Malaysia to Ban Divorces Via E-Mail, Fax

Associated Press, July 31, 2003
By JASBANT SINGH, Associated Press Writer

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Cell phone text messages, e-mails and faxes may be a boon to modern life, but they won’t be acceptable ways for Malaysian men to start Islamic divorces.

Reacting to an Islamic court’s ruling last week approving a divorce initiated with a husband’s text message to his wife, the government said Thursday it will tighten religious laws to bar the use of electronic messages in divorces.

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Under Islamic law, a husband can get a divorce by declaring his intention to his wife and then repeating his desire before a religious law judge. The procedure for women is much more difficult.

The issue of using electronic means for notifying wives has arisen in several Muslim countries in recent years, with some religious authorities permitting it and others saying no.

Last week’s ruling by an Islamic judge in Malaysia dissolving a marriage after the wife was notified by text message angered women’s groups, which said that process is demeaning. Some Islamic scholars and government officials said it tarnished the religion’s image.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said this week that while text messaging is not explicitly illegal under Malaysia’s current Islamic laws, “it is not the way to get divorced.”

Abdul Hamid Othman, the government’s official religious adviser, said Thursday that rules on a wife’s notification would be made more strict and explicitly exclude text messaging and other new technology.

“Husbands should not be allowed to freely use SMS (text messaging) and other easy methods such as e-mails, voicemail or even facsimile to begin divorce proceedings,” Abdul Hamid told The Associated Press. “We must put a stop to it as it is morally wrong and unacceptable to society.”

About two-thirds of Malaysia’s 23 million people are Muslims and subject to the country’s generally Islamic laws as well as secular laws.

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