Muslim activists filed a lawsuit Monday against a Malaysian women's group, asking it to remove the word "Islam" from its name on the ground that it misleads people to believe it speaks for all Muslims.
The suit against Sisters in Islam, one of the most well-known nongovernment groups in this Muslim-majority country, comes after it angered conservative Muslims by criticizing Islamic Shariah laws that allow the caning of women for offenses such as drinking alcohol.
Numerous Muslim groups have in recent months accused Sisters in Islam of misinterpreting religious principles, highlighting a divide between Muslims who demand strict enforcement of Islamic morality laws and others who fear religious intolerance is threatening the moderate practice of their religion.
The lawsuit was filed by Malaysian Assembly of Mosque Youths, whose leader, Mohammad Nawar Ariffin, said Sisters in Islam never obtained formal approval for the name with the government's registrar of societies.
"The use of the word 'Islam' in names must be restricted and protected," Mohammad Nawar told The Associated Press. "The so-called Sisters in Islam uses the word to attract attention, but it issues statements that contradict what other Muslims believe. It causes confusion among Muslims who might think that the group represents Islam."
The Kuala Lumpur High Court did not immediately schedule a date to hear the lawsuit by the group, which claims to have at least 5,000 members whose aim is to safeguard Islamic teachings.
Hamidah Marican, executive director of Sisters in Islam, declined to comment on the case, saying the group's lawyers need to study the suit before they can issue any statement. However, she defended the group's work as being "driven by the tenets of the Quran and Islam."
Established in 1988, Sisters in Islam has long been the most outspoken advocate of reforms involving Muslim laws that allegedly fail to protect the rights of women, such as regarding polygamy and child marriages. Its official name is SIS Forum (Malaysia), but it uses Sisters in Islam on its Web site and publications.
Sisters in Islam's troubles with other Muslim groups began last year when it tried to stop authorities from caning a woman who was sentenced by an Islamic court for drinking beer in public. Since then, three other Muslim women have been caned for having extramarital sex, the first time the punishment has been carried out on Malaysian women.