PETALING JAYA: The right to question interpretations of Islam, even by religious scholars, is enshrined in the religion, Sisters in Islam said.
“Every Muslim has a right to an opinion and to be engaged in Islamic discourse,'' programme coordinator Ruzana Udin said yesterday in response to calls, by the Perlis mufti and the Mentri Besar for critics of the move to relax the regulations for polygamy in the state, to desist.
“Freedom of expression is enshrined in Islam,'' Ruzana said, adding that this did not mean changing the teachings of Islam but it rather meant examining progressive applications of the teachings in current situations.
She said it was when Islamic discourse was monopolised by just a few that the religion would become backward.
On Saturday, Women and Family Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil also took Perlis Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim and state mufti Datuk Mat Jahya Husein to task for telling her not to oppose the state's move to allow polygamy to take place in the state without the first wife's consent.
Ruzana said the Prophet Muhammad paid attention to women when they complained during his lifetime, adding that Islam was not a religion which was meant to oppress women.
“But in Malaysia, we enact laws that put Muslim women down,'' she said.
She said even non-Muslims had a right to be involved in Islamic discourse, especially if a religious law was going to affect them.
Citing the hudud, she said: “Even if the law does not apply to the non-Muslims, but will affect them in some way, then they have a right to say 'No'.”
Women's Candidacy Initiative spokesperson Zaitun Kasim said the root cause of the present controversy was the fact that people were not involved in the debate.
“Many Islamic scholars have refuted the right of men to practise polygamy, and yet for some reason, most Malaysians don't know this,'' she said.
She said any decision-making that was made by only a small group of people was antithetical to the spirit of democracy in Islam, noting that Islamic history showed that ordinary people and women were part of the decision-making process during the Prophet's time.
Zaitun said countries like Tunisia had banned polygamy, while others like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco and Lebanon allowed marriage contracts, which empowered women to divorce their husbands if they married another.