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Islamic law, also known as Sharia, is often associated by critics with harsh punishments and hardline attitudes.

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But one of Malaysia's first female Sharia high court judges says her role gives her an opportunity to protect women in the Muslim-majority nation. Judge Nenney Shushaidah presides over five trials a day and can hear up to 80 cases a week. Malaysia practises a moderate form of Islam but conservative attitudes have been on the rise and the use of Sharia is growing as well. Under a dual-track legal system, thousands of Muslims use it to settle moral and family matters. Non-Muslims are required to follow secular laws that deal with the same matters.

She passes judgment on everything from financial cases to those involving the Sharia concept of Khalwat [unmarried Muslim couples being caught in compromising situations]. Seeking 2nd wifey her expertise lies in child custody and cases of polygamy - the Muslim concept of allowing men to marry up to four wives, which is legal in Malaysia. Judge Shushaidah says there are many factors she considers before, for example, allowing a polygamous union.

I want to correct that misconception. All those involved in a proposed polygamous marriage are required to be physically present in Judge Shushaidah's court.

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It is important that they agree to it because if I see any s that say otherwise then I won't grant permission. But it is allowed under Islam, and our Malaysian courts have enacted strict laws to govern this. He is not allowed to neglect the needs of anyone. Judge Shushaidah added that some wives can be supportive of the idea. She recalls, for example, a case which involved a seriously ill woman who could no longer bear children.

So I did. Background on Sharia law BBC religion. How is Sharia law applied? She defends her religion's reputation for strict laws by arguing that it is capable of fairness. But critics and rights groups argue Sharia is often misused. For example rights activists were outraged by the recent caning of two Malaysian women convicted of attempting to have lesbian sex, and say Sharia law was misused in this case.

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Judge Shushaidah would not address the case, but said: "Caning under Sharia law serves to educate offenders so as not to repeat the act again. Judge Shushaidah also argues that Sharia does not always rule in favour of men. It looks at their welfare and safeguards their livelihoods," she said. Her greatest concern lies with Muslim men bypassing strict Sharia court procedures by marrying overseas.

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Some wives actually consent to this to protect their husbands but they don't realise how it works against them," she said. Women's groups like Sisters in Islam highlighted a "severe shortage of female representation" in the courts and a "strong sense of patriarchy" in the overall system.

In fact, the recent prosecution of women under Sharia law clearly shows that their voices are alarmingly silenced and access to justice is worryingly stifled. This makes Judge Shushaidah's appointment a particularly ificant one. And as a woman, I felt doubt and fear. As a woman, I must feel, and I'd be lying if I said I felt nothing. But I am a judge and I have to make sure I am always clear and objective. So in my judgment, I try and address this. I make do with the best evidence I get in court. BBC Women names influential and inspirational women around the world Seeking 2nd wifey year and shares their stories.

It's been a momentous year for women's rights around the globe, so in BBC Women will reflect the trailblazing women who Seeking 2nd wifey using passion, indignation and anger to spark real change in the world around them. Women shouldn't have to feel 'grateful' for opportunities.

Find us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and use Women. BBC Women Who is on the list? Malaysian women caned for lesbian sex. Malaysia minorities fear Islamic law changes. What is Sharia? Sharia is Islam's legal framework, derived from the Koran, Islam's holy book; the Hadith, the sayings and conduct of the Prophet Muhammad; and fatwas, the rulings of Islamic scholars. In Malaysia, it is applied to different degrees across the country's states. Malaysia country profile Rights groups in Malaysia welcome first Islamic women judges.

The perils of speaking out against Islamic law in Malaysia Rise of strict Islam exposes tensions in Malaysia Malaysia's minorities fear Islamic law changes.

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What is Women? Related Topics. Islam Malaysia Women Women. More on this story. Published 19 November Published 7 May Published 3 September Published 27 October

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