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.
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.
JULY 27, 2003 SUN
Divorce via SMS valid: Govt adviser
Religious aide to Mahathir backs Islamic court ruling; women ministers express reservations
KUALA LUMPUR - Muslim men in Malaysia can divorce their wives through text messages on mobile phones, said the religious adviser to the government.
Datuk Dr Abdul Hamid Othman, adviser to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, said divorce via SMS or short-messaging service was in accordance with the syariah law if it was clear and unambiguous. 'SMS is just another form of writing,' said the former religious affairs minister.
His remarks followed a ruling by an Islamic court on Thursday in favour of a man who divorced his wife via SMS.
According to Utusan Malaysia, syariah judge Mohamad Fauzi Ismail said as the divorce declaration was deemed valid, the marriage between plaintiff Azida Fazlina Abdul Latif and defendant Shamsudin Latif was annulled.
Mr Shamsudin sent Ms Azida an SMS message saying 'if you do not leave your parents' house, you'll be divorced'.
The method of divorce via SMS is regarded as unusual among Muslims as most pronouncements of divorce are made orally, either in the presence of a kadi, a jurist, or directly to the wife.
The Islamic court's decision and the remarks by Dr Abdul Hamid brought an immediate response from two women ministers who had reservations on the practice.
'Pronouncing divorce via the short-messaging service should not be used as a norm to seek a separation,' Women and Family Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said yesterday.
She said although the method was accepted under the syariah law, a husband should have the courtesy to pronounce it directly to his wife.
'It is dishonourable to pronounce the divorce in such a way to a wife who has given so much in the marriage,' she told reporters after a function.
She said: 'We are raised by our parents to respect others and pronouncing it through SMS is unacceptable.'
She said the method should not be practised in this country.
Her colleague, Datuk Dr Siti Zaharah Sulaiman, the National Unity and Social Development Minister, said that the sanctity of the institution of marriage should not be disregarded.
Both agreed that such a method of divorce should not be encouraged in Malaysia. -- New Straits Times