Malaysia: More than 1 out of 5 Muslim women believe husbands have the right to beat them, survey finds

Representational image, courtesy: Reuters

21% of Muslim women in Malaysia believe that a husband can beat his wife if the wife disobeys him, a survey by rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) on Muslim women’s realities in Malaysia has stated. The Islamic concept of “nusyuz” or refusing to obey a husband’s wishes or commands is cited as the basis for this opinion.

The survey states, “Worryingly, 21% of respondents believe that a husband has a right to beat his wife. Among those who accept this, the concept of nusyuz appears to provide a justification. 88% of respondents agreed that it would be nusyuz if a wife were to leave the house without her husband’s consent, refuse to move in with the husband (54%), refuse to have sexual intercourse (52%), refuse to open the door for the husband (50%) or refuse to answer the husband’s calling (46%). Under these circumstances, they believe a husband may beat his wife. They believe that these are acts of disobedience by the wife, and therefore the husband is permitted to strike her.”

In addition to that, 93% of the surveyed Muslim women believed that a woman must always obey her husband, 76% believed that the right to divorce must always be in the hands of the husband and 20% believed that a working mother is usually not a good mother to her children. Furthermore, 31% of the women did not believe they had the right to report if their husbands forced them to have sex without their consent. 32% of them did not believe they had the right to decide when to have sexual relations within their marriages.

The opinions of the women on polygamy were interesting. 70% of the surveyed women agree that Muslim men could practice polygamy so long as they treated all their wives fairly but only 32% of them would permit their husbands to take another wife. At the same time, 66% of respondents agreed that it is fine for a wife to demand a divorce if her husband decides to marry another wife and 74% of respondents agreed that a wife has a right to object should her husband wish to take another wife.

The SIS survey also revealed the bigotry that prevails within Malaysian society against non-Muslims. 54% of the Muslim women surveyed believe it is not acceptable for a Muslim to attend a Hindu wedding at a temple. 58% believe it is not acceptable for a Muslim to attend a Christian funeral at a church. 61% believe it is unacceptable for a Muslim to accompany a non-Muslim friend to eat in a non-Halal resteaurant. 87% believe it is not acceptable for a Muslim to consume alcohol among his non-Muslim friends.

Furthermore, 31% believe it is not acceptable for a person to marry someone from a different religion. 35% of those surveyed believe it is unacceptable for a non-Muslim to attend an Ijab Qabul ceremony at a Mosque.

The survey came to the conclusion that “Gender inequality is more prominent at an individual level; there exists strong pressure to conform to expectations. Independence is lacking in the roles of Muslim women as daughters, wives and mothers. As a wife, a Muslim woman encounters far greater levels of discrimination than in other roles”.

The report further concluded that “Many women feel that Islamic teachings can be used to favour men as the more ‘dominant’ gender and this is a pressure point for women to portray a correct self-image as a Muslim woman. This can be seen at home and at work”.

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