'Obedient Wives Club' Irks Some Muslims In Malaysia | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
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'Obedient Wives Club' Irks Some Muslims In Malaysia

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Last June, some employees at the Global Ikhwan Cafe, in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, established the Obedient Wives Club. Global Ikhwan (Ikhwan is Arabic for "brotherhood") owns businesses in several countries.

Since then, it has been castigated for what Muslim and non-Muslim critics call a "medieval and oppressive interpretation of Islam."

The controversy surprised club organizer Azlina Jamaluddin. She says her group is merely suggesting a way to deal with social problems in Malaysia such as a rising divorce rate.

"The idea was actually just to invite the Muslim community to go back and follow the Quran and the Sunnah," Jamaluddin says, "because through the years, I think people have actually gone astray a little bit. We have all these social ills because of that."

Jamaluddin quotes verse 4:34 of the Quran as the basis for her belief:

"Men are the leaders of women, because God has made one of them to excel over the other, and because men spend to support them from their means."

The group appears to have toned down its rhetoric since last year, when media quoted members as saying that wives should satisfy the sexual desires of their husbands like prostitutes.

Club member Hajiera Hartley explains that the group is simply giving its members the basic information they request about sex and marriage.

"Simple things like, how do people kiss. Honestly, the Malays do not know how to kiss," Hartley says.

Last October, the group published a book instructing its members about what it called "Islamic sex." The volume was promptly banned by the government.

Ivy Josiah, executive director of Malaysia's Women's Aid Group, which advocates for women's rights, says banning the book was unnecessary, as critics like her thoroughly refuted its ideas.

"The Obedient Wives Club went kind of extreme ... by saying you need to behave like a prostitute, so that kind of triggered a very negative reaction, but it was a great debate while it lasted," Josiah says. "It's hard to ignore them, you know. They're good for a laugh, actually, I think."

Josiah adds that the Obedient Wives Club is basically using religion to reinforce messages that already exist in every culture about why women should obey men.

"What they're saying here is that your religion — in this case, Islam — is also saying what you should do, that God is saying that if you are going to enter the gates of heaven, you also have to obey your husband," she says.

Other critics point out that the club was founded by members of the al-Arqam sect, which Malaysian religious authorities banned for its unorthodox teachings.

The club says that's ancient history. It has expanded overseas and now boasts some 3,000 members worldwide. The club's branches, in places like Britain and Indonesia, have drawn fire from local critics.

The former first lady of Indonesia, Sinta Nuriyah Wahid, rejects the group's interpretation of the Quran that places men above women.

"We believe that Islam bestows blessings on all of humankind. Any interpretation that does not fit in with this, or is unjust, must not be allowed," Wahid says. "In my opinion, as a feminist, I would say that [the Obedient Wives Club] should be banned."

The Quran itself never changes, Wahid notes; it is just people's interpretations that change. And while people are free to interpret the Quran as they please, she adds, not all interpretations hold water.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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