For the first time in history, two women take their rightful seat as judges on Malaysia’s Syraiah (Malay for Sharia) high court. I repeat: TWO WOMEN have been appointed as judges on an ISLAMIC High Court.
Noor Huda Roslan, 40, and Nenney Shuhaidah Shamsuddin, 41, are making history as they take on powerful roles allowing them to elevate the voices of Muslim women across Malaysia. Having graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies and Psychology, and International and Comparative Legal Studies respectively, these two women couldn’t be more qualified for their positions.
The appointment of two women to the high court comes at a time of rising conservative narratives in Malaysia. Historically, the country has followed a rather moderate practice and application of Sharia law, however, current public discourse show that more and more Malaysian citizens are adopting conservative attitudes, and applying Sharia law in its most harsh standards.
In the face of such distorted practices of Sharia law, Judge Shuhaidah sees it as more imperative now than ever before to pass judgment fairly and, of course, justly. The only way to ensure this is to maintain a bench of judges flush with diversity. Only when every segment of society is represented can we hope to maintain an equitable society. In a Muslim-majority country like Malaysia, who has often protected men and questioned woman, Judge Shuhaidah promised to take the opportunity to protect women and their rights.
In her interview with BBC, Shuhidah presented her expertise on equitable marriage and child custody laws. Her approach to complex cases which involve polygamy or child abuse takes on an equitable practice.
“Every case is complex and different,” she explained. “You can’t generalize Islamic law and say it favors men and treats women badly…I want to correct that misconception.” Such powerful sentiments ignite a change in the historical perceptions of women in Islam, with Malaysia taking the lead!
The appointment of Judge Roslan and Judge Shuhaidah not only comes as a beacon of hope for women’s rights, this historic change also signals an increase and need for female representation the field of law. “Back in my day, most Sharia judges were men who questioned the need for women in the practice,” said Judge Shushaidah. “I never dreamed of becoming a judge,” she admitted. “As a lawyer, I didn’t know if I could take on such a senior role that dealt with complicated cases. And as a woman, I felt doubt and fear.”
Yet, despite the apprehension, these two powerful women wear their official robes with a sense of honor and commitment. “My robes remind me of the heavy responsibilities that come with being a Sharia judge.”
“Our law exists to protect women’s rights. It looks at their welfare and safeguards their livelihoods…Islam holds women in high regard and as judges, we must return to its teachings and maintain worthiness using Sharia.”
Without a doubt, these two women are paving the path for an inclusive, fair, and progressive future. For women who have long suffered at the hands of patriarchal systems, it is uplifting to witness the bravery of women in all global arenas, like Judge Shuhaidah, Judge Roslan, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The world needs more women taking on challenges and knocking down barriers, especially in the Muslim community. The religion of Islam is not, I repeat, NOT, anti-woman; if anything Islam gave woman rights long before Western legal systems could! That being said, the Muslim community, driven by conservative attitudes, has in part stripped women of their voice. Therefore, it is up to the Muslim community to come together as a whole unit with the intent to practice Islam justly, and as it has been ordained.
In the words of Judge Shudaidah, “Our law exists to protect women’s rights. It looks at their welfare and safeguards their livelihoods…Islam holds women in high regard and as judges, we must return to its teachings and maintain worthiness using Sharia.”