A Malaysian shariah court ruling legalising the 'talak' or pronouncement of divorce by a husband to his wife via text messaging has infuriated women's leaders, who are demanding an immediate review. 'The verdict is an insult to women,' said Shahrizat Jalil, the Minister for Women and Family Development. 'It is demeaning and violates the sanctity of marriage.' But the powerful Religious Affairs Department in the Prime Minister's Office and Islamic clerics have supported the verdict. While Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was quoted as saying technology should not be abused, he added: 'I am not too keen on that but it has been accepted, perfectly legal, perfectly Islamic.' Dr Mahathir's ruling Umno party is divided over the issue, with some leaders saying the verdict was final, while others demand a review. Umno member Shamsul Najmi said if text messaging was accepted then e-mail and teleconferencing could eventually also become means to divorce. 'The larger issue is not the method of pronouncing divorce but good manners ... is it a proper way to do it?' she asked. Under shariah law, a husband can divorce his wife by uttering 'talak' three times, usually before two witnesses. A district shariah court ruled last week that government officer Shamsuddin Latif had validly divorced his wife of 18 months, Azida Fazlina Abdul Latif, by pronouncing talak through repeated text messages that read: 'If you do not leave your parents' house, you will be divorced.' The court held that the text message was a valid form of communication because the intention to divorce was clearly transmitted, received, understood and later verified in court. 'Short Message Service is a valid form of communication,' said Abdul Hamid Othman, the minister in charge of Islamic matters. But many Muslims are aghast at the verdict. Pensioner Saiful Bahrin wrote to The Star newspaper saying SMS divorce was 'shameful, selfish and petty' and gave licence to cowardly husbands to jettison their wives. Women's Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah described SMS divorce as a 'distant, anonymous, cowardly and callous act'. The human rights organisation SUARAM urged the government to review the verdict because it violated the dignity of a person. Moderate Muslim leaders, however, have been more cautious in their criticism, fearing the powerful influence of the Islamic clerics. Mohamad Ghazali, a leading woman member of the opposition Parti Islam se Malaysia, said the party did not question the verdict but feared its consequences. 'After sharing a life together, is this the way to treat your partner?' she said yesterday.