Malaysia's Islamists embrace women at work

Wed Sep 23, 2009 3:27am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Niluksi Koswanage

KOTA BHARU, Malaysia (Reuters Life!) - Malaysia's main Islamist party may not like Muslim women doing yoga, drinking beer or wearing trousers, yet in one of the country's poorest states, going out to work is something they encourage.

Recent headlines over the caning of a woman who drank beer and other religious edicts or fatwas restricting the behavior of Muslims have triggered concerns that this traditionally moderate Muslim country was becoming more intolerant.

In Kelantan, however, things are a little different.

Women are a vital part of the economy in the state, which has been ruled by the country's opposition Islamist party for almost 20 years.

"We are better than our men at business. Thankfully, the ulama (Muslim clerics) see that we make a big contribution," said businesswoman Fatimah Mahmud, tending her stall at the Siti Khadijah market named after Prophet Muhammad's first wife, who was a successful businesswoman.

In the market, about 300 women set up stalls just after dawn prayers and close shop in the evening after collecting up to 1,000 ringgit ($288) a day. All were decked out in gold chains and bangles, symbols of their wealth, and of course headscarves.

The women's incomes exceed Kelantan's current GDP per capita of 8,700 Malaysian ringgit ($2,500), which is 45 percent lower than the national average, according to official data. Many of the women do not always declare their earnings, economists say.

Initially shy of encouraging mothers to work, the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) which is Malaysia's fastest-growing political party, now actively encourages it.   Continued...

<p>Muslim women gather to listen to religious talk in Kota Bharu, in Malaysia's northeastern state of Kelantan, in this September 17, 2009 picture. REUTERS/Zainal Abd Halim</p>