Khatijun Nissa Siraj

It was a time when the men went out to work and the women kept themselves busy at home, relying solely on the men to support the family. As a conservative society, the Muslim community was no exception. But some men took advantage of this situation to abuse their position of power to treat their wives badly.

As a young woman, Katijun Nissa Siraj was not going to let this situation persist. She banded together like-minded women and set up the Society for the welfare of Muslim women to take care of these women’s needs.


“She was feeding the baby tea, because she could not afford to buy milk.”

“Marriage is the merger of two hearts; it shouldn't matter whether you are male or female for marriage demands equal support from both sides. This is an essential trait of marriage that most overlook,” says Mrs Siraj. As a result, many women have gravely suffered at the hands of their oppressive husbands. Mrs Siraj has been a source of hope and strength for such women.

Mrs Siraj, a Singaporean of Indian descent, is 89 and considers herself as having a blessed childhood. But instead of being ensconced in her privileged life, she reached out to make a difference to the lives of women who have not been as lucky. Driven by a deep-rooted desire to help others, she actively involved herself in social work, all with the support of her husband. And today she is credited with laying the foundation for the betterment of Muslim women in Singapore. She is unfailingly compassionate, and has never turned down anyone who came knocking on her door asking for help.

“The Muslim women in Singapore had no rights at all – they had nothing!”

Many women were prone to physical abuse by men as they were viewed as weak and docile. Such women helplessly suffered without recourse, as it was difficult to punish the men who inflicted such abuse under the Islamic Law then. So Mrs Siraj went to great lengths to raise social awareness about this issue at not just the national level, but also at the global level.

Naturally one would get outraged seeing the suffering women, but Mrs Siraj channeled this outrage into productive avenues by actively involving herself in discussions and debates, and served as a direct source of help to these women.

She was the first female social worker at the Syariah Court in Singapore. She also started the Young Women Muslim Association in 1952 (currently known as PPIS - Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura) to take care of the women’s welfare by empowering them with legal and medical advice to make informed decisions. The Society went on to uplift the lives of many Muslim women.

“If I don’t help my own people, who will?” she says, “It is my foremost duty to ensure their wellbeing.”


Mrs Siraj has received numerous awards for her contributions towards social welfare. She was also recently inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014. Serving as a beacon of hope and support to the Muslim women in Singapore has been her greatest motivation.

In particular she recalls how heartening it was to bring down the divorce rates among the Muslim community during her time at the Syariah court. Yet behind all the glory and success of her societal contribution, there have been people who have served as obstacles in her journey. With the help of her friends, she has always fearlessly fought to overcome these hurdles.

“If we don’t do it, who is going to help all these poor women & children?”

In a time, when most of us were too busy caught up in the frantic rush of everyday life, Mrs Siraj took a step back and paused, to look beyond her own life, to extend a helping hand to the women who continued to struggle silently.

She strongly believes that the basic right to education should be equally extended to women and they should flourish as equals in society. Mrs Siraj is immensely patriotic and believes that a strong family unit is an important building block of Singapore’s growth. She wishes for Singapore’s continued growth as a nation and 50 Faces wishes for our nation to have more big-hearted souls like her.


“The women should be more educated than the men.”


A dedication to the pioneers in the Indian community.

50Faces brings your stories of ordinary Singaporeans who have contributed to our community and nation building.