The Mother of All Sins: Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno’S Caning

They say that money is the root of all evil. At times, I couldn’t agree more. But now I hear that alcohol consumption is the “mother of all sins”. I’m not going into detail about which sins are worse, but more on the earthly consequences of such sins as defined by the male religious elite.

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno from Singapore had apparently committed the “mother of all sins” last week and now faces a sentence by the Shariah court of six strokes of the cane. The part-time model and mother of two was reported to be caught drinking beer in a hotel lounge in the east Malaysian state of Pahang. Two others have been charged as well, but their cases are currently pending appeal. Many are outraged by the severity of the punishment, while some find it fitting for the gravity of the crime.

The shock over Kartika’s decision not to appeal elicited a media frenzy over how her punishment will be meted out. On Sunday, Malaysian newspapers analyzed in great detail the act of whipping, comparing the differences between criminal whipping and Shariah whipping, and even the dimensions of the “Shariah” cane (it happens to be 1.22 m long and 1.25 cm thick, in case you’re wondering). One report even claims that Shariah whipping hardly inflicts any pain on the offender’s body, and that it is also much more merciful than civil corporal punishment, with the headline that reads, “A sentence not all it’s been whipped up to be”.

Uncoiling faster than a snake striking, the whip lunges forward, tail singing in the air. Its journey ends with a crack as distinct as lightning, punctuated by a scream so profound it rips the sound barrier. Could this be the syariah whipping that theoretically awaits part-time model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, sentenced to six lashes for consuming alcohol?

Er… no.

The reality of whipping under syariah is that it is actually rather light. In fact, the term “whipping” is inaccurate, because in Malaysia it is done with a rotan (rattan cane). It is not flogging or flaying, and broken skin is not allowed, says Wahid (not his real name), who metes out 100 strokes every week as a Kajang Prison whipping officer.

Under the Criminal Procedure Code, caning is physical punishment in the strictest sense and the officer must use as much force as he can muster. So, the power behind an ordinary criminal whipping (in civil law) comes from the wrist, arm, shoulder and the swing. But, for syariah offences, it comes from a fairly limp wrist.

A number of uneasy issues emerge from reports of Kartika’s case. First, there seem to be a tendency to trivialize Shariah whipping as simply “not painful” and mainly as a means to deter other Muslims from consuming alcohol. And so it appears that Kartika’s psychological torment is not worthy of consideration, as far as many are concerned. In fact, that is exactly what she deserves, says one prison whipping officer:

“Syariah whipping is more like caning naughty schoolboys. In syariah, the punishment is not in the force of the whipping, but to bring shame.”

Allow me to digress a little here: in Malaysia, a culture of shaming pervades the policing of private lives of people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. But invariably, women suffer the most from public shaming–our so-called honor and reputation torn to pieces. How is it different for men and women you ask? Recently, a Malaysian Muslim man was jailed for distributing photos of his wife and himself engaged in sexual intercourse online to intentionally shame his wife. While he couldn’t evade civil laws against public obscenity, he was sure that he could evade society’s law of the social stigmatizing. Shame, whether as a result of stigmatization or public punishment, is a form of psychological torture that can be more debilitating, annihilating, and silencing for the tortured.

It isn’t surprising then that Kartika wanted to get on with her life as quickly as possible by forgoing an appeal for leniency. However, her decision is interpreted differently by the media, which leads me to raise a related issue: blind faith. Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the spiritual leader of Malaysia’s Islamic political party, PAS, has been reported to “commend” Kartika’s uncritical attitude towards the court’s decision. He attributed her “blind acceptance” to a number of factors, among them a lack of knowledge of the Qur’an and of the religion. Funny, Muslims in Malaysia can be accused of having little knowledge about Islam even when they start challenging religious leaders and certain interpretations of the Qur’an!

True, an unquestioning approach to the court’s decision masks the more urgent issues, such as whether caning for drinking in public is mentioned in the Qur’an (it isn’t), or if women are subject to the same punishment as men for consuming alcohol, or whether corporal punishment is really an effective deterrent. In the meantime, these questions are left unanswered as the public are made to obsess over Shariah whipping and the impending fate of Kartika Sari Dewi.

  • MuslimahX

    No that punishment is not mentioned in the Quran but it is in the sunnah…

    Hadith – Bukhari 3:509, Narrated ‘Uqba bin Al-Harith

    When An-Nuaman or his son was brought in a state of drunkenness, Allah’s Apostle ordered all those who were present in the house to beat him. I was one of those who beat him. We beat him with shoes and palm-leaf stalks.

    Hadith – Bukhari 8:764, Narrated Anas bin Malik

    The Prophet beat a drunk with palm-leaf stalks and shoes. And Abu Bakr gave (such a sinner) forty lashes.

    Hadith – Bukhari 8:768, Narrated Abu Salama

    Abu Huraira said, “A man who drank wine was brought to the Prophet . The Prophet said, ‘Beat him!’ ” Abu Huraira added, “So some of us beat him with our hands, and some with their shoes, and some with their garments (by twisting it) like a lash, and then when we finished, someone said to him, ‘May Allah disgrace you!’ On that the Prophet said, ‘Do not say so, for you are helping Satan to overpower him.’ ”

    I wonder why you left that out.

  • phil

    Technically isn’t a hotel a private property, thus per the actual sunnah, the shariah punishment on drinking doesn’t apply?

  • Daniel

    Technically, the shariah punishment will apply if the act of drinking was done in public regardless of if it was committed in a privately owned hotel.

  • Anon

    MuslimahX – there’s a difference between being in a state of drunkenness, and drinking beer. Furthermore, wine and beer are not the same thing.

    Just because Muhammad gave certain punishments in certain cases does it necessarily mean those punishments should apply in every case? There may have been history and context behind certain cases that’s not mentioned in the hadith. The drunkard could have hurt other people, for instance.

    If the cases and punishments are not the same, then I think one should beware of applying the same punishment for something that might be a very different case.

    Lastly, what is the current Syariah punishment for a father raping his daughter? Is it more severe than the punishment for drinking beer?

  • Richard

    Isn’t the inherant problem that there exists two separate legal systems in what pertains to be a modern civilised country, that is metred out according to your surname?

    As I understand it, the “felon” is not a Malysian national, but can be tried in a Shariah court because she has a Muslim name.

    If Malaysia chooses to make alcohol illegal, like it is in some countries, that is a matter for their politicians. Should the law not apply equally to all, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity, or am i speaking like an ignorant Western liberal?

  • shukri

    Is she is the only Muslim who consumed alcohol on that day? Pretty sure, there are more people did the same thing. What happened to the rest? Why only her deserved the punishment? Double standard from the religious department.

  • hidayah

    Kartika from Malaysia not Singapore. Please correct this.

  • rizal

    shukri: lots of people park illegally, why i am fined but not others? double standard from the city council. Lots of people smoke in hospital, why i am bashed out but not others? double standard from the hospital. lots of people drive recklessly, why i am fined but no others? double standard from the police. lots of people engage in homosexual intercourse, why i am charged for sodomy but no others? double standar from the police. lots of people sell pirated dvds, why i am fined but no others? and the list go on and on an on.

    Escaping legal enforcement is a matter of luck, bro. If you are caught, & deep in your heart you know have done wrong, sigh and pray one day you will be lucky. Haha.

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