Mak Nyahs: Transgendered Muslims in Malaysia

Adam Shazrul. Image via the New York Times.

Mak nyah is the term that transgendered women in Malaysia use to identify themselves. Mak means 'mother', and nyah is derived from the literal meaning of 'running away' to refer to 'transition'. Khartini Slamah, a well-known 49-year-old activist and counselor to other transgendered women, explains how and why this term came about in the late 80s, in her chapter in the book Sexuality, Gender and Rights: Exploring Theory and Practice in South and South East Asia by Geetanjali Misra and Radhika Ch … [Read more...]

Just a “Liberal” “Girl”?: The Framing of Nurul Izzah Anwar over “Freedom of Religion” Remarks

Nurul Izzah Anwar.

Nurul Izzah Anwar comes from a political family. She is the current Vice-President of the Malaysian political party PKR (People's Justice Party), and is also the daughter of Anwar Ibrahim, a former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister who was jailed in 1999 and banned from politics until 2008 for charges of corruption and sodomy (but arguably because he was a prominent critic of the then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad). Her mother Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is the President of PKR.Nurul Izzah is also … [Read more...]

Reinforcing the Second Shift: Malaysian Women as Workers and Mothers

Najib Razak.

Who would choose, on a day dedicated to honouring women in his country, to completely discount all previous work done by its women?That's exactly what Najib Razak, the incumbent Malaysian prime minister, said during his speech during the National Women's Day celebration on October 2. In addition to being the prime minister, Razak also holds the portfolio of Women, Family and Community Development – one of the few male ministers in the world (alongside Samoa) to head a ministry dedicated to wo … [Read more...]

Inheritance Rights in Islam: Islamic Policies in Muslim and Secular States, Legal Systems and Media

During the past week, inheritance according to the precepts of Shari’ah was a hot topic around the world, from Australia and Pakistan to Tunisia and Malaysia. An overview of the system is available in this article, although, as always, there is much diversity both in specific understandings of inheritance laws and in broader understandings of what “Shari’ah” is.  A few days ago, Jamila Hussain wrote an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, discussing issues of equity vs. equality in inherit … [Read more...]

Malaysia’s Newest Cane Campaign

In Malaysia, where we are swamped with mixed messages from religious authorities and pop song lyrics, those of us lucky enough to find love are bound to run into trouble. Just a week short of Valentine's day, three women and three men were caned under Shariah law for committing “illicit sex.” This marks the materialization of a long threat to punish Muslim Malaysians for moral crimes – prior to this, no one had been caned for unlawful sexual behavior. Curiously, the public was informed more than … [Read more...]

Big Love: Appropriating Feminism in Advocating Polygamy

Stories about polygamy tend to surge and ebb in the media, but they never fail to intrigue people. Recently in South Africa, a Zulu man married four women–all at once–making the most popular story on the BBC news website (you can watch the clip here). In the video, a male wedding guest gives a thumbs-up to the marriage(s), claiming that the "world" suffers from monogamous marriage breakdowns as a result of adultery. Later, the narrator serves up a classic: with all those wives, what man will hav … [Read more...]

Seksualiti Merdeka: Coming to Terms With the Love that Dares not Speak its Name

Who would have thought that sexuality rights were being celebrated in the historical and cultural heart of the Malaysian capital two weeks ago? Malaysia, like anywhere else (Muslim-majority or not) has long suffered from homophobia and transphobia in the most public of places: unsubstantiated accusations of homosexual behaviour landed one of the most influential politicians in recent times in jail and long-term disgrace. The media, meanwhile, which often sees itself as a moral guardian secondary … [Read more...]


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