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Survey: Malaysian Women Agree Muslim Men Can Practice Polygamy

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
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A Malaysian woman takes a photograph at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur following prayers during the first day of Eid al-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan, June 5, 2019.
A Malaysian woman takes a photograph at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur following prayers during the first day of Eid al-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan, June 5, 2019.

Almost three out of four Muslim women in Malaysia believe that Muslim men have the right to more than one wife, a non-governmental organization found in a recent survey released in Kuala Lumpur.

The nonprofit group Sisters in Islam, in its nationwide survey of 675 women, also learned that more than 21 percent of Muslim women believe that a husband has the right to beat his wife under several circumstances, including refusal to have sexual intercourse.

“An overwhelming 70 percent of the respondents accept that a husband has the right to practice polygamy if he can treat all the wives fairly,” the group said. “However, only 32 percent among them would allow their husbands to take another wife.”

Muslim women’s uncompromising duty to obey their husbands “has led many situations where wives have not taken into consideration harm or injustices that may be committed unto them,” the group said in a report that also carried the survey.

“Women have said they are reluctant to report domestic violence, including marital rape, because this would be a betrayal of the husband, and the family may regard the wife as having been disobedient with the husband,” Sisters in Islam said.

Women’s Aid Organization, a Malaysian NGO that provides free shelter and counseling for abused women, said it had recorded 5,513 cases of domestic violence in the country last year, compared to 3,468 cases in 2000.

But Sisters in Islam said new laws, including the country’s Domestic Violence Act passed in 1995, have led 94 percent of the survey respondents to believe they could report mental or physical abuse against them.

“However, the figure drops significantly to 69 percent where there is sexual violence or where the husband forces sexual relations without the consent of the wife,” the group said.

“Worryingly, 21 percent of respondents believe that a husband has a right to beat his wife,” it said.

The Malaysian penal code against domestic violence provides stiff penalties, including up to 20 years in prison and whipping for rape convictions.

“Muslim women have been so thoroughly indoctrinated to obey that it takes a mufti to issue a declaration that women who have been assaulted or violated by their husbands are allowed to leave their homes,” the group posted on Twitter after releasing the report.

Sisters in Islam commissioned Ipsos, a Paris-based global research and consulting firm, to conduct the yearlong survey that began in 2018. The participants were between the ages of 18 and 55.

In its report titled “Perceptions and Realities: The Public and Personal Rights of Muslim Women in Malaysia,” Sisters in Islam underscored that domestic violence “goes directly against the principles of the Quran and is in complete contradiction to the practice of Prophet Muhammad who never hit his wife under any circumstances.”

The survey respondents agreed that leaving the house without the husband’s consent or refusal to open the door would be among the instances that would justify being beaten, Sisters in Islam said.

“They believe that these are acts of disobedience by the wife, and therefore the husband is permitted to strike her,” the group said.

Marina Mahathir, a member of Sisters in Islam and daughter of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, told the South China Morning Post that policymakers should read the survey.

“There is a disconnect between what Muslim women expect and what actually happens in real life to them,” she said. “The disconnect is further pronounced because people have come to think that this is the way things should be.”

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