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'With this ring I divorce thee' sparks debate

A man in mobile phones shop
A short text message over a mobile may not suffice for divorce in Malaysia  

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Whether or not a man can divorce his wife using a message service on a mobile phone has stimulated a debate in Malaysia.

Local women's groups have condemned the idea since a local religious leader said last week the practice was allowed under sharia (Islamic) law.

Now, according to a religious adviser to the government, Malaysia will not permit Muslim men to divorce their wives through text messages on mobile telephones.

Hamid Othman, adviser to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, is quoted in a newspaper as saying that although Islamic law might permit divorce using SMS -- short messaging service on mobile phones -- the government would not accept it.

"We have adequate laws to curb rash moves by Muslim men to divorce their wives without justification," the Star newspaper quoted Othman.

Last week Hashim Yahya, the 'mufti' or religious leader of the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur, told local media divorce by phone would be permitted.

"Declaring divorce through the SMS has the same effect as a letter, that goes the same for declarations made via telephone or e-mails," he said.

But the divorce would have to be confirmed by a sharia court with both spouses present, Hashim added.

Divorce using SMS was first attempted in Dubai, but failed because the husband did not follow other requirements set by Islamic law.

In Singapore, the registrar of the city-state's sharia court left no doubt he regarded the practice as flippant and morally reprehensible.

"Although divorces via SMS may be allowed, the sharia court strongly discourages the practice of pronouncing the talaq out of court, regardless of the manner of communicating it," Shaiffudin Saruwan wrote in a letter to the Straits Times newspaper.

"No right-thinking Muslim man should even consider such an unethical act," he added.

Reuters contributed to this report.

• Malaysia Government and Politics
• Sharia law reference
• Dubai Government
• Singapore Government

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