DATIN PROF. DR. RAIHANAH BINTI HAJI ABDULLAH
Department of Syariah dan Law
Academy of Islamic Studiesraihanah@um.edu.my
Professor Datin Dr Raihanah Abdullah was born on July 26, 1965 at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital. She is the youngest daughter of two siblings to Haji Abdullah bin Haji Abdul Wahab and Hajjah Saidah binti Mohd Fadzlullah Suhaimi. Both her parents are teachers by profession.
She started her early education at Sekolah Sri Petaling, Petaling Jaya, Selangor from 1972 to 1976, before continuing her studies at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Agama Maahad Hamidiah, Kajang, Selangor from 1977 to 1979. Her final years of secondary education was at the Kolej Islam Kelang Selangor, from 1980 to 1981. Dr Raihanah began her matriculation studies at Universiti Malaya in 1982 and graduated in 1988 with a first-class degree in the Bachelor of Shariah (Hons). She then continued with her Masters degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in the field of Islamic Society and Cultures from 1990 to 1991. In 2000, she was awarded the Sultan Iskandar Johor Foundation-Universiti Malaya joint scholarship to pursue the Doctor of Philosophy degree at the International Islamic University, Malaysia specializing in Islamic Family Law. Five years later, she submitted and successfully defended her doctorate thesis entitled “An Analysis of the Current Legal Mechanism in Curbing Abuse of Polygamy in Malaysia: A Socio-Legal Perspective’.
From 2006 to 2007 she was appointed as the Head of the Department of Shariah and Law. Then from 1 November 2018 – 30 June 2021 she served as the Director (Dean) of the Academy. Again here, she made history as the first female to become a Director (Dean) of the Academy of Islamic Studies, Universiti Malaya – the academic position that she never dreamt of fulfilling. Dr Raihanah also held several administrative positions at the university level. In 2011, she became the Director of the Centre for Civilizational Dialogue (CCD), a position she held for 3 years. With her exceptional research record, she was later handpicked to become the Dean of the Humanities Research Cluster from 2015 to 2016, where she served to assist in the application of research expertise to the various fields in the humanities and to oversee the success of collaborative research projects. Following that she was appointed as the university Senate member from 2016 - 2017.
She is a registered Shari’ah lawyer and a certified mediator whose focus revolve around issues related to Islamic Family Law, Islamic Law and Gender, and Islamic Law and Society. Her particular interests are in areas involving women’s human rights, issues related to violence against women and the human rights of the marginalized groups of society – the elderly, children and people with disability. Over a relatively short period of time, she has successfully advanced her expertise in the areas related to the human rights of marginalized groups of society, particularly of women. This is evident in her prolific publications on these topics both in English and Bahasa Malaysia and the numerous invitations to share her thoughts at local as well as international meetings.
One of her main research focuses is on the role of women and youth in building a peaceful and harmonious co-existence. In 2018, she spearheaded the organization of an event, “Women as Agents of Peace and Harmony”, in conjunction with International Women’s Day 2018 to promote mutual understanding between different religions, to encourage interreligious dialogue and to celebrate the role of women from different generations, cultures and faiths in promoting peace and harmony. In her capacity as an expert in her own area, Dr. Raihanah has been invited as keynote speaker and guest lecturer by several Universities in Indonesia, Thailand as well as in Sri Lanka. She has also delivered several Public Lectures in the Maldives and Japan. As a mark of recognition of her services and expertise in this area, internationally, it did not come as a surprise that she was awarded, in October 2008, a fellowship with the Freeman Foundation for Salzburg Global Seminar, Schloss Leopoldskron, Salzburg, Austria. This also led to her being appointed an Auditor of the National Commission for Academic Accreditation & Assessment (NCAAA), Riyadh in 2010.
Dr. Raihanah is not the kind of person to let opportunities to grow and develop slip through her fingers. During her tenure as the Director of the Centre for Civilizational Dialogue (CCD), Universiti Malaya, she developed interest in Dialogue and Conflict Resolution, an interest that she honed to further strengthened her expertise. She participated in the training sessions at the International Summer Academy in Peace and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna from 1-11 September 2013. It was during this time that her passion for building peace and harmonious co-existence in the world intensified. As an effort to share and extend this passion, she organized several outreach events and activities related to intercultural dialogues such as the 2013 “Forum & Exhibition on Youth Interfaith Dialogue: A Youth Discussion on Peace and Harmony” and the 2012 “International Symposium on Inter-Civilizational Dialogue towards Peace, Harmonious Co-existence and Sustainability”. These international symposiums highlighted several aspects of inter-civilizational dialogue according to the Islamic perspective and the Lotus Sutra. On 22 March 2015, the Institute of Oriental Philosophy invited Dr. Raihanah to a public lecture in Tokyo, Japan entitled “Women and Youth in Civilizational Dialogue”. Her message of congratulations to the Institute of Oriental Philosophy, Tokyo, Japan in celebrating their 52nd anniversary was published in the February 4th, 2014, edition of the Seikyo Shimbun, Japan’s 3rd largest newspaper with about 6 million daily circulation. Her emphasis on the importance of acceptance and respect amongst the diverse cultures and faiths to achieve a harmonious world was one of the points highlighted by the newspaper. She was also featured as advocating the need to bridge the world through dialogue in order to achieve this acceptance and respect.
She was invited by the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), Vienna, Austria, together with 500 other religious leaders around the globe to participate in the Global Forum on “The Image of the Other: Interreligious and Intercultural Education” which was held on 18 and 19 November 2013 in Vienna, Austria. Her growing passion in this area encouraged her to train as a Dialogue practitioner at the prestigious King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) in 2019. Upon submitting her final project and initiative, “Youth Dialogue: To Live and To Learn Together” and successfully completing the training course, she was awarded the International Fellow of KAICIID. This acknowledgement was definitely a much-welcomed additional feather in her cap.
In 2011 at the 38th Session of the Council of OIC Foreign Ministers in Kazakhstan, she was elected as one of the 18 commissioners in the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC), Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), representing Malaysia. This is the first time the OIC introduced the role of commissioners and Dr. Raihanah is very proud to be one of the four women elected as among the 18 pioneering commissioners. She served as the Commissioner of Human Rights of OIC from 2012-2019. Her involvement with Human Rights issues at the international levels gave her several opportunities to participate in fact-finding missions to conflict zones. During her tenure as the Human Rights Commissioner, among the experiences that proved to be immensely invaluable to her was her visits to Muzaffarabad, Pakistan and Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh. In 2017, the Government of Pakistan invited the IPHRC delegation for a visit to Islamabad and the State of Azad Jammu and Kashmir from 27-29 March 2017. Following that in January 2018, she was involved with the Fact-Finding Visit to the Rohingya Refugees’ Camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. During these unforgettable visits, she had the privilege to personally interact with women victims who experienced violations of their basic human rights. These heart wrenching narratives spurred her to advance the plights of these victims to a wider audience. Her efforts have not been in vain. In 2018 she was appointed as the Vice Chairperson of IPHRC, OIC from August 2018 - August 2019, as well as the Coordinator of the Standing Mechanism for Monitoring and Reporting on Human Rights Violation in the India occupied Kashmir, IPHRC, OIC in 2018. In this capacity she was empowered to speak on these issues to committees and organizations that can propel positive changes. On the 4th of February 2019, at the British Parliament, she delivered a poignant speech on human rights violations faced by Kashmiri people, in particular, violations against women. Based on her extensive expertise, she has been appointed to sit on several government agencies that address these issues as well as on similar local committees.
In addition, at the national level, she was appointed as one of the working committees in the Family Support Unit, under the Department of Shariah Judiciary Malaysia from 2009–2023 and the Think Tank of Sulh Committee from 2021-2023 at the same Department. She also served as a Member of the Hakam Committee, under the Selangor Syariah Judicial Department (JAKESS) from 2012– 2023. She also served as a member of the Syarak and Civil Law Technical Committee under the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) from 2020 to 2022. Moreover, her passion in the subject of Islam and Gender gained her the position of an expert panelist in dealing with Muslim women’s issues (PISWI) under the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) in 2014 as well as a Fellow at the Tunku Hajjah Azizah Centre for Women’s Studies, Islamic University Malaysia (UIM).
Over the last few years, she has been frequently invited to appear on local television programmes to speak on matters related to women’s rights in the Islamic perspective. More significantly, her involvements in these outreach programs and activities act as an eye opener allowing her to see for herself the situation in the society, in particular, the women and children, are in at the ground level. Towards the end of the 1990s she joined as an ordinary member, the Lembaga Kebajikan Perempuan Islam Malaysia (Malaysian Muslim Women's Welfare Board) which is a non-governmental organization (NGO). Within months, she was appointed as EXCO in the organization from 1999-2008. Through this platform she had the opportunity to create legal awareness, share views and delve directly into the needs of society especially of women and children.
Despite her various commitments, she found time to carry out volunteer work as she considered her active involvement with volunteering activities a crucial part of her personal and professional growth. Through her 32 years of service in the academic realm at Universiti Malaya, she has advocated for reforms to Islamic laws regarding women – highlighting their unique positions in society and advocating for women empowerment. As an advocate of women human rights, Dr Raihanah lives by the motto of “Be gracious in speech, kind words echo to eternity” as she continues to engage in spreading awareness and acceptance of peaceful coexistence through intercultural dialogue. For her outstanding initiatives in advancing Islam and bringing to light community issues focusing particularly on legal matters affecting women at the national level as well as globally, she was awarded by the Government of Malaysia with the National Maulidurrasul Award 2017.