Malaysia’s Islamic family laws have gone from best to worst, says activist

Of note:

Malaysia’s Islamic family laws suffered two rounds of regression in the 1990s and early 2000s following amendments to the law, according to a rights activist.

Zainah Anwar, executive director of international rights group Musawah, said the law reforms took away many progressive reforms made previously, adding that Malaysia’s Islamic family laws went from one of the best in the Muslim world to one of the worst.

“In 1984, the Islamic family law was amended and new laws were provided, which was amazing. It gave us so many rights and expanded the rights for women to get divorced,” she said with divorce and polygamy decided by the courts.

“With the 1994 amendments, you can divorce outside the court. Without going to court, you can just pronounce talak.

“Your wife doesn’t even know she’s being divorced because the husband has disappeared. She gets a letter from the religious authorities sometime later to say that she has been divorced.”

Another regression, she said, saw the responsibility of children born out of wedlock being wholly given to the mothers, which meant they could not make any claims for maintenance or inheritance from the father.

In 2003, another round of reforms meant that husbands in polygamous marriages could make a claim for a share of their wife’s matrimonial assets despite taking a second wife.

“We’re not even asking to ban polygamy. We just want them to ensure that the rights of the first wife and existing children are protected, especially their financial wellbeing.

“What is galling is the fact that for non-Muslim women, law reforms have moved forward to recognise equality. But for Muslim women, in the name of Islam, you can be discriminated against.”

Zainah, who led the rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) previously, blamed these regressions on the rise of “political Islam”, adding that these issues remain due to the current patriarchal state of society.

She said groups such as SIS and Musawah would not have to exist if Islam was practised the way it should be.

“I go to Geneva for the women’s convention sessions and it’s shameful and disgraceful that Muslim governments stand before the Cedaw (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) committee and say they cannot reform the laws to recognise equality because it will be against Islam.

“So you’re standing there telling the whole world that Islam is an unjust religion, that Islam is a religion that discriminates against women and shamelessly say that.”

However, she signalled that the “reality on the ground” was beginning to shift.

Source: Malaysia’s Islamic family laws have gone from best to worst, says activist

Muslim Women Are Fighting To Redefine Islam as a Religion of Equality | TIME

More on some of those pushing for reform within Islam and a more modern and egalitarian interpretation of the texts:

[Zainah] Anwar [director of the global Muslim women’s organization Musawah—Arabic for ‘equality’] was addressing a packed auditorium at the University of London’s School of Oriental and Asiatic Studies for the release of a powerful new weapon for Islamic gender warriors: a book examining how a single verse in the Quran became the basis for laws across the Islamic world asserting Muslim men’s authority—and even superiority—over women. In Men in Charge?, scholars tackle what Musawah has dubbed “the DNA of patriarchy” in Islamic law and custom: the thirty-fourth verse in the fourth chapter of the Quran, among the most hotly debated in the Islamic scripture. The English translations of the verse vary, but one popular one conveys the mainstream takeaway: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend their property [for the support of women.]”

For centuries, male jurists have cited 4:34 as the reason men have control over their wives and the female members of their family. When a wife doesn’t want to have sex, but feels she should submit to her husband, this sense of duty derives from the concept of qiwamah—male authority—derived from Verse 4:34. When a Nigerian wife reluctantly has to agree to her husband taking a second or third wife, this is qiwamah in action, notes the book. The concept of qiwamah “is one of the most flagrant misconceptions to have shaped the Muslim mind over the centuries,” Moroccan Islamic scholar Asma Lamrabet writes. “It assumes that the Quran has definitively decreed the absolute authority of the husband over his wife, and for some, the authority of men over all women.”

While the overall message of the Quran is unchanging, say Muslim reformers, new generations must find their own readings of the sacred texts. As it stands, Islamic fiqh, or jurisprudence, was largely forged during the medieval period, when women’s roles and the concept of marriage and male authority were very different. Why, they ask, should the way that 10th-century Baghdadi men read the Quran dictate the rights of a 21st-century woman? To the reactionaries who charge that these reformers are deviating from Islam, Islamic feminists point out that there is a difference between Islamic jurisprudence—a man-made legal scaffolding developed for the specific conditions of medieval Muslim life—and the divine law itself, which is eternal, unchanging and calls for justice. It’s not the Quran they question, but how particular interpretations of it have hardened into truth. “The problem has never been with the text, but with the context,” legal anthropologist Ziba Mir-Hosseini told the Musawah seminar.

Muslim Women Are Fighting To Redefine Islam as a Religion of Equality | TIME.