ASEAN Region: APMM Statement on the growth of politicized Islam

ASEAN Progressive Muslim Movement (APMM)

Southeast Asia Muslim human rights advocates express concerns on the growth of politicized Islam in the ASEAN region and makes recommendations to ASEAN leaders at the 15th ASEAN Summit. A regional meeting of Southeast Asian human rights advocates was held in Jakarta on 16-17 October 2009 to examine how certain interpretations of Sharia laws are affecting the rights of the women in Muslim contexts in the region and undermining secularism and democratic institutions in such countries as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.

This landmark meeting was co-organised by the Indonesian National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), the Institute for Women’s Empowerment (an Asian regional organisation), and Maruah Singapore. Thirty men and women, mostly Muslims from five ASEAN countries with significant Muslim populations, attended the regional meeting. They were from a mix of civil society organizations, religious institutions and academic institutions.  The meeting resulted in the formation of a new regional network – ASEAN Progressive Muslim Movement (APMM). The first activity of this new network was to formulate key recommendations, agreed by all at the regional meeting, for submission to ASEAN leaders at the 15th ASEAN Summit (23-25 October 2009, Cha-am Hua Hin, Thailand), which included the inauguration of the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights.

In the recommendations to ASEAN leaders, APMM notes that Muslims in ASEAN countries are estimated to be around 231,291,000, comprising an estimated 41.3019 per cent of ASEAN’s total population. Women constitute half of this sizeable Muslim population but women’s issues are not yet an integrated part of development processes in each ASEAN country as well as at the regional level. APMM expresses deep concern that certain interpretations of Sharia laws are impeding Muslim women’s full participation in development processes in ASEAN, as well as limiting their own development as equal citizens. While fundamental tenets of Islam are compatible with human rights principles, some gender-discriminative interpretations of Sharia laws are not aligned with human rights objectives and with fundamental tenets of Islam that emphasize women’s right to practise their religion as equal believers, as well as their rights of access to education, employment, entrepreneurship and political participation.

Of particular concern is the expanding codification and formalization of certain interpretations of Sharia laws beyond the domain of personal laws to criminal laws. In some cases, punishments are occurring even though they contravene the Constitution and national laws of the countries concerned. Women run the risk of being disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of such punishments, as compared to men. If such codes are left unchecked, these interpretations of Sharia laws may increase in scope and become new norms imposed on all Muslim women in Southeast Asia.

APMM strongly objects to actions undertaken by certain parties to intimidate and prevent women from speaking out in support of women’s rights and human rights, as well as from questioning gender-discriminative interpretations of Sharia laws. Such actions prevent Muslim women from fulfilling Islamic principles of love and compassion, which motivate them to care for the well-being of all human beings in general and women in particular.

APMM recognises that while member states of ASEAN still have diverse records on human rights, it appreciates the fact that ASEAN itself, as a rules-based regional organization under ASEAN Charter obligations, is increasingly paying attention to human rights. APMM thus welcomes the launch of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and endorses the ASEAN Committee on Women and Children (ACWC). It calls on ASEAN member states in ensuring the independence of these two regional human rights bodies, such that their guiding principles and processes will be in line with internationally agreed standards embodied in international human rights treaties.

APMM’s specific recommendations call on ASEAN member states:  
·        To ensure  that violations of human rights principles are not excused by reference to cultural or traditional practices
·         To ensure that certain interpretations of Sharia laws do not impede Muslim women’s full participation on development processes and do not limit their development as equal citizens
·        To review, reform and, if deemed appropriate, repeal gender-discriminative interpretations of Sharia laws
·        To draw upon the body of work developed by progressive Islamic scholars that demonstrates the compatibility of the fundamental tenets of Islam with human rights principles, as well as the ongoing historical tradition of ijtihad (the exertion of mental energy in the exhaustive search for a just legal opinion)     
·        To review and repeal laws that impose corporal and capital punishments as these are inconsistent with human rights principles and contravene major international conventions on human rights. (ASEAN member states that have not yet done so are urged to sign and ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Forms of Treatment or Punishment.)
·        To uphold the rights of human rights defenders, including Muslim women, in speaking out in support of women’s rights and human rights, as well as in questioning gender-discriminative interpretations of Sharia laws.
·        To enhance resources and facilities for the human resource development of all women, including Muslim women, so that they can develop the appropriate capacity to fill leadership positions in all sectors of society, including the religious sector.

26 October 2009

ASEAN Progressive Muslim Movement (APMM)

For more details, please contact:
1        Convenor and Indonesia Focal Point:  Sri Wiyanti Eddyono, +62-8122695993 /
2        Malaysia Focal Point: Ratna Osman, +60-172640603 /
3        Philippines Focal Point:  Yasmin Busran Lao, +63-9178075748 /
4        Singapore Focal Point: Halijah Mohammad, +65-96177547 /
5        Thailand Focal Point: Angkhana Neelapaichitr, +66 847 280 350 /