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An international Islamic conference would be held soon to discuss whether it is the norm to cane Muslim women found guilty of committing offences under Sharia law.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Senator Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said she hoped the conference, to comprise Islamic experts and ministers from Muslim nations, could be convened within three months.

“I will bring this up with the Cabinet soonest possible,” she said, adding that her ministry, through the Secratariat for the Defence and Empowerment of Women, would organise the conference and the venue would be confirmed later.

Ulamak and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) would also have their forums at the conference, she said after signing a memorandum of cooperation between her ministry and the Sultanate of Oman’s Social Development Ministry on Monday.

On a question by a reporter on whether such debates would create tension, Shahrizat said, “We should not fear debating any issue.”

She said that Syariah laws, when implemented with wisdom and fairness, were “the most beautiful laws” in the world.

On concerns over differences between the various Islamic denominations, Shahrizat said these denominations should learn from one another and she herself would be interested to learn from other Muslim countries.

Asked whether women were caned in the Sultanate of Oman, its Social Development Minister Dr Sharifa Khalfah Al Yahyaeiyah said the country adopted Syariah law as the main law of the country and the issue of caning did not exist because women and men were not caned, whether under Syariah or civil laws.

“As a moderate, progressive and modern country, women and men are treated equally under the law,” she said.

When women or men committed illicit sex, they were imprisoned for a year but not caned and when a person murdered another, he was not only jailed but also had to compensate the victim’s family, she said.

On Feb 9, three Muslim women, aged between 18 and the mid-20s, became the first women in Malaysia to be caned under Sharia laws for engaging in illicit sex.

In July last year, the Kuantan Syariah High Court sentenced part-time model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, 33, to six strokes of the rotan for drinking beer, but the sentence has yet to be executed.

The ministries of the two countries would cooperate in fields such as women, family and children development, senior citizens and people with disabilities, as well as gender studies, said Shahrizat.

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Three Malaysians who became the first women to be caned under the country’s Islamic laws said they “deserved” their punishment and that it would help stem sex outside marriage.

The three women were caned for having sex out of wedlock in a move that has angered human rights activists and some lawyers who say the punishments are illegal in this mainly Muslim country that runs parallel civil and Islamic justice systems.

“I deeply regret my actions as I should have married before having sex,” the New Straits Times newspaper quoted one of the women who it said was aged 17, as saying in its Friday edition.

The newspaper did not reveal the womens’ real names and a picture showed the three clad in traditional Malaysian dress and headscarves seated before reporters.

The 17-year old said that she had become pregnant and gone into labor while at school, losing the baby, and then had turned herself in to the authorities last December.

A second woman said she had to support her family after her father left home and had a three-year-old daughter out of wedlock. She said that she too turned herself in due to feelings of guilt.

All three women were caned on February 9 and the punishments were announced by Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Wednesday. Hishammuddin said they were “carried out perfectly.”

The punishment of six strokes of the rattan is carried out while the women are fully clothed and while they are seated. The person administering the punishment is not allowed to raise their arm above shoulder level.

“Even though the caning did not injure them, the three women said it caused pain within their souls,” Hishammuddin said.

The 17-year old said that she had become pregnant and gone into labor while at school, losing the baby, and then had turned herself in to the authorities last December.

A second woman said she had to support her family after her father left home and had a three-year-old daughter out of wedlock. She said that she too turned herself in due to feelings of guilt.

All three women were caned on February 9 and the punishments were announced by Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Wednesday. Hishammuddin said they were “carried out perfectly.”

The punishment of six strokes of the rattan is carried out while the women are fully clothed and while they are seated. The person administering the punishment is not allowed to raise their arm above shoulder level.

“Even though the caning did not injure them, the three women said it caused pain within their souls,” Hishammuddin said.

The caning has received widespread support from Muslim groups in this Southeast Asian country of 27 million people where around 55 percent of the population is Malay and Muslim.

“The guilty have also repented and there is no proof of injuries at all. What is the problem now?” Fadhalina Sidek, vice president of the Islamic Youth Movement was quoted as saying on the Malaysian Insider website.

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For the first time, Malaysian authorities have caned three Muslim women under Islamic law for acts of adultery.

Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein announced the canings Wednesday, saying the penalty was carried out February 9 at a women’s prison.

Hishamuddin said the punishment was carried out “to educate and make the offenders realize their mistakes and to return to the right path.”

“It is hoped that the issue will not be wrongly interpreted to the extent of tarnishing the sanctity of Islam,” he was quoted as saying. He also said the punishment did not cause any injury and that the women were remorseful and repented, Bernama reported.

The women were struck with a rattan cane. One woman was released Sunday after spending a month in prison, another will be released in the next few days, and the third will be released in June.

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