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Malaysia apex court quashes state’s expansion of sharia law in landmark ruling

The Kelantan state assembly in 2021 passed amendments to the state’s sharia law, broadening its powers to include criminal acts, amid a surge in religious conservatism that has triggered more frequent cultural clashes in recent years.

A nine-member bench in the federal court ruled that the state did not have the power to enact laws that the federal constitution clearly placed under federal powers and under the jurisdiction of parliament.

Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said only two of the 18 provisions under Kelantan’s amended sharia law passed muster and could be implemented by the state.

The rest of the provisions were “invalid” as they overstepped into federal jurisdiction, Tengku Maimun said when reading out the court’s 8-1 majority decision.

The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which has led Kelantan since 1990, has been pushing for broader jurisdiction for sharia law, including the implementation of harsh penalties for crimes under hudud, the penal laws of Islam.

Kelantan deputy chief minister Mohamed Fadzil Hassan said they were “disappointed” with the court’s decision, adding that the onus is on the federal government to amend the federal constitution to accommodate greater powers for the sharia courts.

“PMX has a two-thirds majority,” Mohamed Fadzil told reporters outside the court, referring to the country’s current and 10th prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, and the threshold needed in parliament to amend the federal constitution.

Kelantan-born lawyer Nik Elin Nik Abdul Rashid and her daughter had in 2022 filed a constitutional challenge to amendments to the state’s sharia law a year earlier, arguing that the state does not have the jurisdiction to enact laws that fall under federal powers.

Kelantan’s amended