July 2006

e-Syariah

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Islam has been acknowledged as the official religion of Malaysia in the Malaysian  Federal Constitution, being practiced by the majority of Malay community. In reality, many believers of Islam do not know much about the Islamic jurisprudence or Syariah. Ipso facto, Syariah, governs both the secular and religious life of a devout Muslim. Syariah is the Arabic word for Islamic law, also known as the Law of Allah.  So to speak, Syariah covers not only religious rituals, but also many aspects of day-to-day life such as politics, economics, banking, business or contract law, and social issues. The term Syariah refers to the body of Islamic law.

Some accept Syariah as the body of precedent and legal theory before the 19th century, while other scholars view Syariah as a changing body, and include reformed Islamic legal theory from the contemporary period.

e-Syariah

Technology brings possibilities and changes far beyond human expectations. Possibilities once thought of as far-fetched imagination in science fiction movies have become a reality in the 21st century. In this millennium, technology drives the modernisation of Government operations. The e-Syariah website, which was initiated by the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU) in 1998, aims to enhance the effectiveness of the Islamic Justice Department electronically in order to improve the efficiency of the Syariah courts. The e-Syariah project costing MYR39mn  (US$10.58mn) would link all the Syariah Courts online providing benefits to court administrators, judges, lawyers and clients. The e-Syariah facility is to be implemented in 102 courts across Malaysia. The e-Syariah applications include Court Case Management System for workflow management; Syarie Lawyers Registration System to manage registration, application and renewal of lawyers’ licenses; e-Syariah website, an information centre for the Syariah court community; and, a web-based Library Management System. As such, the introduction of e-Syariah invariably means that the government does not want to see Islamic law enforcement (processes) remaining outmoded. Earlier, instances of Syariah court cases (which largely involve disputes under Islamic family law) dragged on for several years. Even, women organisations greatly highlighted the need for cases filed with the Syariah court to be expedited more efficiently.

One of the flagship applications of the e-Government in Malaysia, e-Syariah is a one-stop centre to provide quality information and customer friendly services to the Muslim population, while improving the overall efficiency and decision-making process of the Malaysian Syariah Court

The Syariah Court Management System is linked to the Muslim database maintained by the Ministry of Community Development, and allows particulars of couples to be verified prior to the registration of cases. Basically, the new system has computerised the manual operations of the court, including registering new cases for counselling, tracking counselling outcomes, referral of cases to court hearings, and provides printed statistical reports to profile divorce cases. Without computerisation, all Syariah courts in

Malaysia tend to do their operations based on their own system, and this generally makes it difficult to trace or retrieve cases that involve Syariah courts of other states in Malaysia. Besides, chances of overlapping are always there since court cases are filed in different states.

Another interesting aspect of this website is that it enables the user to calculate and divide the Faraid using the online Faraid calculator. Faraid is a section of the Islamic law that deals with the distribution of the estate of a deceased person among his heirs in accordance with Allah’s decree in the Holy Quran, and also in accordance to the Hadith or tradition of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH). It is considered as one of the important aspects in Islamic teachings. In this portal, the users have to fill in the information needed, and this user-friendly system immediately gives the result for the recipients of Faraid. Since many of Muslims nowadays face difficulties in dealing with the distribution of the Faraid, this system can solve their problems, and thus the Islamic family institution can be well preserved

Regarding the inter-agency network, this facility enables the e-Syariah to be linked with various government departments connected with the management of Syariah Court cases. The extensive links ensure that all information related to a particular case is easily accessible. This is to enhance efficiency, and thus helping to avoid delay of cases. The departments include National Registration Department, Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM), Immigration Department, Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM), and Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department.

Prior to e-Syariah, the National Syariah Court Department has been looked upon as a department having left behind by the country’s economic and technological advancement. The e-Syariah is drawn from the National Syariah Court Department’s revamp of its administration.

Psychological benefits of e-Syariah

Apart from the foreseeable benefits (rapid access to information, and speedy judicial process), there is another benefit of e-Syariah which is the psychological benefit. In Malaysia, members of the public who generally seek information on Syariah law are those who have problems involving disputes under Islamic law and the family matters. These problems are not the kind so as to give unwarranted attention. Cases such as divorce, polygamy, custody of a child, the distribution and allocation of a deceased family member’s estate and property are all very sensitive, and for those involved, the less people knew about it, the better it is. Furthermore, because of the nature of their situation they tend to isolate themselves from society. They may feel shy or apprehensive to go personally to the JAKIM office and seek advice. Not knowing what to do, whom to trust and confide in with their problems, affects them psychologically. It has been suggested that shy and socially isolated individuals communicate more on the Internet because it provides some protection from social anxiety. Through the e-Syariah website, such individuals willing to maintain anonymity and keeping their dignity intact would be able to gather information discreetly on their own. The opportunity to remain anonymous through the use of the Internet gives these people more freedom and confidence to ask questions where normally they do not dare or find it embarrassing to talk with another person. Once they are satisfied with the amount of information they have gathered, it would then increase their confidence to seek help personally.

It must however be made clear that e-Syariah is not promoting impersonality. There is no technology that can replace the human factor in Syariah law as such. e-Syariah should be looked upon as a tool to improve the handling and processing of matters pertaining to Syariah law. More importantly, it is an alternative channel of communication for those in need of assistance.  Not everything in life can be solved through immediate face-to-face interaction. Sometimes before personal interaction takes place, the troubled person would prefer to gather as much information on his/her own, or assess the situation before seeking anybody’s assistance. With the knowledge they have gathered, it will slowly turn their frustration into confidence. Their self-confidence increases, because now they know a little bit more of their rights in regards to Syariah law, and how to exercise those rights.

Apart from getting information by reading the content posted on the e-Syariah website, users can also get an “interactive” feedback and gain a much more detailed information with regards to their problems by sending emails to e-Syariah counsellors or experts on the Islamic Family Law. However the success of email correspondence also lies heavily on the responses that a person gets. The counsellor at the other end must be sensitive enough to the situation of the troubled person, and try to connect and build trust. Once trust has been forged, the interaction can then be brought to the next level, that of face-to-face communication.

In the e-Syariah website, a list of Syariah lawyers is also provided to the users. This is another helpful facility, since not all of us are lucky enough to have an acquaintance with a Syariah lawyer. e-Syariah provides the service where the users can look at the list of the Syariah lawyers through the website. The lawyer registration component will be used for the registration of new lawyers and for the renewal of practising certificates — all maintained in a  database to facilitate monitoring and coordination by the authorities. The website shows the  record and the type of the cases handled by them. Thus, the user can choose the best    lawyer suitable for their cases. Through this web portal, the user can directly register with the lawyer for handling his/her case in order to save time. The user can also know the status of his/her case from the e-Syariah portal. This system would provide the Muslim population and the law practitioner’s easy access to register and review status of cases online. Being able to look for a lawyer without physically having to go from one lawyer’s office to another reallyhelps a lot in terms of time and money. A n o t h e r reason that frustrates those in need   is when it comes to dealing with the Islamic Justice Department, which has a reputation of delaying cases brought to the Syariah court. This situation of course increases the stress level, since they would want their cases to be expedited. For its defence, the Islamic Justice Department cites the delays mainly caused due to absenteeism of the parties involved in these cases.

As a corrective measure to improve the department’s service, e-Syariah has introduced a Court Scheduling System where people can arrange their schedule based on their preferred  time with reference to the court trial schedule. This facility may not sound much, however it definitely lifts the psychological burden faced by those with separation. e-Syariah enable  couples who have Syariah cases to quickly identify, and book a time for their divorce court hearing after they have gone through the counselling, thus clearing their cases faster.

Conclusion

Finally, it must be admitted that the e- Syariah website cannot and should not be treated as the “magic wand” to solve all the problems. It can at best be only considered as an enabler. The extent of the e- Syariah website to help those in need depends on the amount of information or content that is available. This, however, depends on the constant monitoring and updating of the content by the responsible authorities. The website has been regularly gathering feedback from users for its improvement in order to better fulfil their needs.

The most important aspect of e- Syariah project that would be beneficial to the internal and external users is the standardisation of the administration processes, and enabling Syariah courts to be linked. This would greatly enhance the image of Syariah law and Islamic teaching in Malaysia specifically, and thuswould be looked upon by the rest of the world in a favourable light. This would also result in preserving the quality of the services of Syariah courts and enhance the efficiency in controlling other agency under the Islamic Justice Department. The use of ICT and the implementation of e-Syariah is primarily to ensure services and information regarding Syariah law are easily accessible to the public.

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