I refer to the ongoing debate about the roles of women in society between Dr. Nur Farrah Nadia and Dr. Fatimah Zaharah Rosli of Wanita Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia, Ms. Dyana Sofya of DAP and Ms. Marina Mahathir from Sisters in Islam.

The article that began it all can be read here and reproduced below:

I totally disagree with the UN report published at The Malaysian Insider on 16th December 2014  for these reasons:

1. A high income nation must not rely on women as the major contributor but rather men should lead the workforce and put their biggest effort in shaping the nation. Japan is a world leading nation in providing the latest technology but their contribution of women in the workforce is about 40%, whilst the involvement of women on the board of major corporations in Japan is merely 1.2% (The Wall Street Journal). 70% of women in Japan put forward a resignation letter after delivery of their first child. The Japanese have illustrated to us beautifully that we can achieve the status of a high income nation and be ‘family first’ as well.

We just need the right person for the right job. Our male counterparts actively involved in workforce and being high achievers. Our females need to be highly educated in various skills to bring up healthy, successful girls and boys and MUST contribute to the community in a way that best suites them.

2. During my professional career as a doctor, I do meet and provide counselling to lot of young women (teenagers) who wish to get married. I like to explore their beliefs and reasons behind it. Most of these cases use ‘marriage’ to cover up their unlawful sexual act in the past. Others do so to ‘legalize’ the unborn child inside them.

I wish the statistic in the article would have explored the reasons behind the reported marriages, only then we would have a clearer picture. If these young adults get married early because of the issues that I have shared above, then it means getting married early is not a problem, it is a solution. A solution that is not ideal but needed to counter the mishaps of poor morality and social values. A more productive way is to study why the younger society is susceptible to all these issues and lend them a helping hand to find a brighter future.


Dr Nur Farrah Nadia Najib


Biro Keluarga dan Masyarakat

Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA) Johor

Let’s talk numbers


Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim the Minister of Women, Family and Society recently said that for 2013/2014[1] “for every 100 women in Malaysia, 52 of them are in the workforce.” That’s 52.4% from the entire women population in Malaysia.[2] According to national statistics for 2013, Malaysia has 29,947,600 people[3]. Therefore we’re talking about 7,604,969 women out of 14,513,300 women in Malaysia.

Like Ms. Dyana Sofya, I would like to ask Dr. Nur Farra about the practical aspects removing all 7.6 million women who she suggests follow the Japanese culture of tendering their resignation after the birth of their first child, because based on her statements, women should remain primarily as homemakers and child bearers.

I would like to ask her about how the 477[4] women trapped in domestic violence are supposed to consider leaving their abusive spouses with their children if they have no means of supporting themselves financially.

Also about the 318[5] destitute women to find means to procure food and shelter for themselves, the 29,715[6] women currently under the care of the Welfare Department of Malaysia, based on the 2013 Department of Statistic Report.

I also question the societal impact from her religious standpoint, for example if there is a law that women patients may only be tended to by women nurses and doctors, and that there is also a standing policy that women should stay at home and become homeworkers and child bearers, who will then provide the required service? This happened in Afghanistan under the Taliban[7] rule.

Her assertion that while women should be learned, men and only men should play a prominent role in public life is discrimination towards all learned Muslim women everywhere.

I would also like to ask where on earth we are supposed to find qualified men for the right job. In 2013, 68% of freshies or university students intake are women. Women graduates outnumber men; whereby 153,596 women graduated from universities in 2013 as opposed to 120,297 male students[8]. Clearly, women are the learned and well educated gender.

However, professional women only make up 14.8% and only 3.2% are holding managerial roles. In terms of power holders in various fields, men are already leading in decision-making positions but yet the current social ills persist. This suggests that while there are more qualified women than men, we are already losing out on their skill-bank. There is a loss of human capital for Malaysia.

Domestic Work

There’s this question of practicality, if a wife earns significantly higher than her spouse it makes practical sense for the husband to be the homemaker and child carer. Even more insidious they are saying that the homemaking and child caring work done by men is not as good as the mother’s. I say that both parents as equal partners in any given marriage and are equally capable homemakers and child bearers.

My own brother-in-law made the choice to stay at home during my niece’s toddler years because at that time neither of them trusted nannies or maids. Nowadays they are both high earning professionals in their own respective fields. What is wrong with husbands doing housework and taking work sabbatical for their children?

The arrangements between a husband and wife is the couple’s own private business, and no one else’s. Further on, I list down Muslim women who has significantly contributed in public life during their lifetimes while many were also married and bore dutiful Muslim children.

Let’s talk about Islamic history: The women in Prophet Muhammad’s family

Islam has a rich and long history of working mothers who are also active in public life. The Prophet Muhammad’s first and most beloved wife Khadija b. Khuwaylid was recorded as a prominent businesswoman and influential member of the Arab society in her own right.

She was your modern day Rozita Che Wan marrying a Zain Saidin of her time, or the Western example would be the whole list of Forbes Top 100 Influential Women of her day.

Technically she was a role model for women at the time and she continued carrying on being what I consider a feminist during the subsistence of her marriage. Did she stop being who and what she was after she married the Prophet Muhammad SAW? No, she did not.

I would like to also point out that he had no other wives until after the death of Khadijah. It is undisputed that she was the most beloved of all his wives, which says much about what kind of women he holds highest in esteem.

Later on when he married Aishah, he groomed her into a political leader and after his death she even went to war against Ali Ibn Abi Talib over a power struggle and lost. She retired peacefully from political intrigues and became Madinah’s authoritative source for the Prophet’s hadiths, recognized as an intellectual as well. We owe many of our existing Sunni hadiths and traditions from her narrations.

Fatima, his daughter and his granddaughter Zaynab b. Ali were all prominent political leaders in their own right. They played central roles in resolving conflicts during their lifetimes.

Clearly, married or not, women are intended to participate with their full talents and skills in public life as far as the Prophet Muhammad was concerned.

Other examples of prominent Muslim women in Society

I name warriors; Nusayba b.  Ka‘b al-Ansariyya who took part in the Battle of Uhud, carrying a sword and shield and fought against the Meccans. She was one of the Prophet Muhammad’s own bodyguards during the battle and was wounded multiple times while protecting him.

Khawla b. al-Azwar who fought in the Battle of Yarmuk against the Byzantines. She was described as equal in skill with famed Muslim general Khalid ibn al-Walid.

I name founder of the Sufi school in Islam Divine Love, Rabi‘a al-‘Adawiyya. I name Fatima b. Abi al-Qasim ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad b. Ghalib al-Ansari al-Sharrat, the most learned women in 12th & 13th Century of Andalus in works of legal theory, jurisprudence as well as mysticism.

I name Lubna of Cordoba Palace, secretary of the caliphs ‘Abd al-Rahman III and his son al-Hakam b. ‘Abd al-Rahman. Known as a skilled mathematician, she was also Head Librarian of the royal library with over 500,000 books.

I name Queens; Queen of Yemen Al-Malika al-Hurra Arwa al-Sulayhi  or Arwa b. Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Sulayhi whose knowledge of Islamic literature is such that she was given the highest rank in the Yemeni Fatimid religious hierarchy (that of hujja) by the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir.

Razia Sultan, the ruler of the Sultanate of Delhi between 1236 and 1240. Shajar al-Durr, Sultana of Egypt in 1250, who held the title of “Malikat al-Muslimin” (Queen of the Muslims).

Sayyida al-Hurra, Pari Khan Khanum, Kosem Sultan, there are so many conveniently forgotten prominent women in history[9].

In any case, Malaysia’s own Head of Bank Negara is Datuk Zeti Akhtar Aziz, herself married with two children. There is no disadvantage whatsoever with her being a working mother and wife.

With that, I hope this humble submission may help enrich the dialogue on roles of Muslim women in public life.


[2] http://www.statistics.gov.my/portal/download_Labour/files/labour_force/Labour_Force_Survey_Report_Malaysia_2013.pdf

[3] http://www.statistics.gov.my/portal/download_Labour/files/BPS/Buletin_Perangkaan_Sosial_2013.pdf

[4] http://www.jkm.gov.my/file/file/Statistic_2013/BHG_B_8-AKRT.pdf

[5] http://www.jkm.gov.my/file/file/Statistic_2013/BHG_B_9-AOP.pdf

[6] http://www.jkm.gov.my/file/file/Statistic_2013/BHG_A-MAKLUMAT_ASAS.pdf

[7] http://www.feminist.org/afghan/taliban_women.asp

[8] http://www.mohe.gov.my/web_statistik/Perangkaan%20Pendidikan%20Tinggi%20Negara%202013.pdf

[9] https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/15-important-muslim-women-in-history/


This young lawyer harbours hope that one day Malaysians irrespective of ethnicity and religion have equal rights under the law, as we all are before the eyes of God. She is moving with UndiMsia! (http://UndiMsia.com)...

9 replies on “Role of Muslim Women in Public Life”

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