Survey: 1 In 5 Malaysian Muslim Women Believe Husbands Are Allowed To Beat Their Wives

"We need to change this narrative, as Islam does not condone ways in which one is being treated harmfully."

Cover image via Malay Mail & Reuters/Malay Mail

Sisters In Islam (SIS), a Muslim women's rights group in Malaysia, published a report yesterday, 15 October, showing that conservative beliefs are still prevalent among Muslim women in the country

According to The Star, the survey involved 675 women aged between 18 and 55 years nationwide. It was conducted between 2018 and 2019 by research firm Ipsos and funded by the European Union.

The survey was launched during SIS' four-day conference on women's role in fighting extremism at Istana Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

(From left) Head of the European Union delegation to Malaysia Maria Fernandez Castillo, social activist Marina Mahathir, and SIS executive director Rozana Isa at the launch of the survey.

Image via Free Malaysia Today

Among the results of the survey, it was found that 21% of respondents believe that a husband has a right to beat his wife

"Among those who accept this, the concept of nusyuz (disobedience) appears to provide a justification," said the report titled 'Perceptions and Realities: The Public and Personal Rights of Muslims in Malaysia', according to Malay Mail.

The report also revealed that 97% of women agreed that they must obey their husbands and that a woman's obedience defines her as a 'good wife'.

The respondents further believed the husband is permitted to strike their wife if she committed these acts of disobedience:
- leave the house without her husband's consent (88%),
- refuse to move with the husband (54%),
- refuse to have sexual intercourse (52%),
- refuse to open the door for the husband (50%), and
- refuse to answer the husband's calling (46%).

However, as reported by Free Malaysia Today, SIS explained in the report that hitting the wife goes directly against the principles of the Quran, adding that Prophet Muhammad "never hit his wife under any circumstances".

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Reuters/Malay Mail

The survey also found that 70% of Muslim women accept that men have the right to practise polygamy

However, only 32% of these women were willing to allow it in their own marriage.

About 92% of respondents also agree that a woman has the right to seek divorce under any circumstances.

Meanwhile, 90% of respondents felt that wearing a hijab is mandatory for Muslim women

However, as noted by Malay Mail, the respondents' views of can be contradictory. In a different set of questions in the report, 62% of the respondents also felt that it is acceptable for Muslim women not to wear a hijab.

The survey also found there was a pervasive need to project an image of a "proper Muslim woman", in behaviour and dressing, to avoid negative perceptions that others may have.

The need to conform to accepted social standards and expectations is still dominant, with 80% agreeing that they face challenges related to social conformity.

"And 59% experienced moral policing and public shaming," the report noted.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via ABC News

Social activist Marina Mahathir said one of the biggest takeaways from the survey is the disconnect between what Muslim women expect and what happens in real life

"The disconnect is further pronounced because people have come to think that this is the way things should be," said Marina, who is also the eldest daughter to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and a member of SIS.

According to Malay Mail, Marina said the politicisation of religion has made people afraid to challenge it, while those who do are labelled as deviant.

She hopes that policymakers read the survey comprehensively for a deeper understanding of the issues at stake.

Image via Malay Mail

SIS executive director Rozana Isa talked about how the matter of obedience has been impressed onto children, particularly girls, from young

"Even at that age the image of your husband is drilled into you, that you must obey him. At that age, you do not even know what he will look like or if he is a decent person," she said.

"This also extends to the notion that husbands can beat disobedient wives. We need to change this narrative, as Islam does not condone ways in which one is being treated harmfully."

Rozana also echoed Marina's sentiments, saying the organisation is willing to assist any policymakers in making a change.

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