Sisters in Islam (SIS) is an organization of Muslim women in Malaysia which seeks to articulate women's rights in Islam by emphasising the need to interpret the Qur'an and the hadith in their proper historical and cultural contexts. It also advocates for the right of women to hold public office. One of the more prominent leaders of SIS is Zainah Anwar who was the head for two decades.
In 1987, a clutch of women lawyers, activists, academics and journalists including Zainah Anwar jointly founded a fledgling movement to look into the problems Muslim women had with the Syariah courts. In 1990, the movement formally became known as SIS. Its focus was to challenge laws and policy made in the name of Islam that discriminate against women. Eventually, SIS areas of work expanded to emcompass larger issues of democracy, human rights and constitutionalism.
Aghast at what was being taught in the ceramahs (sermons), the founding sisters turned to the Quran to find out for themselves what the verses say, as opposed to various interpretations. What they discovered was a revelation. On polygamy, the Quran says: “If you fear that you cannot treat them the same, then marry just the one.”
SIS has opened public space for debate and given a public voice to women to air their concerns about their rights under Syariah law. Through its fora and education programmes, SIS has shown that the concerns of Muslim women are “not the monopoly of religious scholars. Everyone has the right to speak”.
SIS has been at the forefront of NGOs influencing amendments to Islamic Family Law. It has espoused equality and justice for women, discussed dress and modesty, the right to guardianship, women as judges, fundamental liberties in Islam, and apostasy and freedom of religion.
The organisation has exposed the diversity of interpretations of Islam, and through its research and discussions with local and international authorities, sifted through these to determine “which opinions we want to follow and codify”.
SIS works in the areas of research, advocacy, legal reform and services, public education and publications. It is currently undertaking a nationwide survey on the "Impact of Polygamy on the Family", interviewing first and second wives, husbands and children on the emotional, financial and social impact of this form of marriage. It is also advocating reform of the Muslim Family Law within the framework of equality and justice and works closely with the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality in Malaysia to reform all laws that discriminate against women and to raise public awareness on women's rights.
SIS has drawn criticism from Muslim ulama because the women leaders are atypical of the image of the “good Malay-Muslim lady”. Many Muslim leaders, from the Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) to state religious bodies to PAS, berated ther organisation’s lack of formal Islamic credentials and there have also been attempts to get the association banned. On the plus side, some of the more liberal mufti (chief clergy in respective states) have addressed SIS seminars.
At one point, SIS was taken more seriously abroad than at home in Malaysia. Women from Iran who listened incredulously to Malaysian Muslim officialdom defend polygamy, found common ground with SIS on this issue.
A group called the Malaysian Association of Mosques Youth (MAMY) has brought a lawsuit against Sisters in Islam, contesting the use of the word "Islam" in the organization's name; the suit is based on the technical argument that Sisters in Islam was registered as "SIS Forum" with the Registrar of Societies, and therefore has no legal title to the word "Islam". Other groups have accused the Sisters in Islam of misinterpreting religious principles
- Ong, Aihwa and Peletz, Michael G. (1995). Bewitching Women, Pious Men. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08861-1
- A sister steps out, The Star, March 30, 2008.
- Khalid Chraibi: Reforming Islamic family law within the religious framework - Sisters in Islam's "best practices" strategy - Tabsir.net
- Khalid Chraibi: Sisters in Islam - Women cite Quranic rights to confront culture of oppression - SaudiDebate.com