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World The female sharia law judge who decides if men can take a second wife

00:00  13 february  2020
00:00  13 february  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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But one of Malaysia's first female Sharia high court judges says her role gives her an opportunity to protect "She loved her husband and wanted me to grant him permission to marry a second wife . "Back in my day, most Sharia judges were men who questioned the need for women in the practice

“Our Sharia laws are in place to protect the interests of women and hold men accountable.” “Back in my day, most Sharia judges were men who questioned the need for women in the practice,” said “As a lawyer , I didn’t know if I could take on such a senior role that dealt with complicated cases.

a person wearing a red hat: Judge Nenney Shushaidah rules on polygamy cases, and always wants to hear from the first wife. (ABC RN: Khaldoun Abou Alshamat)© Provided by ABC NEWS Judge Nenney Shushaidah rules on polygamy cases, and always wants to hear from the first wife. (ABC RN: Khaldoun Abou Alshamat) Nenney Shushaidah is the female face of Islamic law in Malaysia.

The country's first female sharia state high court judge, she decides whether a man can take a second wife.

Muslim men in the country can have up to four wives, and each year more than 1,000 men go to the courts to apply for a polygamous marriage.

Judge Nenney sometimes works to convince distressed or reluctant women to agree to it, a move she says ultimately protects their rights.

But she says her heart would be broken if her own husband ever wanted to marry another.

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A female judge in Malaysia has revealed how she has been able to protect women in that country through her position as a Sharia Court judge . But her expertise lies in child custody and cases of polygamy – the Muslim concept of allowing men to marry up to four wives , which is legal in Malaysia.

Islamic law , also known as Sharia , is often associated by critics with harsh punishments and hardline attitudes. But one of Malaysia’s first female Sharia high court judges Malaysia practises a moderate form of Islam but conservative attitudes have been on the rise and the use of Sharia is growing as well.

A simple question for first wives

Kuala Lumpur is a large urban metropolis. The city of Shah Alam is 30 kilometres away.© ABC RN: Damien Carrick Kuala Lumpur is a large urban metropolis. The city of Shah Alam is 30 kilometres away. The sharia high court of the state of Selangor is in the city of Shah Alam, 30 kilometres west of Malaysia's bustling capital Kuala Lumpur.

It's a modern, leafy administrative centre that feels a bit like a tropical Canberra.

The city is dominated by the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque.

Completed in 1988, it's the largest mosque in the country and is crowned with a spectacular 100-metre-high blue dome.

About 300 metres from the mosque, across landscaped gardens and a six-lane avenue, are the state sharia courts and Judge Nenney's chambers.

Sitting in the court library surrounded by shelves of beautifully bound legal texts, Judge Nenney explains the circumstances in which a sharia law judge will consider allowing a husband to take another wife.

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Malaysia’s first female Shariah high court judge , Justice Nenney Shushaidah deals with cases where men seek second marriages, BBC reported on Tuesday. “You can’t generalise Islamic law and say it favours men and treats women badly… I want to correct that misconception.” All those involved are

The woman who decides if men can take a second wife . What are the laws ? The small South-East Asian nation first introduced Sharia law in 2014, giving it a dual legal system with both Sharia and Common Law .

Polygamous marriages are allowed if the first wife is not healthy, or cannot produce children.

Also known as Blue Mosque, this spectacular structure dominates the city.© Getty: Ratnakorn Piyasirisorost Also known as Blue Mosque, this spectacular structure dominates the city. They are also allowed if the husband's sex drive is higher than his wife's.

The judge must be satisfied that the husband can afford to support two families.

Unlike some judges, Judge Nenney always wants to hear from a first wife.

"I ask her, 'Do you really agree with your full heart or have you been forced to agree?'" she says.

She knows the answer simply from looking at the woman's face.

"If she is smiling, I say yes, she has truly given permission," Judge Nenney says.

"But if her face wants to cry in front of me I will ask her carefully, in detail, try to get the point — why actually [does] she not agree?"

Protecting women's rights

Some wives don't want to share their husband with another woman.

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Malaysia’s first female # Shariah high court judge , Justice #NenneyShushaidah deals with cases where men seek #secondmarriages. Nenney deals with more than

The woman who decides if men can take a second wife . “Fundamental Rights and Conflicts among Rights”, that is the title of an International Symposium which has been taking place this week at Rome’s LUMSA

A recent survey by the feminist group Sisters in Islam found that while 70 per cent of women agree that a Muslim man has a right to a polygamous marriage, provided he can treat all wives fairly, only 30 per cent would allow their own husband to marry another woman.

Judge Nenney says she works to ensure the rights of woman are protected by law.© ABC RN: Khaldoun Abou Alshamat Judge Nenney says she works to ensure the rights of woman are protected by law. Judge Nenney says while Sisters in Islam is entitled to its views, it is the Islamic Religious Council of Selangor that decides how the courts apply and interpret Islamic law.

She says she tries to convince reluctant women to accept the registration of the second marriage, in order to protect their rights.

"I just say, 'Your heart will be broken the same, just in this court you will get your rights — your maintenance, your children's rights, your inheritance,'" Judge Nenney says.

If the husband doesn't get permission from her court, she says, he can easily circumvent the decision by marrying in a neighbouring country.

On his return, he can register the marriage and is simply made to pay a paltry fine.

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Sharia councils say they offer Muslim women a way out of religious marriage but critics argue this parallel legal system can leave vulnerable people trapped in abuse. If men were fearful of being prosecuted under this legislation, the group says, there would be no need for sharia councils.

One of the two lay judges is Ebtisam Aldebe, a female Muslim justice who openly advocates for the recognition of Sharia law in Sweden. Aldebe is part of Sweden’s liberal Center Party, which has even come forward to denounce her ruling as “sexist” and a clear replacement of Swedish law with Sharia

"Better her husband goes through this court case than he go to Thailand, Singapore or Indonesia to marry without the permission of the court," Judge Nenney says.

Judge Nenney, who was appointed in 2016, says 90 per cent of the first wives who appear before do agree to a second marriage.

The remaining 10 per cent of cases proceed to a full trial.

At these trials, Judge Nenney rules against the husband in about 60 per cent of cases, usually because the husband doesn't have enough money to support two families.

Moral offences and the cane as punishment

Sharia law is derived from both the Koran, Islam's central text, and fatwas — the rulings of Islamic scholars.© Getty: Mohd Samsul Mohd Said) Sharia law is derived from both the Koran, Islam's central text, and fatwas — the rulings of Islamic scholars. In addition to family law matters, the Sharia courts also have jurisdiction to hear what are known as moral offences.

Judges can impose penalties for personal behaviours that are forbidden under Islam: sex outside marriage, gambling or drinking.

Judge Nenney says every week she hears cases where a couple is charged for having sex outside marriage.

She always imposes a fine of 5,000 Malaysian ringgit (around $1,700) and six strikes of a cane.

The caning, she says, is not painful and is designed to be symbolic or educational.

She says the person who canes the offender always has their upper arm positioned firmly against their torso — it is only the movement of the limp wrist that powers the impact of the cane.

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She was restrained by the man delivering water and the mechanic next door, who called the police to arrest her. Photograph: Kate Lamb/The Guardian. But Maulizan and Shirley weren’t arrested and charged by Aceh’s sharia police. Instead, it was a posse of young men from the village that burst into

Islamic law enforcers are not often credited with being feminist pioneers, but Judge Nenney fits both those "Syariah" is the Malay spelling for the Arabic word " sharia ", meaning Islamic law . Judge Nenney also hears "khalwat" cases, an Islamic offence where unmarried men and women are found

Asked if she hopes that one day no-one will be fined or caned for private behaviour, Judge Nenney says she would actually like harsher penalties.

She would like to increase the fines up to 20,000 ringgit ($7,000) and increase the canes from six up to 10 or 20.

"We are limited in our power now. We need more," she says.

"But education is important to me."

She says if people know the punishment is harsh, "they will not do it again".

She also wants bigger penalties for men who fail to pay maintenance, or who ignore other court orders relating to their family responsibilities.

As a woman, not a judge

Judge Nenney says the sharia courts and their punishments play a valuable educational role.© ABC RN: Khaldoun Abou Alshamat Judge Nenney says the sharia courts and their punishments play a valuable educational role. I ask Judge Nenney how she would react if her husband told her he planned to take a second wife.

When she hears the question, she nods her head; clearly, she has given this considerable thought.

She says she would have exactly the same feelings as some of the women who appear in her courtroom.

"As a woman, it would break your heart," she says.

Judge Nenney says she would wonder why she wasn't enough, and be fearful for the future.

"He will change after marry. He will not love us like before," she explains.

But, like the women who come before her in the Sharia court, Judge Nenney says she would work to ensure her rights, and those of her children, were protected by law."The court cares about your rights after the second marriage," she says.

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