Despite its economic progress, Malaysia is becoming more conservative, the daughter of former premier Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday, claiming that the country's two rival parties are in a race to become more Islamic.
Marina Mahathir, an outspoken social activist, said interpretation of Shariah laws has become more austere and eroding rights of Muslim women as the ruling United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, and rival Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, vie to win Muslim votes.
She was commenting on remarks in her fortnightly column that will be published Friday in the country's largest English daily, The Star, where she equates the lot of Muslim women in Malaysia to that of South African blacks under apartheid.
Marina said the government's move last year to pass contentious legislation that promote polygamy and discriminate against Muslim women in matrimonial issues was an indication of the rivalry between the two political parties.
UMNO is the lynchpin of Malaysia's coalition government, while opposition party PAS rules one of Malaysia's 13 states.
"It's all politics. There's a kind of race to see who is more Islamic. It's unfortunate because the more conservative voice has become louder while the progressive ones find it harder to speak. It's scary," she told The Associated Press.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi later agreed to review the Islamic Family Law bill, which only applies to Muslims, after it drew flak from rights' groups and women's organizations.
Marina said the bill, which lets Muslim men unilaterally divorce their wives yet end up with a greater share of the couple's property, contradicts the Islamic Hadhari, or progressive Islam concept espoused by Abdullah.
"There is an insidious growing form of apartheid among Malaysian women, that between Muslim and non-Muslim women," she wrote in her column, a copy which was sent to the AP, reports the AP.
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