Survey: One in five Malaysian Muslim women still believe husbands deserve to beat ‘disobedient’ wives

Zurairi Ar


The survey found that almost all respondents, at 97 per cent, said that Muslim women must obey their husbands, and that obedience defines a woman as a 'good wife'. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — Close to a quarter of Muslim women in Malaysia surveyed still believe that a husband can strike his wife, citing the religious concept of “nusyuz” or refusing to obey a husband’s wishes or commands.

According to the survey by rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) on Muslim women’s realities in Malaysia, this “disobedience” can include from leaving the house without a husband’s consent to simply refusing sex.

“Worryingly, 21 per cent of respondents believe that a husband has a right to beat his wife. Among those who accept this, the concept of nusyuz appears to provide a justification,” said the report titled “Perception and Realities: The Public and Personal Rights of Muslim Women in Malaysia” published today.

The survey also found that almost all respondents, at 97 per cent, said that Muslim women must obey their husbands, and that obedience defines a woman as a “good wife”.

Among the respondents, 88 per cent agreed that leaving the house without the husband’s consent counts as “nusyuz”. 

In comparison, the percentages of those who felt these actions count as “nusyuz”: refusing to move with the husband (54 per cent), refusing to have sexual intercourse (52 per cent), refusing to open the door for the husband (50 per cent), or refusing to answer when the husband calls (46 per cent).

“Under these circumstances, they believe a husband may beat his wife. They believe that these are acts of disobedience by the wife, and therefore the husband is permitted to strike her. 

“This goes directly against the principles of the Quran and is in complete contradiction to the practice of Prophet Muhammad who never hit his wife under any circumstances,” the report explained.

However, proponents of the punishment against women usually cite religious scriptures to back the act of beating “disobedient wives”.

These include verse 4:34 of the Quran which said: “But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance — [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them.” 

SIS said this “uncompromising duty to obey one’s husband” has led to harm and injustices against women, such as being reluctant to report domestic violence including marital rape, stopped from going work, forgoing opportunities to study, and being unable to plan their family.

The report also showed that while 89 per cent of respondents felt that they are equal to their spouse, merely 57 per cent felt they can leave the marriage at any time. 

Section 59 of the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territory) Act 1984 states that a wife shall be entitled to maintenance when she is “nusyuz”, and can only revert when she “repents and obeys” the husband.

“This concept plays a central role in institutionalising, justifying and sustaining a patriarchal model of families in the Muslim context, and must be challenged. 

“Far from creating harmony in marriage, these laws are among the main causes of marital breakdown and violence against women. There is thus an urgent need for reform,” SIS said in its report.

The survey was implemented by research firm Ipsos between 2018 and 2019 through two phases, with the quantitative phase involving 675 Muslim women across the country aged between 18 and 55.

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