Feature

Malaysia: Our legal practices neglect Islam

Legal education in Malaysia today “is as much a colonial construct as it was during the days of the Raj,” said Shad Saleem Faruqi in The Daily Star.

Shad Saleem Faruqi
The Daily Star

Why do Malaysians consider Western law to be more impartial and universal than Islamic law? asked Shad Saleem Faruqi. Legal education in Malaysia today “is as much a colonial construct as it was during the days of the Raj.” A typical course at a Malaysian law school starts with Plato and Aristotle and plods predictably on through to Locke, Bentham, Weber, etc. Great thinkers from Asia and the Middle East are entirely absent.

Like Westerners, Malaysian law students are taught to “separate law from morality, public law from private law, and crime from tort”—even though “such artificial dichotomies are alien to our traditions and are often impediments to justice.” In traditional Asian and Middle Eastern legal systems, by contrast, “morality is legalized and legality is moralized,” with beneficial results for human rights and the social safety net. Were our students to study those systems, they would learn that “many of the law’s crowning glories”—including the principle of mediation, rights for women, the ruler’s subjection to law, and the humane treatment of prisoners—all originated in Islamic law.

I propose an overhaul of our legal system, starting with a “concerted effort to re-educate colonialized minds.” Islamic justice is every bit as sophisticated and fair as Western justice. Isn’t it time to “substitute imported mental baggage with our own treasury of thoughts”?

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