Campaigners have joined forces to condemn an investigation of three women by Malaysia’s Islamic authorities who refused to stop wearing a hijab.
The three women, Maryam Lee, Mohani Niza and Dian Sofia, attended the launch of “Unveiling Choice”, a book documenting Lee’s decision to stop wearing the traditional Islamic head covering.
The event included a three-hour panel discussion between the three, which Lee described as an “intellectual discourse based on the women’s lived realities.”
After hearing about the event, Malaysia’s religious affairs minister, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, ordered the Islamic authorities of Selangor to investigate the women.
In a joint statement, Lee, Niza, and Sofia said they were “unequivocal” in their belief that none of Malaysia’s laws had been violated.
“We condemn this unnecessary investigation as an abuse of power and is aimed at harassing and intimidating women activists who are speaking out on issues that affect women and organisers those who do not serve the status quo.”
The executive director of a Malaysia’s human rights and law reform organisation Lawyers for Liberty, Latheefa Koya, said women in Malaysia should not be investigated for discussing their religious choices.
“This does not mean those who attended the forum would lose their faith. Let a woman think freely and choose whether they want to wear the hijab or not,” said Koya.
“Muslim women in our Western liberal democracies complain that their right to wear a scarf, a niqab or a hijab in public institutions and in the public space is not respected,” said Willy Fautre, the director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, a Brussels-based rights group who spoke with New Europe. “Women in Iran and Malaysia complain that they are forced to wear a headscarf, and who challenge the repressive laws of their country, are at the risk of losing their freedom as it has recently been the case with Vida Movahedi. She was sentenced to 1 year in prison in Iran for refusing to cover her head. These courageous women dramatically need the support of human rights organisations.”
Malaysia, where 60% of the population is Muslim, has long been held up as a moderate and relatively progressive Muslim country, but recently there has been a move towards strict Islamic conservatism.