the world’s backlash condemning the acts as violations of human rights may yet precipitate a real clash of civilizations, proving Huntington correct.

The Western concept of homosexuality as being a natural consequence of birth is not an Islamic creed and sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex are proscribed by the Quran as haram. On the other hand, infringement of this private arrangement in the liberal Western jurisprudence could be considered as a violation of human rights. This is clearly a sample of a clash of Western and Islamic values. The technicality of whether Islamic states are signatory to UN agreements on human rights or have not ratified the same is really of no consequence.

This is also the same enigma facing the Philippines today, as the country embarks on an experiment in an innovative type of governance: the unitary presidential system practiced in the country as a whole and that of the “parliamentary” system or a version thereof to be practiced in parts of Mindanao through the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that is supposed to govern the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

In the Philippines’ 1987 Constitution, Church and State are separate, following traditional western influence and values. In Islamic tradition, religion and governance are intertwined; which could be a major irritant in the BARMM though technically, it operates under the sufferance of central government.

True, sharia law in BARMM will cover and apply only to Muslims and only on matters affecting personal status and family. Although still based on the Quran and the Hadith other scriptural sources and interpreted by independent Islamic jurists, it is a modernized (not Westernized) set of legal jurisprudence compatible with Philippine laws, with harsh and medieval punishments done away with. Still, the ultimate arbiter is the country’s Supreme Court. But cynics abound gleaning from what is happening in Brunei, Aceh and Malaysia, where interpretations are reversed, and protocols are altered; bearing in mind too, the premise and the underlying extrapolation of Huntington’s that the Philippines is a “cleft country” containing two major religious roots and by inference, two civilizations, Islamic and Christian.

What has been happening post-Cold War in the global arena thus far has been hewing close to Huntington’s thesis; although as pointed out in my past two articles, the jury is still out on Huntington’s prediction, particularly on the Muslim versus Muslim conflicts.

Although this is cherry-picking, homosexuality, the LGBTQ community and sharia law are just some samples of similar issues rearing their ugly heads that could be precursors of conflicts. The BARMM is the country’s petri dish for federalism and harmonizing seemingly conflicting values of differing religious beliefs. But favoring both sides is the underlying deep-rooted bond as Filipinos. And this could be an effective prophylactic against initiatives by the likes of Brunei, Aceh and Terengganu against an Islamic revival agitating for full implementation of sharia law, including the reinstatement of hudhud, the dreaded and medieval corporal punishments.

Islam is a religion of peace. Let’s all pray to our respective Allah and Diyos that recent events in our neighboring Muslim countries will not spill over to our shores splitting us “piece by piece.”000
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