The divorce rate among Muslims in Singapore was very high during the first half of the 20th century. It reached a peak of 667 per one thousand Muslim marriages during the war years before dipping to 493 in 1958. The high divorce rate was attributed to the ease of getting a divorce at the time, as there were few restrictions or counselling services to mitigate divorce under the old Muslim Ordinance of 1880. The high incidence of divorce led to considerable social hardships and problems, which prompted many Malay community leaders and self-help groups to lobby for a new legislation.
In 1951, the Muslim Advisory Board formed a sub-committee to prepare a draft to amend the existing legislation. However, it was not until 21 November 1955 that a new Muslims Bill was tabled at the Legislative Assembly, and given its second reading nine months later on 2 August the following year. The efforts at reforming the legislation culminated in the enactment of the Muslims Ordinance of 1957 by the Legislative Council in August 1957. The ordinance carried a provision for the setting up of a Syariah (matrimonial) Court, which had the sole power to register divorces that were not arrived at from mutual consent. The Syariah Court severely curtailed the powers of the kathis who were the previous religious authority in Muslim divorces.
The Syariah Court was constituted on 24 November 1958. The court tightened the administration of Muslim divorces in Singapore according to Islamic law and introduced professional conciliatory services. In 1959, just after a year the Syariah Court was established, the Muslim divorce rate dropped to 273 per one thousand Muslim marriages, from 493 in 1958. The downward trend continued until the divorce rate reached a record low of 94 per one thousand Muslim marriages in 1975. This was a sign of the positive response from Muslims in Singapore to the workings of the Syariah Court in bringing greater stability to marriages among the Muslim community.
1. Saw, S. H. (1992, Luglio-Dicembre). Muslim divorce trends and patterns in Singapore. Genus, 48(3-4), 32. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from JSTOR.
2. Saw, 1992, p. 32.
3. Women want a voice in war on divorce. (1955, February 12). The Straits Times, p.12; Women say: Abolish child marriage. (1950, October 16). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Men only, says Kathi. (1955, December 19). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore. Legislative Assembly. Debates: Official Report. (1956, August 2). Muslims Bill. (Vol. 1, cols. 1482–1484). Retrieved March 5, 2014, from Parliament of Singapore website: http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00047531-ZZ¤tPubID=00068875-ZZ&topicKey=00068875-ZZ.00047531-ZZ_1%2Bid052_19560208_S0004_T00081-%20%20bill%2B
5. Roff, W. R. (1968). The Muslim Matrimonial Court in Singapore . London School of Economics, Monographs on Social Anthropology No. 31 by Judith Djamour. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde. Deel. 124 (2), 287. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from JSTOR.
6. Djamour, J. (1966). The Muslim matrimonial court in Singapore (pp. 26–27). London: The Athlone Press. Call no. RSING 301.42095957 DJA.
7. Djamour, 1966, p. 27.
8. Saw, 1992, p. 34.
9. Saw, 1992, p. 34.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.