UN Women’s Exposure Visit - Gender Responsive Law Reform Process in the Context of Islam

Date : 10 - 15 January 2016
Venue    : IAIS Malaysia

Event Report

The International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia was delighted to be host to the UN Women Afghanistan’s Exposure Visit to Malaysia which took place in January 2016 from 10th January to 15th January. The theme of the visit was ‘Gender Responsive Law Reform Process in the Context of Islam’.  The purpose of the visit and workshop was for participants to gain exposure to international opinion on women’s issues, progress and challenges with special reference to Malaysia.

un women[click for more pictures]


10th January 2016

In the morning, Assoc. Prof. Dr Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil, the Deputy CEO of IAIS Malaysia, and the staff of IAIS Malaysia welcomed 22 delegates from the UN Women Afghanistan from Kabul at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

His Excellency Atiqullah Atifmal, the Ambassador and Special Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the staff of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Kuala Lumpur were also present to greet the delegation. The delegates had their launch at Marrakesh Restaurant, Kg. Baru, Kuala Lumpur. In the afternoon, they checked in at the Hotel Crystal Crown Petaling Jaya, where they stayed for the entire duration of their visit.

11th January 2016

On the second day, the delegates were taken to Putrajaya, the administrative capital of Malaysia, where they gained a general impression and were later taken on a boat trip to the Scenic Cruise on Lake Putrajaya.
In the afternoon of the 11th, the delegation visited the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, where they received warm welcome from YB Datuk Mas Ermieyati and the staff of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture of Malaysia. YB Datuk Mas Ermieyati who is the Deputy Minister of Tourism and Culture of Malaysia is also the Head of the Women’s Youth (Puteri) of the largest political party of Malaysia, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party which leads the Malaysian ruling political coalition. She is also the Member of Parliament for Masjid Tanah constituency.

At a meeting with the delegation, the Deputy Minister spoke about the role of Woman’s Youth of UMNO and the support given to the women by the Malaysian government. She also highlighted the contribution of the young women to the society and the importance of their presence in the government.  At the end of the meeting, she answered several questions posed by the UN women delegates from Afghanistan.

On the same day, the delegates visited Pertubuhan IKRAM Malaysia. It is a Non-Governmental Organisation dedicated for da’wah, philanthropy, tarbiyyah and women empowerment.

At IKRAM Malaysia, the delegates were welcomed by Datin Paduka Hajjah Che Asmah Ibrahim who is the Head of Women’s Wing of IKRAM. She explained about the structure and role of IKRAM in women’s issues. She also elaborated on their role in the reformation of laws pertaining to the women.

Although IKRAM is a non-governmental organization, it has significant a role for women empowerment in Malaysia. IKRAM has never failed to express their stands on issues pertaining the rights of women. They have also proposed alternatives reform proposal to address those issues in many occasions.

12th January 2016

The delegates were taken to the state of Malacca for an educational visit. This was on the recommendation of the Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism.  Malacca is known as the Historical State of Malaysia. The capital city of Malacca, Malacca City, has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 7 July 2008. The state has numerous heritage buildings, ancient architectures and colonial landmarks. The delegates took theopportunity to visit some of the historical sites of Malacca. Among the places they visited were the A Famosa, Stadthuys, Malacca Sultanate Palace, Dutch Square, Marititme Museum and Malacca Strait Mosque.

13th January 2016

Workshop at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
The day started with the welcoming remarks by Professor Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali (Founding CEO of IAIS Malaysia), Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil (Deputy CEO of IAIS Malaysia) and His Excellency Atiqullah Atifmal, the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Malaysia. The event was followed by four workshops. The brief summary of these workshops is provided below:

Workshop 1: Gender Equality from the Shari’ah Perspective

Professor Kamali began his talk with the quotation of Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi where he said: “It is an obligation of the ummah to protect women from the excesses of the Muslim juristic legacy of the past and those of the modern West, both of which strip women of their essential humanity.” He further quoted a number of Quranic verses pertaining to the gender equality and the protection of women rights. He also referred to the saying of the prophet (s.a.w): “O people, your Lord is one and your ancestor is one. There is no superirioty of an Arab over a non-Arab nor of a red over the black and except through righteousness (taqwa). He said that this quotation is the origin of the equality between people in Islam and the basis according to which our deeds will be determined is Taqwa (piety).
In addition, he criticized some Muslim scholars due to the fact that they pull the people towards different directions. Thus, quoting the verse of Quran: “give good tidings to my servants who listen to the word and follow the best of it”, he said that the challenge that we have ahead of us is the right and balanced understanding of Islam and the Shariah.
He ended up his hour-long presentation by discussing the meaning of the word “qawamun” (Al-Nisa: 34). He argued that the verse is explanatory in itself and does not require our explanation. Thus, qawwam is a person who provides maintenance to his family. It is a person who takes care of the family matters. Qawwam does not mean lord, master, sovereign and such other exaggerated interpretations many have given to it.  Prof. Kamali’s presentation was followed by a Q & A session.

Workshop 2: Islam, Women and the Legal System in Malaysia

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil started this workshop by giving a brief summary of the position of Islam before and after the British colonisation of Malaya. He said that Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia was inserted in the Federal Constitution to declare that Islam is the religion of the Federation. It was re-emphasised in Article 11(1) but it is subject to clause (4) of the same article that says freedom of religion is not absolute. It is also important to note that there can be no propagation of non-Muslim religions among Muslims. The interpretation of Article 3 (1) on the position of Islam is crucial because Islam is placed above other religions in the Federation.

He also talked about the dual legal system of Malaysia. He said that civil laws cover most of the jurisdictions except for personal laws of a person professing the religion of Islam. The application of Islamic laws in Malaysia are confined to Muslims and solely on matters relating to personal laws and restricted criminal laws but not include the hudud laws.

In addition, he talked about the scope of Islamic law and Jurisdiction of the Shari’ah courts in Malaysia. He said that the word “law” in article 160 (2) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia does not include Islamic law. It only includes any written law, the common law, and the common law also in so far as it is in operation in the Federation or any part thereof, and any custom or usage having the force of law in the Federation or any part thereof. Similarly, he said that there is no provision on the jurisdiction and powers of Shari’ah Court except in Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution. According to this article Jurisdiction of Islamic law in the Ninth Schedule, List II of the State List, covers only persons professing the religion of Islam. The Jurisdiction of Shari’ah Criminal law is provided for in the Shari’ah Courts Act 1965 (Criminal Jurisdiction) (Amend) 1984. It is no more than three years imprisonment, RM5,000 fine & six lashes of the whip.

After the discussion on the position of Islam, he moved on the discussion towards the position of women from the legal perspective. He said that the principles of fundamental rights and welfare of women are one of the main agenda prescribed in the Technical Committee of Shari’ah and Civil Law. In drafting Islamic Family Law it is of utmost importance that it is based on, among other things on fairness “without sacrificing Islamic morality and not blatantly oppressive towards women”.

He referred to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 1979. Although Malaysia ratified to CEDAW but it has much reservations against some clauses of Article 16 of the aforementioned convention due to the conflict that it might have with the Malaysian laws.

Workshop 3: Gender Equality from the International Convention Perspective

Prof. Dr. Raihanah Abdullah from the Academy of Islamic Studies of University of Malaya discussed about the gender equality from the international convention perspective. She commenced the workshop by saying that despite Islam’s clear statements on the rights of women, majority of the Muslim women from different societies are suffering under restrictive and oppressive practices and standards. However, international organizations have attempted to overcome these problems, such as the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 1979, and the OIC’s Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women (OPAAW).  She said it is one of the objectives of OPAAW to Eradicate poverty, the achievement of sustainable development and provisions of adequate resources, as essential components of achieving gender equality and empowerment of women at all levels and sectors.
She then elaborated on the Islamic Family Laws of Malaysia. She said that there were three phases to these laws in Malaysia, namely; legal reforms, implementation and gender equality.
She also talked about the involvement and contribution of the women in the Malaysian judiciary and law making process.  For example, there are female academicswith knowledge of Islamic Law, who have been appointed to review laws. The involvement of these women is an achievement for Muslim women in Malaysia. These women sit on law committees and discuss matters concerning Islamic Law in Malaysia whereas previously this area was predominantly male territory.

She highlighted positive developments that have taken place in the interest of justice specifically in the protection of Muslim women in Malaysia  regardless of limitations in the jurisdiction of the Shari’ah law and the administration of justice in the Shari’ah courts.

She concluded by proposing that it is clear that the Islamic Family Law in Malaysia has provided greater protection and matrimonial relief for women in many aspects although to a certain extent the implementation of the laws sometimes creates problems to Muslim women when seeking redress at the Shari’ah courts. This means that the Government must ensure that Muslim women receive meaningful assistance not only from the statutory provisions but also through the courts of law.     

14th January 2016

Workshop 4: Visit to the Selangor Shari’ah Judiciary Department (JAKESS)

The delegates visited the Selangor Shari’ah Judiciary Department (JAKESS) in the morning. They were welcomed by YAA Dato’ Dr. Mohd Naim Mokhtar. The visit began with the 4th Workshop. YAA Dato’ Dr. Mohd Naim presented on the hierarchy of the Shari’ah courts in Malaysia. He also talked about the participation of women in the selangor Shari’ah judiciary. He said that currently there is no female Shari’ah court judge in JAKESS. The delegates were also given a special tour of the Shari’ah courts at JAKESS.

The delegates and IAIS Malaysia were happy to have two distinguished figures to join the discussion, namely; Y.B. Dato' Dr. Ahmad Yunus Bin Hairi, the State Assemblyman of Sijangkang Constituency and Selangor’s Executive Councillor of Islamic Affairs, Malay Customs & Heritage, Rural Development and Traditional Village, and Y.B. Puan Zuraida Binti Kamarudin, Member of Parliament for the Ampang Constituency.  The first two are equivalent to ministers in the State of Selangor.  A number of questions were addressed to both of them by the delegates about the position and roles of women in the mainstream society and the involvement of women in policy making.

Workshop 5: Gender Issues in Muslim Countries

Dr. Elmira Akhmetova, Assistant Professor at the International Islamic Unviersity Malaysia talked about the various gender related issues in the Muslim countries around the world.
She mentioned that issues related to gender equality are mainly found in the conflict-ridden regions around the world. They are given low access to education and healthcare. They are abused by the different members of the society and they have not been given the security that they need for their survival and playing of positive roles in their communities.

She proposed certain methods through which the status of the women in the society could be significantly improved. General and public awareness about the rights of women in the Quran and Hadith is fundamental to the improvement of the status of women. People need to be aware of the fact that empowerment of women is not against Islam and Shari’ah. In fact, Shari’ah encourages empowering and protecting women.  
She also suggested that the rights of the citizens and good governance issues should be addressed properly. Unless Muslim states establish good governance, there will be no improvement in the status of women. In fact, status of women according to her is an indicator of good governance. She said that this cannot be achieved without the government backing and the support of religious leaders and scholars.

After this workshop, Professor Mohammad Hashim Kamali answered several questions pertaining to the proposals of laws on the elimination of violence against women in Afghanistan.  A list of ten questions was handed over to him by the delegates and Prof. Kamali answered them in the course of one and a half hours or so. One of the questions posed to him was the issue of the permissible punitive sentence for polygamy, which he made a note that this should be seen in light of both the Shari’ah and social conditions of Afghanistan.  The punishment clauses of EVAW (Elimination of Violence Against Women) Law 2009 should preferably be attached to the conditions of polygamy.  Anyone who violates those conditions should be liable to the punishment, and not the polygamy as such.
At the end, Professor Kamali gave his concluding remarks. He thanked all members of the delegation for their participation and cooperation during the visit. He also expressed his gratitude to UN Women Afghanistan for initiating the programme. Each delegate received the certificate for participation personally from Professor Kamali. Both respective organisations exchanged their momentos as a symbol of appreciation.  Prof. Kamali then presented a total of his eight books that he himself authored to a representative of the Ministry of Women Affairs of Afghanistan (Advisor, Mr Haqshinas) as they had expressed interest to translate those works in Dari and Pashto.  Prof. Kamali also presented a set of his books to Ms. Masihah Faez of the UN Women Afghanistan.
Before leaving Malaysia, the delegates had a special farewell ceremony hosted by His Excellency Atiqullah Atifmal at Hadramawt Restaurant, Jalan Ampang. In the evening, the UN Women delegates departed from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport toward the Dubai International Airport.

15th January 2016

The remaining delegate flew back to Kabul from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The programme was thought to be a great success and had a positive feedback from everyone, notwithstanding the initial hurdles that were caused by the immigration procedures here.

IAIS Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur [29 February 2016]



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