KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 8 – The new Pakatan Harapan government seem to be finally listening to the woes of Muslim women in the country, going by a report in Sinar Harian.
The Bahasa Malaysia daily quoted Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa as saying that ex-husbands who fail to pay “nafkah” (alimony) to their children and former wives may have their bank accounts frozen.
Mujahid, who is the minister in charge of religious affairs, added that ministry officials had held discussions with the State Syariah Judiciary Department (JKSN).
The crux of the discussions were on how to empower enforcement against Muslim men who fail to comply with court orders, including on the possibility of freezing their bank accounts.
According to Sinar Harian, the minister told this to reporters after a town hall session in Petaling Jaya yesterday.
Muslim women not getting due justice
Mujahid agreed that many divorced Muslim women were not given due justice in terms of alimony, even after getting a favourable ruling by the Syariah court against their ex-husbands.
“Once a decision has been made by the court, the amount must be paid,” he was quoted as saying, adding that the issue had been discussed at several levels.
He was hopeful the enforcement would now be stepped up to include the freezing of bank accounts of the delinquent Muslim men.
“The authorities need more power to act against husbands who do not pay alimony to their former wives. Currently, many divorced Muslim women have no place to forward their complaints to, and there are flaws from an enforcement point of view,” Mujahid told Sinar Harian.
He added that many Muslim men feel they are not obliged to fulfil their responsibility to pay alimony to their ex-wives and to help support their children from a previous marriage.
Long time problem affecting Muslim divorcees
The plight of divorced Muslim women is one that has been addressed over the past two decades by organisations such as Sisters In Islam (SiS), and activist Marina Mahathir.
It was previously reported that Malaysia’s 1984 Islamic Family Law was once regarded as among the most progressive in the Muslim world.
However, amendments made between 1994 and 2003 had the effect of diminishing the recognition of Muslim women’s rights.
Historically, one of the most remarkable ways in which the syariah was far ahead of western legislation by many centuries was its recognition and protection of a wife’s rights over her own property.
However, with all the amendments to Malaysia’s Islamic Family Law, more rights have been given to men. Also, the use of gender-neutral language had extended to men the rights that were traditionally the rights of women.
One example is in the case of matrimonial property (“harta sepencarian”).
The gender-neutral language has the effect of giving a man the right to freeze his wife’s assets and claim his share after contracting a polygamous marriage.