70% of M'sian Muslim women okay with men practising polygamy but not their own husbands

21 per cent also felt that it was fine for men to beat their wives if they were disobedient.

Matthias Ang | October 16, 2019, 06:06 PM

Some 70 per cent of Muslim women in Malaysia are agreeable with men practising polygamy.

However, only 32 per cent are agreeable to polygamy within their own marriage.

These were the results found in a survey conducted by Malaysian civil society organisation Sisters in Islam (SIS), The Star reported.

Titled "Perception and Realities: The Public and Personal Rights of Muslim Women in Malaysia", the survey was funded by the European Union (EU), and published on Oct. 15.

It was conducted among 675 women nation-wide, aged 18 to 55.

21 per cent believe that a husband can beat his wife if she is disobedient

The survey further found that 21 per cent of the respondents also agreed that a man could beat his wife on the grounds of nusyuz (disobedience).

Grounds for beating that counted as disobedience, included:

  • Leaving the house without the consent of one's husband,
  • Refusing to have sex with him,
  • Refusing to move with him,
  • Refusing to open the door for him,
  • Refusing to answer his calling.

The survey revealed that 97 per cent of respondents felt that a woman should be obedient to her husband, Free Malaysia Today (FMT) further reported.

The survey added that this was because of the perception that it is a woman's obedience that defines her as a "good wife".

However, 92 per cent of the respondents also agreed that a woman can divorce her husband under any circumstances.

Additionally, 57 per cent of respondents also saw the need to obey one's husband as a challenge, especially if they were a mother, Malaysiakini reported.

Contradictory attitudes over wearing of hijab

With regard to the wearing of the hijab, The Malay Mail noted that the survey found contradictory results on the matter.

These were:

  • 90 per cent of respondents agreeing that it was mandatory for Muslim women to wear one,
  • 62 per cent also believing that it was acceptable for a Muslim woman not to wear one, and
  • 83 per cent feeling they had the right to choose whether or not to wear one.

However, the survey also found that a majority of the respondents said that they faced pressure to socially conform.

On this matter, 80 per cent agreed that they faced challenges over social conformity, while 59 per cent stated that they had experienced moral policing and public shaming.

Mahathir's daughter: Survey shows disconnect between expectations and lived reality

In the wake of the survey's publication, the daughter of Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Marina Mahathir, stated that it showed a disconnect between the expectations of Malaysian Muslim women and the reality that they lived in.

The social activist, who is also a member of SIS, explained, as per The Star:

"The survey showed the disconnect between what Muslim women expected and what is happening to them in real life as well as their inability to challenge the reality of life to align it with their expectations."

This made it difficult for Malaysian Muslim women to challenge authority, given that obedience to any authority, whether husband or government, was considered the norm.

Marina then added that the key to addressing this issue was to show that religion supports a woman's happiness.

She further elaborated:

"What we have to do is unpack that and show that religion does support a woman’s personal happiness. In fact, Islam came at the time when women were extremely oppressed and it lifted that oppression. We seem to have forgotten that."

Interpretation of religion has shifted to the right

Marina also noted that the interpretation of religion by the community has shifted to the right, FMT reported.

She highlighted that things that used to be considered extreme had now become the norm in Malaysian society, such as wearing the hijab, donning the niqab and polygamous marriages.

She further alleged that polygamous marriages had since become a status symbol for men in Malaysia and called out the politicisation of religion.

Marina said:

"When religion is politicised, people are afraid to challenge it and therefore anything that does not get challenged becomes normalised."

Top photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images