Standardisation and improvements are important in ensuring justice and equality in Muslim families, says Sisters in Islam.
Instead of standardising Sharia criminal laws in the country, Islamic Affairs Minister Mujahid Rawa and the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs Malaysia (MKI) should have prioritised ensuring the uniformity of Islamic family laws and the increase in minimum age of marriage between all states in Malaysia.
The announcement made by the council on 15 June proves that political will and strong leadership are all it takes for the process of standardisation to take place.
When Malaysia first introduced Islamic family laws in 1984, it was lauded as being one of the most progressive in the world.
Nevertheless, several rounds of amendments were made since then which not only regressed its ability to protect the interests of women, but also fractured its capability to uphold justice and equality for women.
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The current state of Islamic family laws in Malaysia is in shambles as it dangerously and unfairly exposes women to being victims of the system.
For example, laws amended in 1994 have allowed illegal marriages without the court’s permission to be registered upon payment of a small fee. This has resulted in new marriages being secretly solemnised in Thailand.
The current provisions for polygamous marriages continue to cause devastating structural, emotional and economic consequences borne by all family members, including and especially onto children.
Another area that MKI must prioritise and forward for standardisation is the minimum age of marriage for children.
Despite a directive from Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad last year, only a handful of states have committed towards ending child marriages with many other states refusing.
A plan for standardisation which is led directly by Mujahid’s office as suggested by MKI will not only pave the way to push this important agenda forward, but also do so in a way which is consultative and therefore binding to all states.
The priority of MKI should be the standardisation of Islamic family laws and child marriages for all states in Malaysia. Standardisation and improvements in these areas are important in ensuring justice and equality in Muslim families, which directly contributes to the social and economic strength of our country.