Holding Marriage Hostage: Male Guardianship in Muslim Women’s Application for Marriage in Contemporary Malaysia

Feb. 18 | 12:00-13:00 EST | Zoom

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wedding in MalaysiaUnder 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.

Nurul Huda portraitDr. Nurul Huda MohdRazif is an anthropologist specializing in marriage and intimacy in the Malay world and Muslim-majority Southeast Asia. She holds an Evans Fellowship from the University of Cambridge and is also Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Southeast Asia (CASE), École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, France. She received her PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge in 2018 and has held a Visiting Fellowship with the Program on Law & Society in the Muslim World at Harvard Law School in 2019-2020. Her work has appeared in Hawwa: Journal of Women of the Middle East and the Islamic World (2020) and Asian Studies Review (2021). 

Dominik Mueller portraitDominik Müller is a Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg (Germany), where he also heads the graduate program “Standards of Decision-Making Across Cultures (SDAC)”. He has been affiliated with Harvard Law School’s Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World (PLS) as a visiting fellow in 2018 and 2019. His research focuses on politics, religion and law in Malay-speaking Southeast Asia, especially in Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore. 

Register for the webinar here.