Islamic lawyers meeting in Malaysia want an existing ban on unwed Muslim couples from cuddling or holding hands to be extended to non-Muslims caught flirting with the faithful, a local newspaper said on Thursday.
Experts in Sharia law, which currently applies only to Malaysia's majority Muslims, proposed at a seminar that there should be a civil law to deal with non-Muslims found committing the Islamic crime of khalwat, or close proximity, with a Muslim.
"The Muslims can be sentenced in Sharia courts and the non-Muslim partners can probably be sentenced in the civil courts, to be fair to both parties," a senior Malaysian Sharia-court judge told the Star newspaper.
Mohd Asri Abdullah, a Sharia appeal-court judge, was quoted as saying the proposal would be forwarded to Malaysia's chief lawyer, the attorney-general, for government consideration. The seminar was partly organized by the Sharia Judiciary Department.
The seminar also proposed penalties be increased for Muslims found guilty of khalwat, prostitution, gambling and consuming alcohol, to a maximum fine of 1,000 ringgit ($314), five years' jail or 12 strokes of a cane for lower-court offences.
Malaysia runs parallel Sharia and civil legal systems, with Sharia courts dealing only with Muslims and mainly in family disputes or in matters such as khalwat or apostasy.
It employs religious police to ensure Muslim compliance with Quranic laws. They sometimes patrol parks looking for young unwed couples holding hands, raid nightclubs to catch Muslims drinking alcohol and ensure Muslims observe the fasting month of Ramadan.
Breach of freedom of religion
Malaysia's Bar Council, representing 12,000 lawyers, said in a statement that enforcing khalwat on non-Muslims would breach the Malaysia's constitution, which ensures freedom of religion.
"It would be gravely unjust to apply theocratic law in this manner upon individuals who do not profess the religion concerned," it said. "The proposal is wholly unacceptable."
Some Muslims feel it is not fair to be punished for moral crimes that non-Muslims can freely commit. But non-Muslims, who make up around 40 percent of Malaysia's population of 26 million, strongly resist attempts to impose standards of Muslim morality on them, even if these attempts are sometimes mistaken.
In 2006, Islamic officials mistakenly raided the apartment of a married American couple, both Christians, on suspicion of khalwat. The government later apologized to the duo.