Malaysia probes book on giving up hijab

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's religious authorities yesterday said they were investigating a book about Muslim women who choose not to wear a hijab, prompting a backlash from women's rights groups.

The probe is the latest in a series of incidents that have led to women's rights activists accusing the authorities of acting like "fashion police" by trying to control women's attire in the Muslim-majority nation.

It came after a government minister called for a probe into the launch of the book Unveiling Choice last weekend which featured Muslim women who discussed why they had stopped wearing a headscarf.

"It's just a sharing of experience, nothing more than that," said the book's author, Ms Maryam Lee, who hopes it shows that the hijab can be "both liberating and oppressive". "(Some) say this is something to promote 'de-hijabbing' - that's not true. It's a book about experience," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, referring to the removing of the headscarf.

Ms Lee said officers from the Islamic Affairs Department in the central state of Selangor had obtained copies of the book from the publisher's office on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the department when contacted said it was "looking into the matter" but declined to give further details.

Its director Haris Kasim did not respond to requests for comment.

Religious Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa said he viewed the matter seriously and called for a fair investigation.

It was unclear what offences or laws the book was being investigated over.

Muslim women who do not wear the headscarf are a common sight in Malaysia, and include notable figures such as the wife and daughter of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, former trade minister Rafidah Aziz and ex-central bank governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz.

More than 60 per cent of Malaysia's population of 32 million are Muslims, but it is also home to a large number of ethnic and religious minorities who openly practise their religion.

"It's really disappointing," said executive director Sumitra Visvanathan of the non-profit Women's Aid Organisation.

"I would tell the government to butt out of our private lives and how we choose to dress is our business. There is no law in Malaysia that stipulates a woman should or should not wear the headscarf."

Last year, Mr Mujahid said the government was planning to introduce a dress code for Muslim women in the workplace, sparking a public outcry.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2019, with the headline 'Malaysia probes book on giving up hijab'. Print Edition | Subscribe