Group criticises narrow view of Islamic law
Group criticises narrow view of Islamic lawBy Lincoln Tan5:30 AM Friday Jul 22, 2011
Ratna Osman. Photo / Greg Bowker
The "conservative, literal and narrow interpretation" of Sharia law by Muslim leaders is the real problem facing Muslims, an Auckland public forum on human rights was told last night.
Ratna Osman, acting executive director of the Malaysian-based group Sisters of Islam, said debate was needed for Islam to be better understood.
"But fear has been instilled ... and we don't talk about things that Muslims are sensitive about," she said.
About 40 people, mainly non-Muslims, attended the "Muslim Women Rights is Human Rights" forum at the Auckland University of Technology.
Ms Osman's group is opposed to the traditional Muslim teaching that men are superior to women, and criticises Sharia (Islamic) law as being "human constructed" and "not divine".
Group founder Zainah Anwar said the law was therefore "fallible, changeable, given a different time and context".
The group also says Islam has no laws making burqa-wearing compulsory.
Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres, who has previously said laws banning Muslims from wearing veils amount to discrimination on grounds of religious belief, would not comment on whether those forcing women to wear burqas were in breach of NZ's human rights laws.
Javed Khan, vice-president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, said he did not share many of the views of Sisters of Islam, which he described as a "splinter group".
He said a public debate on matters such as the burqa would just raise further confusion about Islam and further isolate Muslim women who wore the garment.
Mr Khan reckoned only about 100 women, from a Muslim population in New Zealand estimated at between 45,000 and 55,000, wore a niqab or a burqa.
Women's group keeps 'Islam' in name9:03 PM Friday Oct 29, 2010
KUALA LUMPUR - A prominent Malaysian women's group won the right to keep the word "Islam" in its name Friday after a court ruled against religious activists critical of the group's opinions on women's rights.
The High Court struck out an application by the Malaysian Assembly of Muslim Youths, which demanded that Sisters in Islam change its name because it was allegedly misleading people to believe that the group speaks for all Muslims, said Ratna Osman, program manager of the women's group.
The court sided with Sisters in Islam's argument that the activists had no legal standing to challenge the name.
Sisters in Islam, one of this Muslim-majority country's most well-known nongovernment groups, has often upset conservative Muslims by questioning the enforcement of Malaysian Islamic Shariah laws, including those that allow the caning of women for offenses such as consuming alcohol.
Many Muslim groups say Sisters in Islam misinterprets religious principles, highlighting a divide between Muslims who demand strict enforcement of Islamic morality laws and others who worry about religious intolerance.
The High Court's decision Friday was "a positive step toward ensuring that freedom of expression as guaranteed under the federal Constitution is upheld," Ratna of Sisters in Islam said in a statement.
"If Malaysia truly wants to take the global leadership in promoting moderation in Islam, then the first steps must be taken at home to protect the democratic space for debate and differences of opinion," Ratna said.
Representatives for the Malaysian Assembly of Mosque Youths could not immediately be reached Friday. Its leader claimed in March that Sisters in Islam often contradicted Muslim beliefs and that its name "causes confusion among Muslims who might think that the group represents Islam."
Established in 1988, Sisters in Islam has advocated reforms of Muslim laws that allegedly fail to protect women's rights in matters such as polygamy and child marriages. Its official name is SIS Forum (Malaysia), but it uses "Sisters in Islam" in publications.
Sisters in Islam tried last year to stop the caning of a woman sentenced by an Islamic court for publicly drinking beer. The sentence was commuted to community service after a public outcry. But several other Muslim women have since been caned for having extramarital sex, the first time the punishment has been carried out on Malaysian women.