‘Sisters in Islam’ will not go quietly, says leader, writes Asia Sentinel.
Saying government “Rottweilers” are out to destroy her organization, one of the leaders of a progressive Islamic women’s group in Malaysia is vowing to challenge an edict seeking to put Sisters in Islam out of business.
“Women are earning more than men, topping the universities, they are financially independent, they are not going to take any shit over this,” said Zainah Anwar. “Refusing to recognize and acknowledge that change is galloping before their eyes, that doesn‘t work anymore.”
Sisters in Islam has been in the business of helping Muslim women find out about their rights for more than two decades, including telling them their husbands only need one wife and that they have a right to property. Sometime earlier this year, that got to be too much for Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) and the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS). The department issued a fatwa, or religious ruling accusing the organization of “liberalism and pluralism” – in effect ordering SIS, as the group is known, out of business.
The fatwa calls for publications by SIS that are deemed “liberal and plural” to be banned and seized and the religious authorities have demanded that any form of social media printing or broadcasting Sisters in Islam materials to be blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.
But Sisters in Islam, led by Zainah and Marina Mahathir, the daughter of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and others, is refusing to go, saying they were never asked to explain their activities before the ruling was issued and that they only found out about it by reading the department’s website.
It’s easy to see why SIS, as the organization is known, is getting up conservative religious leaders’ noses. Religious themselves, they have put themselves at the interstice between religious conservatism and a society that is urbanizing and liberalizing and whose political underpinnings are fading. The United Malays National Organization, which has claimed to represent the interests of the country’s 60 percent Malay Muslim population for more than half a century, is losing its grip because of corruption and cronyism.
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