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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 21:23 GMT
Malaysian polygamy law under review
Muslim women
Islam allows polygamy for 'compassionate' reasons

Malaysian Prime Minister Doctor Mahathir Mohammed has called for laws on polygamy to be standardised throughout the country to prevent the system being abused.

Two weeks ago, the Malaysian state of Perlis was dubbed a polygamists' paradise after it relaxed its rules to make it easier for men to take extra wives.

Last year more than 500 Malaysian men took their second wives-to-be across the border into southern Thailand, as rules on such marriages are less strict there than at home.

Under Islamic law, men are allowed up to four wives as an act of compassion, but not for the husband's convenience

The northern state of Perlis responded by allowing men to enter into polygamist marriages without seeking the permission of their existing wives, as required elsewhere in Malaysia.

It also cut marriage registration fees for polygamists and scrapped the marital instruction courses customary in other states.

Divorce easier

Dr Mahathir is now urging all state assemblies to quickly pass the government's new Islamic family law bill.

He said Malaysia would also broach the matter with the Thai government.

Dr Mahathir Mohammed
Dr Mahathir says he will discuss the issue with the Thai government
Dr Mahathir said that second marriages conducted by unauthorised people in Thailand would no longer be recognised in Malaysia.

The new family laws are intended to make it easier for Muslim women to divorce their husbands.

At present, men can delay the process indefinitely by simply not turning up in court.

Under Islamic law, men are allowed up to four wives as an act of compassion - for instance to provide for widows and orphans - but not for the husband's convenience.

However, many Muslim women in Malaysia feel powerless to say no when their husband decides he wants to marry a second, almost invariably younger, wife.

Women's groups have taken a strong stand against the practice, which they say is no longer true to the Prophet's original intent.

See also:

28 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
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