Malaysia: Muslim women's rights leaders spoke against the Obedient Women's Club
Interview by Fathol Zaman Bukhari. There has been much furore over the formation of the Obedient Wives’ Club by a fringe Islamic group causing heated debate among women and men, alike. Ipoh Echo sought the views of two Malay Muslim women who helm a women’s rights movement here in Ipoh. Dr Sharifah Halimah Jaafar and Puan Halida Mohd Ali are from the Perak Women for Women Society. Here are their answers to our questions:
IE: Your views on the formation of the Obedient Wives’ Club by Islamic fringe group, Global Ikhwan on Saturday, June 4.
SHARIFAH: Obedient Wives’ Club (OWC) is a farce. It has belittled and insulted women’s role as a wife. Their calling on women to behave like first-class prostitutes in order to keep their husbands satisfied so they will not stray has reduced women’s status to that of a legal prostitute – a sex slave, so to speak. The fact that the statement is being made by a woman is in itself disgusting! We are not a sex object at the beck and call of our husbands. Healthy marriages develop from mutual understanding, love, trust, respect and having similar visions for the family. This club should instead be dubbed, “The Stupid Wives’ Club” or “The Hot Wives’ Club”.
HALIDA: The club is an affront to women’s dignity. It sees women as subservient individuals who have no minds of their own. Are the club’s members themselves obedient and exemplary? Are they, being what they are, qualified to counsel us on morality? The club should instead find ways to improve marriage, parenting and empowerment. This is more beneficial.
IE: Can the formation of this club cure social ills such as prostitution and divorce, as claimed by Dr Rohayah Mohamad, one of the club’s founders and its vice president?
SHARIFAH: OWC is another manifestation of the persistent women-blaming syndrome that dominates discussions on social issues such as divorce, prostitution, sexual abuse and domestic violence. During the launch of OWC, Rohayah said, and I quote, “It’s important to be good sexual workers so that the husbands don’t go to prostitutes.” Her assumption is based on a polygamous experience consistent with the community she lives in. In her closed community, men take another wife because their sexual needs are not being met by their existing wives. Rohayah not only tarnishes women’s dignity, she blames her own kind for the cause of social ills. Becoming a first-class hooker will not stop a man from marrying another woman or ensure his fidelity. Neither will it guarantee that incest and rape will not occur.
While society is concerned about baby dumping, unplanned pregnancies, Mat Rempits, bullying, drug abuses, etc. this group of housewives is offering advice to women on how to improve their sexual performance in bed. They should instead find ways on how to be better parents to their kids. Rohayah should do some homework before making far-fetched statements.
The formation of this club will not curb social ills. It will probably add to the problems. Women living in fear will choose to remain silent because they are afraid to be seen as being disobedient to the husbands. PWW has come across women who have been sexually abused by their husbands, sodomised and forced to have sex everyday, regardless of their health and emotional well-being. They suffered in silence for many years until they couldn’t bear it any longer. Most of them felt degraded and suffered a loss of self-esteem. I have encountered a man who got his wife pregnant 13 times. He accused his spouse of being unable to sexually satisfy him and asked me if I had medication to revitalise his wife. The poor woman had to care for and raise his 13 children.
HALIDA: The formation of OWC will not cure social problems, per se. Whether or not the wife is a tramp (in bed), the husband will still stray. Men say that marrying another wife is to prevent sin but infidelity is already a sin. Islamic laws allow men to marry 4 wives. The hadith says, “You can marry 4 wives and must be fair to all but if you cannot be fair, then just marry one”. Can they be fair? Wives and children in polygamous marriages are not happy.
The children are usually involved in undesirable activities because the father’s attention is divided. The first wife is always sidelined, as the man concentrates on his younger wives. This creates inadequacy, anger and jealousy among the womenfolk. No amount of seduction will bring the husband back.
IE: Malaysia’s divorce rate has doubled from 2002 to 2009. The rates among
Malay Muslims are higher compared to the other races. What are the primary causes?
SHARIFAH: According to statistics, the divorce rates for Malay and Non-Malay have increased equally. Almost 50-60% of reasons for marriage failures are due to infidelity on the part of men. Not only men file for divorce, a significant number of women also file for
divorce for a multitude of reasons – irreconcilable differences, falling out of love, domestic violence, drug abuse, communication problems, problems with in-laws, etc. There is no justification in imposing on the wife the burden of making a marriage work. A failed marriage is not the fault of one spouse only. Marriage is a partnership akin to a contract between two individuals. It takes two to tango. Men too must learn how to make their wives happy and remain loyal, both in good and bad times.
HALIDA: The divorce rate is high, especially among young Malay couples. This is due to their marrying young. They are ill-prepared for responsibilities that come with marriage. Parents insist on their children marrying early to avoid the sins of intimacy. Most of these young husbands don’t hold proper jobs; indulge in substance abuse and extra-marital affairs. Women are frequently reminded of their pivotal role in marriage but not the men. Men are not told to respect women, practise good values and be good leaders and providers. The emphasis is more on their being exemplary Muslims, pray 5 times a day and follow the Sunnah. The tendency to deviate is therefore greater, as they are susceptible to external influences. Islamic laws on marriage and divorce should be tightened to avoid divorce by utterance (deliberate in most cases) and via text messaging.
IE: “Disobedient wives are the cause of upheaval in this world because men are not happy at home and their minds and souls are disturbed,” said Dr Rohayah. Your comments.
SHARIFAH: This is a typical example of blaming women for men’s behaviour or seeking justifications for men’s actions or inactions. To Rohayah’s understanding, men’s minds and souls are controlled by their sexual orientations rather than by their intelligence. If a man is sexually satisfied by his wife only then will he be happy and can think straight. If not, God knows what’s going happen. He might lose control and rape a minor, commit adultery and abuse his wife and what not. This logic is nonsensical. Rohayah needs to learn that every man and woman is responsible for his or her actions. Isn’t that what we teach our children about cause and effect and action and consequence?
HALIDA: Rohayah blaming women for men’s behaviour is uncalled for. We should respect ourselves and not become a doormat. We are neither chattels nor first-class prostitutes. Why must we be responsible for our husbands’ actions? If he is grateful and treasures his wife he would not go astray. Marriage is a team effort. Both parties should work hard to make it work. Men should also learn how to give pleasure to their women, as sex is reciprocal. There must be commitment, communication, trust, respect, love, honesty and faithfulness.
If the wife is unsatisfied in bed can she go astray? I have known of many wives who are denied sex or being rebuffed. Most suffer in silence. The daring ones would look for a lover. A friend tried all the seduction techniques on her husband but her marriage still failed. If a man wants to stray nothing in this world can stop him.
It’s not disobedient wives that are causing the problems but irresponsible husbands. Period.
IE: The club consists of about 800 members at the time of reporting. Most are members of Global Ikhwan, which is an offshoot of the banned Al-Arqam Islamic Group outlawed in 1994 for deviationist teachings. Do you honestly think that the club, with its idealistic intentions, will get the support of conservative-thinking Muslim women in the country? Will it take root here in Perak?
SHARIFAH: Many rational-thinking Muslim women, like me, find this ideology absurd. It is not at all surprising, as these women’s minds are being shaped by banned deviationist teachings. Like I have said, they probably want to reinvent themselves in order to be relevant and to make a comeback to mainstream activities. They want to get as much attention as possible, that’s why they pick an UMNO leader to launch their club with a lavish western dinner accompanied by music and songs. Their primitive mind-set has not only succeeded in getting the local but the international media abuzz.
On whether it will take root here in Perak, it all depends on Perakians’ understanding of Islamic teachings. Islam encourages its followers to conduct their marriages on the basis of mutual respect and understanding. Communication, not submission, is vital in sustaining a healthy relationship.
HALIDA: I don’t think it will get the support, especially from level-thinking women, regardless of their sexual inclinations. However, one cannot stop women from joining this club. That’s their prerogative. It might catch up here in Perak since mufti Tan Sri Harussani has given his blessing.
IE: How could social ills besetting the Malay Muslim community be overcome?
SHARIFAH: Social ills besetting Malay Muslims will never be overcome so long as the community keeps harping on petty issues rather than finding solutions for its numerous problems. The belief that men are superior to women results in the lack of respect for women’s rights. This is the primary cause of social ills like rape, incest, domestic violence, prostitution, exploitation of women etc. It’s about men wanting to exert their will over women. Women are not the cause but are, in fact, victims of men’s irresponsible behaviours. Respect begins with acceptance between both genders.
HALIDA: Lust, greed, power and infidelity are the root causes of social ills. Men seek variety even if they are satisfied at home. That’s the reason why prostitution, pornography and human trafficking thrive. Enforcement is weak or non-existence. The authorities are mostly men; therefore, an element of condoning exists. Muslims tend to have many children. This is a major contributing factor, as overseeing a large family can be taxing financially, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Malay women are being taught (indoctrinated) to be submissive and obedient to their husbands. It’s their passport to heaven and a golden umbrella, in the hereafter. How simplistic! Our deeds, good or bad, are not for us to judge but God.
If Muslim men were to go back to the basics of honouring, respecting and loving their womenfolk, social ills among the Malay Muslim community would reduce.