Under Malaysia’s Islamic Family Law, Muslim women may only marry with the signed authorization of a male guardian (wali), usually their biological father. Drawing on court observations and archival research conducted in the Syariah Court of the Malaysian State of Kelantan, this talk examines “wali refusal” cases, where women’s right to marry is held hostage by estranged fathers who refuse to sign their daughters’ marriage application. Nurul first argues that the Islamic concept of “male guardianship” as interpreted and practiced by the Malaysian Syariah system often clashes with a more grievous reality, in which the bonds of kinship in Malay families are at times fragile. Second, she illustrates how the notion of “male guardianship” limits the autonomy and agency accorded to women, compelling many Malay women to elope to Thailand in order to marry without their father’s knowledge or permission. The Syariah’s paternal and patriarchal authority here is challenged by Malay women who hold that the father’s role as “male guardian” is not a given, but must first be earned through the rights, roles and responsibilities from parent to children required to maintain kinship ties. Professor Dominik Müller will be the discussant for the talk. Co-sponsored by the Human Rights Program.
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