Sisters in Islam

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Sisters in Islam (SIS) is a civil society organisation committed to promoting the rights of women within the frameworks of Islam and universal human rights. Its efforts to promote the rights of Muslim women are based on the principles of equality, justice and freedom enjoined by the Qur'an. SIS' work focuses on challenging laws and policies made in the name of Islam that discriminate against women. As such it tackles issues covered under Malaysia's Islamic family and syariah laws, such as polygamy,[1] child marriage,[2] moral policing,[3] Islamic legal theory and jurisprudence, the hijab and modesty,[4] violence against women and hudud.[5]

Today, SIS areas of work have expanded to encompass larger issues of democracy, human rights and constitutionalism, as well as urging the observance of human rights principles and international treaties and conventions signed by the Malaysian Government. SIS then began to take public positions of critical importance in the face of attempts to prosecute Muslims attempting to leave Islam, and efforts to silence differing opinions in Islam.

Underlying these activities was the firm belief that, as a concerned group working towards a better society, SIS could not isolate itself from the larger human rights and democratic movements in the country. A movement for gender justice must necessarily be a part of the larger human rights movement, and vice versa. The protection and expansion of the democratic space enabling a civil society to thrive "and upholding the fundamental liberties of the Malaysian Constitution" are the responsibilities of all citizens, for it is precisely these liberties that have enabled groups like SIS to exist.[6]


"If God is just as Islam is just, why do laws and policies made in the name of Islam create injustice?" This was the burning question faced by the founding members of Sisters in Islam (SIS) when they began their search for solutions to the problem of discrimination against Muslim women in the name of Islam.[7]

SIS was formed in 1988 and registered as a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in 1993 under the name SIS Forum Malaysia. The name Sisters in Islam is retained as an authorship name.

Sisters in Islam was co-founded by seven women: Zainah Anwar, Amina Wadud, Askiah Adam, Norani Othman, Rashidah Abdullah, Rose Ismail, and Sharifah Zuriah Aljeffri.


SIS has drawn criticism from conservative Muslim state and non-state actors because of its views. Its position, for example, in promoting monogamy as a Quranic ideal,[8] was challenged by the Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM).[9] The group has also drawn the ire of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) for criticising PAS' Kelantan Syariah Criminal Bill (H) 1993 on the basis that it discriminated against Malaysian women and imposed the death penalty for apostasy.[10] PAS, in 2009, called for SIS to be investigated and for its members to be "rehabilitated".[11]

In 2010, Malaysian Assembly of Mosque Youth (MAMY) brought a lawsuit against Sisters in Islam, alleging the misuse of the word "Islam" in the organization's name. The High Court, however, struck out the application.[12] Other right wing groups have alleged that Sisters in Islam misinterprets religious principles in response to SIS' efforts to stop authorities from caning a woman who was sentenced by the Syariah court for drinking beer in public.[13][14]

In 2014, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) issued a fatwa declaring that Sisters In Islam, as well as any other organisation promoting religious liberalism and pluralism, deviate from the teachings of Islam. According to the edict, publications that are deemed to promote liberal and pluralistic religious thinking are to be declared unlawful and confiscated, while social media is also to be monitored and restricted.[15] As fatwas are legally binding in Malaysia,[16] SIS is challenging it on constitutional grounds.[17]

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