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First female leader of Islamic university honoured at 02 Arena

UEL students graduation

Professor Dato’ Sri Dr Zaleha Kamarudin, the first female rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of East London (UEL) at a graduation ceremony at London’s 02 Arena on Tuesday, 17 November.

“I felt very happy when I found out I had been nominated,” said Professor Zaleha. “It was a trip down memory lane, having been a student in London a long time ago.”

The doctorate was bestowed by the University in recognition of Professor Zaleha’s many legal and academic accomplishments during her distinguished career.

Professor Zaleha studied in her native Malaysia before gaining a PhD in comparative law at University College London.

She has worked at the International Islamic University Malaysia for more than 30 years as a lecturer, researcher, dean, professor and rector, publishing 20 books and more than 200 articles.

Her appointment as the university’s first female rector in 2011 makes her the first woman to head an Islamic university in the Muslim world.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d become the rector but it goes beyond gender,” said Professor Zaleha. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. What matters is whether you can do the job.”

The uniqueness of her appointment did not strike her until she attended a meeting of 300 Islamic university rectors.

“I was the only woman in the room leading an Islamic university”, she recalled.

Prior to her appointment as rector, Professor Zaleha was the deputy director-general of the Malaysia Institute of Islamic Understanding.

She has also served the Malaysian government as a legal expert and council member of the National Women Advisory Council.

In 2011 she was appointed to chair the Panel on Current Issues on Women and Islam, Department of Islamic Development, working on issues involving women and children.

In 2012, Professor Zaleha was invited to deliver the prestigious 13th Al-Sanhuri Annual Lecture at Harvard Law School in 2012, speaking about the transformation of the Islamic legal system in the 21st century.

The same year, at the invitation of Ban Ki Moon, she delivered a keynote speech at a High-Level Thematic Debate at the UN headquarters in New York.  Professor Zaleha has also been actively involved in UN-Habitat training workshops.

In 2014 and 2015, she was invited by the government of Canada to present keynote addresses on cross-border child abduction and children’s rights in The Hague, Kuala Lumpur and Macau.

Professor Zaleha has headed two major research projects which provided a strong basis for the establishment of the Family Support Authority in Malaysia.

She has also collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme and the Malaysian government’s Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development on another major research project which provided the impetus for the historic appointment of women judges in the Sharia judiciary in Malaysia.