A Muslim Woman's Answer on Domestic Violence
Response to a Malaysian deputy minister’s suggestion that women be disciplined with violence
By: Dr. Kamsiah Haider
Kamsiah Haider is one of Kuala Lumpur’s most prominent dental surgeons and a follower of modern Islam. She practices multi-disciplinary dentistry in private practice in Kuala Lumpur after having started her career as a University lecturer before embarking on private practice. She also runs mentorship programs for young dentists eager to acquire critical skills and expertise in dental implantology. She wrote this for Asia Sentinel in reaction to a video released by Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, the deputy minister for Women, Family, and Community Development on February 11 on advice for married couples “to help each other become better people” that included corporal punishment.
I am a victim of domestic violence in a previous marriage. I walked out of that marriage, which I was able to do because of my education, which fortunately made leaving an option that is not available to far too many women in Malaysia.
Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, the deputy minister for Women, Family, and Community Development, a member of the rural Islamist Parti Islam se-Malaysia, in her video suggests women “speak to the husbands when they are calm, are full and have finished eating, have prayed, and are relaxed” and to ask permission to speak. If wives disobey their husbands, she recommends that husbands “use a physical touch that is gentle, that educates and is full of love, but does not cause hurt, but shows how stern we are in wanting to change their behavior,” she said.
The advice by Deputy Minister Siti to husbands to use a “gentle” physical touch if their wives are stubborn strikes a sensitive note for me. There is no such thing as “hitting a wife gently.” It is difficult to gauge a man’s "prowess" in his moment of anger. Yes! I was married to a man who couldn’t manage his anger.
I am hardly alone. A study conducted by Universiti Sains Malaysia's Women's Development Research Center (Kanita) in 2014 found that 9 percent of ever-partnered women in Peninsular Malaysia have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. There were 6.396 million domestic households in Malaysia in 2021. Extending that across the country and assuming the rate of domestic violence remains the same, as many as 287,000 women could have experienced violence of some sort. In 2018, the last year the research center supplied figures to Wiki, 5,513 cases were reported to police, which is assumed to be a minuscule figure because most women, particularly in a repressive society which is growing more repressive, don’t dare go to the police.
In making that statement, a deputy minister who is supposed to be a lawmaker is blatantly going off her public duty. She has no business advising her sons or her sons-in-law on "touching their wives in such manner," let alone advising the country. As Malaysia’s former Islamic affairs minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa says, she is “clueless” about her role as a deputy minister in charge of women’s development.
She should be focused on policy and issues like domestic violence, child marriages, and social illnesses from which this country suffers. We can’t expect much from a deputy minister who is in this position because of a political coup that removed a popularly elected reform coalition, Pakatan Harapan, from power in 2020.
As long ago as 2006, an advocate of women’s rights described the status of Muslim women in Malaysia as similar to that of black South Africans under apartheid. She made those remarks in response to an Islamic law that enables men to divorce or take up to four wives and which also grants husbands more authority over their wives' property. Sharia, which severely circumscribes women’s rights, is increasingly used in this country to deny women legitimate and equal access to the law.
The whole cabal led by those who now run the government has failed at their entrusted new positions. The coalition now in power, whether because of its public obeisance to Islam or because of mismanagement of the economy, has failed Malaysians, who have been surprised to learn of allegations of leaders getting tens of million ringgit in bribes to keep UMNO in power under the previous administration who are involved with worldly objects such as properties, high-powered motorcycles, expensive cars and number plates purchased at exorbitant prices while preaching deep commitment to the Quran.
PAS’s hudud merry-go-round, in which they wish to return Malaysia to sixth-century Arab law to punish a liberal Southeast Asia Malay society, shows another form of corruption, i.e. corruption of knowledge.
So the deputy minister’s comment in the midst of a failing nation is nothing but a political stunt. This truly epitomizes PAS’s delusion. This form of corruption is very dangerous to this nation. The holy Quran contains tens of verses on kindness to women (30:21; 9:71; 16:90; 2:229-237, 4:19; 4:25 ). It emphasizes repeatedly to show love, kindness and warns men that they should not harm their wives even after divorce.
Marriage in the Islamic context is a means of tranquility, protection, peace, and comfort. Abuse of any kind is in conflict with the principles of marriage. Under no circumstances is violence against women encouraged or allowed in Islam. These kinds of “tips” the deputy minister espouses in her video are not warranted in this 21st century to discipline wives for “unruly” behavior. In today’s Malay Muslim Malaysian society, most of us depend on dual incomes.
Obviously, there are declines in traditional family circumstances where the husband previously was the sole breadwinner. But none of them warrant disciplining with physical punishment. No reasonable woman would expect to be in a relationship which is unable to bring love but rather inequality and violence. These uncalled-for “tips” on marriage are unacceptable and deplorable. She should just stick to her day job.