Malaysian religious chiefs probe new book on shedding hijab

Religious authorities in Malaysia have launched an investigation into a new book about Muslim women who refuse to wear a hijab. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 April 2019

Malaysian religious chiefs probe new book on shedding hijab

KUALA LUMPUR: Religious authorities in Malaysia have launched an investigation into a new book about Muslim women who refuse to wear a hijab.
The official probe, which has caused outrage among women’s rights groups, was sparked after author Maryam Lee held a launch event last Saturday for her book “Unveiling Choice.”
Human rights activist Lee’s bookstore forum on de-hijabbing, held in Selangor, included a panel session during which three women spoke about their experiences relating to the removal of the headscarf.
Officials from the Malaysian state’s Islamic affairs department later obtained copies of the book, in which Lee tells of her personal journey to shed the hijab, and an inquiry has since been launched.
Malaysian religious affairs minister, Dr. Mujahid Yusof Rawa, said the matter was being taken “seriously” but he expected authorities in Selangor to carry out a “fair” investigation.
The incident has prompted a national public debate on the issue of control over the women’s attire.
Lee told Arab News that she decided to write about de-hijabbing in Malaysia because the topic has been marginalized. “Muslim-majority Malaysia does not believe that there are Muslim women silently suffering from various forms of gender-based violence and coercion. The hijab is one of them,” she said.
The 27-year-old writer said that wearing the headscarf can be a traumatizing experience for many Muslim women. “Society doesn’t believe this is happening, which is why there is a need for women to start speaking the truth,” added Lee.
Sixty percent of the multi-cultural Malaysian population are Muslims. However, the country’s Islamic affairs are governed by a centralized bureaucratic system under the scope of the Malaysian Islamic Department.
Lee said: “Whenever women in this country de-hijab, they get harassed constantly. They are seen as crazy, needing guidance and correction. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.”
Prior to the 1980s, it was a rare sight for Muslim women in Malaysia to don the hijab, although some opted for a loose shawl covering some of the head. However, as more Malaysian students opted to study in the Middle East they were inspired by revolution and today many Muslims in the country see wearing the hijab as an integral part of the religion.
“This is probably the first time that the government has taken action over women telling their stories of de-hijabbing,” said Lee. “We have not broken any laws, and if we had they would have known what to investigate us for.”
Rawa said: “The ministry has communicated with the Selangor State Islamic Department (JAIS), as this matter is beyond our jurisdiction because the forum was held in Selangor.”
Lee said that on Tuesday JAIS had visited the store which had hosted her forum to gain copies of the book and talk to shop representatives.
Opinion on social media was divided.
@ladymissazira said: “Whether you like it or not, there is need for discussion around tudung/hijab as long as there are familial, social and safety consequences toward not wearing it.”
@zhukl said: “I first wore hijab at age eight when I was forced to stand outside the classroom in my new school because I was wearing a pinafore uniform. I cried when I returned home and asked (for my parents) to get me a modest garment and hijab.”
@HilalAsyraf said: “I suggest halting any investigation and restriction, however Dr. Mujahid Rawa should participate in the forum as a panel and debate with them. They should no longer play the ‘victim card’ as if they are oppressed by patriarchy and the government.”


Indian president disregards protests, signs citizenship bill into law

Updated 28 min 48 sec ago

Indian president disregards protests, signs citizenship bill into law

  • The new law lays out a path of Indian citizenship for six minority religious groups from the neighboring countries
  • The law seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three Muslim-majority neighboring countries

NEW DELHI: A divisive citizenship bill has been signed into law in India, a move that comes amid widespread protests in the country’s northeast that could force the cancelation of a visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Two people were killed and 11 injured on Thursday when police opened fire on mobs in Assam state torching buildings and attacking railway stations. Protesters say the law would convert thousands of illegal immigrants into legal residents.
The new law lays out a path of Indian citizenship for six minority religious groups from the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the bill late on Thursday, signing it into law, an official statement said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has planned to host Abe at a meeting in Assam next week as part of a campaign to move high-profile diplomatic events outside Delhi to showcase India’s diversity.
Japan’s Jiji Press reported on Friday that Abe is considering canceling his trip. India’s foreign ministry said it was not in a position to comment on the visit which was originally planned for Dec 15-17.
A movement against immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh has raged in Assam for decades. Protesters say granting Indian nationality to more people will further strain the resources of the tea growing state and lead to the marginalization of indigenous communities.
Japan has stepped up infrastructure development work in Assam in recent years which the two sides were expected to highlight during the summit. Abe had also planned to visit a memorial in the nearby state of Manipur where Japanese soldiers were killed during World War Two.
Critics of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government say the bigger problem with the new law is that it is the first time India is using religion as a criterion for granting citizenship and that it excludes Muslims from its ambit.
The law seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three Muslim-majority neighboring countries before 2015.
The Indian Union Muslim League party has petitioned the Supreme Court saying the law was in conflict with the secular principles of India’s constitution that guaranteed equality to all without any regard to religion. No date has yet been set for the hearings.
The party said the law is “prima facie communal” and questioned the exclusion of minorities such as Rohingya Muslims who were just as persecuted as other faiths listed in the law.