Singapore: Muslim family law act comes under review

It may have drawn "deep concern" from a United Nations committee, but Islamic law in Singapore is far from cast in stone.
In fact, the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA), which legislates Muslim marriage, divorce and inheritance matters according to Quranic principles, is under review.
The Act is being appraised to keep it relevant, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, told Today at a National Day event at Kolam Ayer Community Club. He said: "Like all pieces of legislation, we have to keep it (AMLA) in tune with the times, and my staff are looking at it."

For example, there have been suggestions in the past that the legal age for Muslim marriage be raised from 16 to 18 years. However, Dr Yaacob stressed that it was the role of religious leaders to lead the way before any legislative changes were made.

"A religious decree must be made by the religious community led by whatever thinking that may occur in the Muslim world," said Dr Yaacob, who cited the recent fatwa (religious edict) by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) to include Muslims in the organ transplant act as an example. Changes, he added, would also follow consultation with the Muslim community.

Responding to the concerns voiced by the women's anti-discrimination committee at the UN about the application of sharia law here, Dr Yaacob disagreed that Muslim women in Singapore were less protected than their non-Muslim counterparts.

Citing how polygamy has been made more difficult, he said: "We take pains to ensure that the first wife agrees to it, that the family will not be broken up and the men must be able to provide. So, we have enough in the system to ensure that the rights of the women and her well being are protected."

Under AMLA, inheritance is one area of inequality, as the general principle is that a man gets two shares while a woman gets one share in any inheritance claim. This proportion may differ according to the relationship of the claimants to the deceased.

While he agreed that there are now more Muslim women who are professionals and who can earn their keep, he said division of inheritance is best left to the family to decide. "We cannot possibly have a one-size-fits-all kind of legislation across the whole world. In our case, we have made a lot of progress. The implementation of the Islamic law has been very progressive here," he said.

Joining in the fray, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) said in a statement yesterday that it hoped the Government would drop its long-standing reservations on two articles in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Although Singapore acceded to the convention in 1995, it has maintained limited reservations on the two linked articles — pertaining to policy measures to end discrimination as well as marriage and family life.

AWARE also asked for a gender sensitisation course for all civil servants and for the Government to sign a particular protocol on trafficking of women and children.

By: Nazry Bahrawi

06 August 2007