JAG Calls for new Muslim Family Law and Public Hearings

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) calls for a new model Muslim Family Law based on the principles of justice and equality to deal with the realities of changing times and circumstances affecting Muslim men, women and the family institution in Malaysia today.

JAG therefore calls on Parliament to establish a Parliamentary Select Committee on Islamic Family Law (IFL) to get feedback from women on their experiences with the law and the shariah court system in their search for legal redress to family problems.

The patchwork attempt at amending the IFL since the 1990s has further discriminated against Muslim women, at a time when the Government is amending civil laws to recognise equal rights between men and women of other faiths. Since the 1980s our sisters of other faith have begun to enjoy equal rights in marriage and divorce, in guardianship of their children and in inheritance through a series of law reform.

But for Muslim women, law reform made divorce and polygamy easier for Muslim men. Men who are already priviledged in getting double the women’s share of inheritance because of their responsibility as the family provider is now enabled to claim a share of their wives’ matrimonial assets at the time of polygamy and divorce.

This continuting discrimination against Muslim women is unacceptable as it discriminates against some 30 percent of the population. The use of religion to justify this discrimination can no longer be tolerated as it denies Muslim women the right to enjoy their Constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination and to enjoy the universality of rights among all citizens that Malaysia has committed itself to in several UN conventions. Above all, it violates the principles of justice and equality upheld in the Qur’an.

Just as the 1976 Law Reform Marriages and Divorce Act governing citizens of other faith, was drafted only after a Parliamentary Select Committee held public hearings throughout the country, so should Muslims be enabled to participate democratically in the process of decision making on a law that governs their personal lives.

In the meantime we urge that the existing 1984 Islamic Family Law remains in force and that this IFL Amendments Bill, 2005, not be gazetted and enforced. A precedent was set in 1994 when the Domestic Violence Act was not gazetted for two years to deal with objections from some of those in authority who believed that Muslim men have a right to beat their wives and that domestic violence was a family matter and therefore should come under the Islamic Family Law, and not under Federal criminal law.

Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG):

Sisters in Islam (SIS)
All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Women’s Centre for Change Penang (WCC)
Women’s Development Collective (WDC)
MTUC – Women’s Section

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