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Religious police in the Bangsamoro?

Are the fears of an Islamic substate really implausible? A close reading of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law shows that it does provide for institutions and mechanisms for this very possibility.

Not only is Shari’ah enshrined as part of the justice system, but Article V Sec. 48 empowers the Bangsamoro government to enforce Shari’ah by giving it authority over the “Hisbah office for accountability as part of the Shari’ah justice system.”

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This is not financial accountability. Hisbah is the Islamic doctrine of accountability—i.e., the duty of the ruler to “command right and forbid wrong.” And it is echoed under Section 6 of Article IV, General Principles and Policies: “Promotion of Right: The Bangsamoro shall adhere to the principle of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong.”

How will the Hisbah office enforce accountability? If we go by the practices of other Islamic states, it will be done through religious police called mutaween.

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When Hisbah was first instituted by Omar, the second caliph after the Prophet Mohammad, mutaween were also tasked to ensure honesty in business transactions. But their duties today mainly have to do with enforcing Islamic morality. Overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia are familiar with the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which patrols the streets to ensure that no Christian services are held even in private homes; arrests people consuming liquor; prevents women from driving; etc. Mutaween are also found in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Bangsamoro government can establish awqaf (endowments) and charitable trusts. Awqaf are religious endowments and, among other charitable activities, can also provide for the maintenance of mosques and the payment of salaries of ulemas, as is done in Egypt.

It can also conduct “competitive qualifying examinations of madaris teachers for permanent appointment to the Bangsamoro education system.” This would be like the Department of Education conducting examinations on Catholic doctrine for prospective public school teachers!

The government can set up an office to attend to the needs of Muslims going on hajj and umrah, which should bother non-Muslim taxpayers whose own pilgrimages do not attract such government solicitude.

Parliament can enact laws on Shari’ah “including the definition of crimes and prescription of penalties thereof.” However, the BBL is vague on the “definition of crimes.” For this we have to refer to what are considered crimes under Shari’ah.

Hadd are crimes against Allah—e.g., apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, consuming alcohol, theft, accusing someone of illicit sex without producing the requisite four witnesses. Penalties for such crimes in other Islamic states can be extremely severe, but fortunately, the BBL is not so draconian; it prescribes a maximum penalty of six years imprisonment for Shari’ah crimes.

The question is: Should civil authorities even impose sanctions for religious offenses such as apostasy and blasphemy, or for the consumption of liquor?

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Qisas are crimes that may be considered as disputes between individuals where retaliation as punishment is allowed. These include murder and assault. For example, if a woman has battery acid thrown in her face, she is entitled to demand that her assailant also have battery acid thrown in her face.

Tazir refer to crimes whose punishment is not specified in the Koran and the Hadith and are therefore left to the discretion of the judge.

Qisas and tazir are crimes that fall within the Philippine Civil and Criminal Codes, so the effect of Shari’ah is to remove Muslim perpetrators from the Philippine justice system. Since non-Muslims have no standing in Shari’ah courts, problems arise if the aggrieved party is a non-Muslim.

Freedom of conscience is another issue that has been overlooked. Section 1k of Article IX (now VIII) of the original BBL which enumerates basic rights, reads: “Right to freedom from religious, ethnic and sectarian harassment.”

But who is going to harass whom? Note that the last paragraph of this section states that Parliament may pass a law for the promotion and protection of these enforceable rights.

To understand Section 1k we have to refer back to the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights signed by Islamic nations. Specifically, in Article 10, the Cairo Declaration states: “Islam is the religion of true unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of pressure on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to force him to change his religion to another religion or to atheism.”

Section 1k, therefore, is a reworked version of Article 10, and it is not so much a right as a warning to Muslims that they may not change religion or become atheist, and to Christians that evangelization within the Muslim community is forbidden and that Parliament can pass a law penalizing such evangelization as “religious harassment.”

Proponents of the BBL may deny that the proposed Bangsamoro will be an Islamic substate, and I hope that they can make a convincing rebuttal that this will indeed not be the case. For my part, I feel sorry for the Peace Council, some of whose members are Catholic clergy, who rashly promised to explain the benefits of the BBL, without realizing that the price of those economic benefits will be paid not only with taxpayer money, much of which will come from non-Muslims, but also with limitations on personal freedoms.

Araceli Z. Lorayes is a retired life insurance executive and is now a freelance writer.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro, BBL, Shari’ah
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