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Islamic amendment passes in Malaysian parliament

http://www.chinapost.com.tw/asiapacific/detail.asp?ID=74143&GRP=C

The China Post, 2005/12/24

Malaysia's upper house of parliament passed contentious amendments to a Muslim family law despite protests by female senators that the changes will make it easier for men to practice polygamy and divorce their wives. Senators debated the amendments to the Islamic Family Law in the Dewan Negara for hours before passing them a little before midnight Thursday.

Currently, Malaysia's 13 states enforce slightly differing versions of the Islamic Family Law, which governs the rights of Muslims in matrimonial issues. The government says the amendments will standardize the law across this mostly Muslim nation.

Dayang Mahani Ahmad Raffae, one of 16 women senators who banded together to protest the changes, said that in approving the amendments she had voted "against her conscience," and apologized to Malaysia's Muslim women.

On Wednesday, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz warned the senators, most of whom are from Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's ruling party, that they could face disciplinary action if they voted against the bill.

Among the contentious provisions, Muslim men who wish to marry more than one wife will only need to prove that their decision is "just or necessary." Previously, they had to prove that it was "just and necessary." Islam allows men to marry up to four wives.

The changes would also give men additional rights to obtain a divorce and to assert claims over their wives' properties.

The Islamic Family Law only affects Muslims, who are mostly ethnic Malays and comprise about 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people. The country also has large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities who are mainly Buddhists, Christians and Hindus.

Sharizat Abdul Jalil, Abdullah's cabinet member and minister for women and family affairs, said the government will change any unfair provisions after the bill is passed, but stressed that the incongruity of laws in different states needed to be fixed first.

All states will adopt the newly amended law, which comes into force as soon as Malaysia's king signs it. The constitutional monarch's approval is considered a formality.

"It is necessary for us to take one step backwards so we can move ten steps ahead," Sharizat was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times newspaper Friday. She added that once the law is standardized, "we will go all out to make amendments and revamp the system."