Six Muslim men in Malaysia’s conservative northeastern state of Terengganu have been handed one-month jail terms for missing Friday prayers, according to a news report.
The punishment has prompted fresh concern about a rise in Islamic conservatism in the multi-ethnic country.
Attending Friday prayers is obligatory for Muslim men in Malaysia, but it is unusual for such punishment to be handed down for not doing so.
According to the Harian Metro newspaper the men aged from 17 to 35 were caught having a picnic by a waterfall instead of observing Islam’s holiest day of the week.
The sharia court they were dragged before on Dec. 1 also fined each of them between 2,400 and 2,500 ringgit (US$575-$600).
They are free on bail while they appeal the sentences, but could have faced two years behind bars.
“Their alleged failure to attend Friday prayers is a personal matter,” Zaid Malek, from rights group Lawyers for Liberty, said, reported AFP.
“While such acts may be considered improper by some in Muslim society, criminal punishment is excessive and not the way to address them.”
Critics said the case demonstrated that Malaysia’s tolerant interpretation of Islam was being eaten away, and came a few weeks after four Muslim men were caned for having gay sex.
Sharia courts handle certain cases for Muslim citizens.Some 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims while the rest are mostly ethnic Indian and Chinese, who usually do not adhere to Islam.