What is Sharia law in Singapore

George Varughese, head of the Malaysian Bar Association, was furious after the public flogging of two women: "It is a harsh and barbaric form of punishment, with permanent psychological consequences, it has no place in a modern and compassionate society like ours," protested the lawyer in an open letter. Shortly before, a Sharia court in Terengganu State had sentenced two women, 22 and 32 years old, to six lashes with a rattan rod. In the eyes of the Islamic law enforcement officers, the two had been convicted of a serious offense: they had allegedly tried to have sex with each other in a car. More than a hundred people watched as the two women were flogged.

Homosexuals have to hide in Malaysia, same-sex acts are illegal there under both secular law and Sharia law. The country has a two-pronged legal system; Islamic laws can also be applied there for Muslims. There had never been a publicly executed corporal punishment for lesbian women in the multiethnic state, which is predominantly populated by Muslim Malays.

A local government official played down the brutality of the flogging. It was just a "lesson" for the two women to learn from. Human rights activists ruled the world over with harsh criticism. Finally, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a man who is not known for campaigning for gay rights, also spoke up. He used to have no qualms about using the law to put his ex-rival Anwar Ibrahim behind bars. But after the women were punished, Mahathir complained: "This paints a bad picture of Islam." The religion appeared harsh and cruel and that was a mistake, said the prime minister. Anwar Ibrahim, who has outwardly reconciled with Mahathir and is now waiting to inherit him as head of government, also criticized the flogging: "I am a practicing Muslim, but I do not share this interpretation." Anwar, who studied in the Middle East, said he was not an opponent of Sharia law, "but one has to reflect on its higher goals, on education, security, tolerance, understanding."

Religious conservatism is fueled by money and ideology from the Middle East

Public beating under Islamic law is no longer an isolated case in Southeast Asia; the ultra-conservative Indonesian province of Aceh is considered a pioneer. While the states in the region continue to modernize technically and economically, analysts have noticed that religious conservatism is spreading in many places, fueled by money and ideology from the Middle East. In this social climate, the public whipping of convicts seems increasingly acceptable.

In Malaysia, global criticism has hardly slowed the religious guardians of virtue; they are now also looking for suitable places for public flogging in the state of Kelantan, and even a sports stadium is to be checked for its suitability for the gruesome spectacle.