11/06/2004, 00.00
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Sisters in Islam, Muslim women against religious extremism

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – In the November issue of Mondo e missione, the monthly magazine of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission (PIME), Paolo Nicelli presents the story of the "Sisters in Islam" (SIS), a group of women promoting a moderate and progressive view of Islam.

Led by Zaniah Anwar, Sisters in Islam was founded in 1988 and has brought together ever since Malaysian women interested in studying the Qu'ran, all of them motivated by a desire to fight the discrimination and oppression women experience in the name of Islam.

"We grew up with the idea that Islam was the right religion," Ms Z. Anwar explains. "But as adults we faced the fact that Islam was not just." However, instead of rejecting the religion altogether, Z. Anwar and her fellow activists chose to study the Holy Scriptures and Islamic tradition to find out what they actually said about the relationship between men and women.

Sisters in Islam emerged at a time when Malaysians were debating a bill on domestic violence. The group found itself at the opposite end of the debating against Pusat Islam (a conservative Muslim group) which supported the right of men to beat their wives. As part of the campaign against domestic violence, Sisters in Islam published a book titled Does Islam allow a husband to physically beat or mentally harass his wife?

Next, the group turned to polygamy and marriage law. It found that whilst the Qu'ran gave men the right to take more than one wife, it also impose precise conditions for this. In Surah An Nisa (chapter 'The Women'), ayat (verse) 4:3, it is written: "if you fear you cannot deal justly (with your wives), marry only one (wife)".

According to Ms Z. Anwar, "the issue of polygamy is not only about religion but about how the Qu'ran is interpreted". "How is it that in five years of religious school, this verse was never brought to our attention", she asks. "How is it possible that I thought that men had the right to marry four women when in fact God said that men could take only one wife if they feared they could not deal justly with the other?"

As for the ongoing debate about Malaysia' status as an Islamic state, Zaniah Anwar is clear: "We are not an Islamic state and I do not think that we should ideologically be one. We should rather be a country based on the principles of justice."

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