10/27/2011 Malaysia (BBC) - Malaysia's Islamic party is pressing for more areas of law to be dealt with under an Islamic legal code, causing concerns among religious minorities, despite reassurances they would not be affected.
There are two Malaysias. One for the Muslim majority - the other for Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and non-Muslims.
For example, Malays do not have the freedom to choose their religion. It is written in the constitution that all ethnic Malays must, by definition, be Muslim.
"The punishments they want would include, among other things, cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning adulterers to death”
At the same time, other ethnic groups are allowed to worship freely.
Political leaders would have you believe that these two Malaysias barely interact, and therefore do not conflict.
At present, if you are Muslim, all issues regarding family and faith are dealt with in Islamic courts.
But PAS officials say they want Islamic law to cover criminal offences as well.
The punishments they want would include, among other things, cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning adulterers to death.
The party insists the move would not affect non-Muslims. That promise, however, is no longer reassuring for Malaysia's religious minorities.
In the face of rising Islamisation, legal scholars say politicians and judges here are unwilling to resolve the issue for fear they will be seen as anti-Islam.
And the issue of justice might become even more complex if the proposed Islamic criminal code were introduced.
Zainah Anwar, a prominent Muslim rights activist, poses this scenario in a recent newspaper column.
Suppose a Malay and Chinese were both caught stealing.
The Malay-Muslim might get his hands chopped off, while his Chinese accomplice might only be locked up for a few months in jail.
For the same crime only one person would be permanently disabled - because of their religion.
It may seem idle to debate Islamic criminal law in Malaysia. There are still many legal hurdles to overcome before it can be enforced.
Yet this time around, non-Muslims are alarmed.
This may be a country that prides itself on its multi-religious and multi-ethnic harmony - but what happens in Muslim Malaysia is not always confined to the followers of Islam - and non-Muslims are feeling exposed