Al-Jazeera: “Feminist pioneer” judge enforces sharia law

What does it mean to be a feminist in a Muslim country? I would think it means fighting for equality of treatment and opportunity for women, which means, in part, opposing those tenets of Islam that stifle such equality.

We already know that many Muslim and Western women who call themselves “feminists” don’t hold such a view, and in fact see Muslim feminists as upholding Islamic law, proudly sporting the hijab as a symbol of empowerment. Indeed, as the links above testify, many consider Islam to be a deeply feminist faith. After all, wasn’t Aisha (Mohammed’s wife, whom he married when she was six and raped when she was nine) a very powerful woman? And haven’t there been women heads of state in Islamic countries, like Benazir Bhutto (part of a political family dynasty who was assassinated—probably by the Taliban—for being too secular and “Western”)?

But this argument, from an August 16 article in Al-Jazeera, takes the cake (click on screenshot to see the piece). This “empowered” woman is actually empowered, as a judge, to enforce sharia law in a Malaysian court that dispenses Islamic “justice” to Muslims. (So much for claims that Malaysia is a “liberal” Muslim state for women):

Meet Judge Nenney Shushaidah Binti Shamsuddin, 42, of the Malaysian Sharia High Court. This faux feminist spends her days enforcing sharia law, including those bits that are anti-feminist. As the article notes,

One day she could be sentencing an offender to be caned for breaking Islamic law, the next could see her giving a man permission to take a second wife.

Islamic law enforcers are not often credited with being feminist pioneers, but Judge Nenney fits both those descriptions.

She made history in Malaysia last year when she was appointed one of the first two female Syariah High Court judges in this Muslim-majority nation. “Syariah” is the Malay spelling for the Arabic word “sharia”, meaning Islamic law.

And the 42-year-old mother of three doesn’t shy away from imposing the harshest punishments prescribed by Islamic law.

“When I’m on the bench, I’m not a woman, I’m not a man. I’m a judge,” she says. “I need to deal with the case fair and firm, to follow the law, no bias.”

Here’s how judge Nenney plays her role as a feminist pioneer:

There are no restrictions on the cases Judge Nenney hears in the state of Selangor. Her weekly caseload can range from child custody to prostitution and polygamy.

In Malaysia, Muslim men are allowed to marry up to four wives, but they must first obtain permission from the Islamic law court.

When hearing such a case, Judge Nenney says she verifies the husband’s income to see if he can afford to take another wife and finds out whether the existing wife agrees.

“If the wife agrees and if the husband can afford it, I give permission,” she tells Al Jazeera.

Judge Nenney also hears “khalwat” cases, an Islamic offence where unmarried men and women are found together in “close proximity”.

She says in the most serious cases, she sentences offenders to six strokes of the cane, a 5,000 ringgit fine ($1,166) and a one-month jail term.

Some critics have suggested that female judges may favour women, but Judge Nenney denies being more sympathetic towards women.

“We can put our emotions aside,” she says. “I have my empathy to them, I can put myself in their shoes, but not sympathy. I need to play my role as a judge, then make a decision on how they present their case.”

. . . Judge Nenney is hopeful that the rising number of female judges will help change the perception that Syariah courts do no treat women fairly.

“The public perception said male judges must be biased to women. I hope after this, to the women who come before me, they must know there’s no difference between a male judge or a female judge. The judge just does their job.”

Well, the judge may be impartial and blind to sex, but she’s impartial in enforcing a profoundly anti-women code of law. How does that make her a “feminist pioneer”? She is no more a feminist pioneer than the French collaborators with the Nazis were “pro-Jewish” pioneers.

If you were under the misconception that Al-Jazeera is neutral on matters of Islam, this is one example of how it’s not. Usually it avoids blatant Islamism in its English reporting, but certainly not in its Arabic reporting (see here, for instance).

There are real Muslim feminists, but they are apostates, hounded, threatened, and killed. Very often they leave Islam because of its poor treatment of women, and thus become apostates, for whom the hunting season is year-round. Want to see genuine Muslim feminists? Just go to the Facebook page My Stealthy Freedom to see many from Iran.

Here are several:

h/t: Malgorzata


  1. Posted September 11, 2017 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    In Syria Christian judges may decide as long as they follow the state-based sharia law.

  2. Alex
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    This is feminism in only the loosest sense of the term. Yes a woman is in a position of power, but in a position of power over what? The closest analogy here in the states would be women like be Phyllis Schlafly and Sarah Palin. Those women were also in positions of power, yet supported deeply reactionary views towards women’s issues.

  3. Mike
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Those brave young women with the white scarves,have surely done themselves a disservice my identifying themselves to the religious police,in such a benighted Country. As for the “feminist Judge” words fail me.!

  4. somer
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Al Jazeera covers some things to Western audiences well – though it quite often shows a pro Islam slant = like here where its quite blatant. It also implied the Bataclan killings were driven by Western Foreign Policy, apparently under the explicit instruction of Mehdi Hasan. Its broadcast to Muslim audiences in the Middle East are horrendous, judging by Memri clips and exMuslim twitter things Ive seen – and its longstanding support for the notorious Dr Yusuf Al Qaradawi – A senior Muslim Brotherhood cleric who broadcasts to 60 Million muslims in the Middle East, telling them the penalty for open apostasy (unbelief) is death, Islam must always defend itself with this penalty etc. etc.

    Mehdi Hasan headed the Al Jazira Western office for a number of years but now works for another news organisation in the US. He is a Shia but Qatars indigenous people and rulers are separate tribes to the Saudis and Qatar tries to court any Islamist powers that are viewed as a threat to the Saudis – Muslim Brotherhood, Shia Iran, and a Turkish military base to match the US one in Saudi. Hasan has often said vile things about non Muslims to an All muslim audience – it is not taken out of context or really about Western foreign policy – the clips are in different times and places and directly denigrate non Muslims in the context of Islamic teachings and scriptures (obvious in all the various videos after the first one)

    https://twitter.%5BDELETE THIS, PASTE REST AS URL]com/colourcodeorgau/status/892205017683316736

  5. DW
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Modern feminism fully embraced the power dynamics of Marxism. It’s not the code that they object to, but the power dynamics of men making and enforcing rules on women. The rules themselves don’t matter. It’s the fact that men are in positions of power that they see as the problem. Thus, putting a woman in power, using force on others is the end goal.

    This is straight out of Marxist class struggle. For Marx, it was economic class. For Feminists, it is gender as a class. Every time Marxism is embraced, you don’t see an egalitarian utopia, you see simply a replacement of who is able to exercise power.

    Feminism doesn’t want to prevent people from exercising power, they merely wish change which class gets to exercise that power.

    • somer
      Posted September 11, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      So are you suggesting that one gender always wields the power over the other and *should* – if men have historically normally exercised political and the most social power then its only reasonable feminists would want to even this out. This is not to say some would happily go too far – but its not what feminism is per se or what most, in the history of feminism have wanted.

    • Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      I am a feminist and I have no idea what you’re talking about.

      This feminist wants women and men to have equal political, economic, and social power and opportunities. This feminist thinks that would be a better situation for everybody than the one we have now.

    • Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Feminism is the belief that men and women should be treated equally and that no one should be discriminated against because of their sex. It long pre-dates, and has nothing to do with, Marxism.

      • Harrison
        Posted September 12, 2017 at 6:26 am | Permalink

        Egalitarianism is the belief that all people should be treated equally, and it long predates feminism.

        • Posted September 13, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

          OK. But what does that have to do with Marxism and DW’s misrepresentation of feminism?

  6. FB
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    A 21st century inquisitor in a hijab. Not a judge.

  7. Flaffer
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Just wow. The “sometimes allowing a MAN to take a second wife” has to be the most UN-feminist thing I have ever read.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 11, 2017 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      How would you classify the sentence “sometimes allowing a WOMAN to take a second husband” ?

      • somer
        Posted September 11, 2017 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

        thats just not allowed in Islam – the lowboys of the schools are very explicit only men can have multiple wives or concubines

        • somer
          Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

          sorry ?lowboys? Bloody autocorrect. I typed *law books*

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted September 14, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink

            I have trained my spelling checker to recognise the work “AutoCorrect” and correct it to “AutoIncorrect”.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted September 14, 2017 at 8:10 am | Permalink

          It’s potentially a route that could deflect or entangle attempts to get religiously-inspired laws onto nominally secular law codes. There are some cultures where polyandry is practised (typically, two brothers being shared by one wife), so if someone is trying to bring in polygyny laws, then simultaneously agitating for polyandry laws could tangle things in court and parliament for a considerable period of time.

  8. Randy schenck
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    First female Judge in this High Court, that should say something. Only takes 1400 years to get there. At least the judge in Islamic/Sharia law does not have to reach for the bible as many judges do over here in U.S.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 11, 2017 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      Malaya/ -sia has only existed since 1957. Islam entered the region around 500 years ago, starting to displace the previous Buddhist variations. Where do you get 1400 years from?

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Have a woman enforce Sharia – that makes it all fair to women. Don’t change the laws, no! Just make women enforce them.

    Another example of how women can be no better than men when it comes to hurting women — they often play the role of social enforcers.

    • Doug
      Posted September 11, 2017 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      She’s not a feminist, she’s a collaborator.

      In the antebellum south, plantation owners sometimes used Blacks as overseers; their duties included administering floggings. Would anyone call this a step forward for Blacks? “Look! A Negro in a position of authority! How enlightened!”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 11, 2017 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

        Ancient Romans did the same thing putting slaves in charge of other slaves as stewards. They could be vicious fuckers and usually worse than the slave owner. No woman who ever studied Classics was surprised.

      • nicky
        Posted September 11, 2017 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

        An apt comparison, Dough. Can’t really think of a better one.

        • somer
          Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

          I think autocorrect had a go at your typing of *Doug*!!!

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted September 14, 2017 at 8:12 am | Permalink


  10. Posted September 11, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    It is, unfortunately, a situation which *does* merit calling Malayasia a “moderately Islamic state”. I am not sure that this merits the title of “feminist”, though.

    I don’t know much about fiqh, though I get the impression it does make use of precedent quite extensively: and hence I don’t know how much it can be “reformed within” – a general question.

    I am somehow also reminded of how Canada’s first female PM was a (Progressive) Conservative – who is now on record as saying she’s not at all like the current crop, which seems fair enough.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Our first female PM was Thatcher. Hawk, spit.

  11. Posted September 11, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  12. Posted September 11, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    So the first wife gives ‘permission’ for the man empowered by enforce sharia law to take a second wife…
    Feminism by this account has parallels with regressive leftism in that it has a disconnect that defies logic and reason.

    But, not on topic but sort of, some ‘good’ i think here, by way of Sam Harris,

    • nicky
      Posted September 11, 2017 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      Interesting interview, thanks.

  13. harrync
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I few years ago I ran into a post on an official Malaysian government web site [which has now seemed to have been taken down] that explained that the UN Declaration on Human Rights infringed on Muslim freedom of religion. The Declaration said everyone had a right to freely choose their religion. Islam says apostates should be killed. Thus the Declaration interfere with Muslims religious obligation to kill apostates! Though that web post is gone, it seems the obligation to kill apostates is still pretty much the norm in many Muslim countries. See I know fundamentalist Christian logic can be absurd, but I don’t think I’ve seen any that beats this.

    • Posted September 12, 2017 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, signed in 1990 by 57 Muslim states, one of which was Malaysia, was specifically designed to counter the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  14. Dionigi
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    These are not judges in the western sense, in that they study law and make ethical decisions, they are people who have studied the koran and implement its ideas.

    • somer
      Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      Not just the Quran – also the hadith and life of the Prophet – probably more sharia comes from the latter two sources than the Quran. It is all interpreted using Principles of Islamic traditional interpretation that differ only in details between the Sunni schools. Some hadith can even override the Quran. The hadith and Life of the prophet are much more detailed than the Quran.

  15. Posted September 13, 2017 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    This was an educational and informative read – thanks for posting.

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