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This Call for Muslim Sex Goddesses is a Setback for Malaysia

By Nazry Bahrawi

21 June 2011

The Obedient Wives Club in Malaysia wants married Muslim women to be harlots in bed. How is this empowering?

Malaysia’s latest Islamic movement says women should be like high-class prostitutes in bed to cure sex-related social ills.

If women's liberation in Britain is brazenly expressed by marching the SlutWalk, the rage in Malaysia is to sign up for the Obedient Wives Club. Established this month, the club already has 800 members.

The founders of Malaysia's latest Islamic grassroots movement would surely chastise the SlutWalk on a rationale that goes something like this: had western societies acknowledged that man is hardwired for sex and endorsed polygamy, there could have been happy endings galore.

Jennifer Aniston would still be with Brad Pitt if she were willing to share him with Angelina Jolie. And Bill Clinton's term as US president would not have been scandalous had Hillary allowed her husband to take Monica Lewinsky as his second wife.

After all, Bill is just "being a man", says the club's founding member Rohaya Mohamad in an interview with the Malaysian Star newspaper. The medicine graduate from the University of Wales, who is the third wife of a 45-year-old man, adds: "As a world leader, you are stressed up and one way to release your stress is by having sex."

As Muslim societies wrestle with women's rights, one would have thought such outrageous remarks would fall on deaf ears. Yet the club is expanding: it plans to open a new chapter for Malay Muslims in neighbouring Singapore soon.

Three factors underpin the club's popularity. Foremost, these women believe they are curing sex-related social ills such as rape, incest, prostitution and sex trafficking. On this lofty assumption rests a second factor. Its founders believe their aphrodisiac ways are a counter to "most women's groups", a veiled reference to western feminism, which ignore the repercussions when a wife does not sexually satisfy her husband.

Perhaps the most compelling factor is hinged on the belief that the club does God's work.

The Qur'an, they argue, is peppered with references to sex. To their detractors, another founding member Siti Maznah Mohamed Taufik has this to say: "God even promised sexual pleasure from beautiful bidadari [angels] in heaven for those who are good. So are you saying that God is sex-crazed or obscene?"

Men's natural proclivity for sex can be traced to Islam's first prophet, Adam, according to Royaha. "Eve was created because Adam had needs. Men have [sexual] needs which they can't control. And if the needs are not fulfilled, men will find another woman. God created them like that."

Combine all three factors and you get their panacea: make sex goddesses of married Muslim women to the point that they are better in bed than first-class prostitutes.

Yet these conjectures stand on shaky ground. To begin with, one can find no shortage of criminologists – even from the Muslim world – who would point out that pinning down the cause of rape, incest, prostitution and sex trafficking to the failure of a wife to slake her husband's sexual thirst is not just highly reductive but also sociologically unsound.

Surely not all rapists are sexually dissatisfied with their wives. Six seasons of Criminal Minds have suggested to me that most do it to exact revenge or to exert control.

But the founders are ignoring the rigorous debate on feminism in modern Islamic thought by theologians such as Fatima Mernissi and Asghar Ali Engineer. The latter has been instrumental in questioning the interpretation of the word qānitāt in the widely cited verse 4:34 of the Qur'an as "obedience to man" rather than "obedience to God". The verse is widely cited as testament that God wants wives to be docile.

Finally, the idea that the club offers an alternative to western feminism is more nuanced. There is a strong case to be made for multiple feminisms, as Nesrine Malik and Geraldine Brooks have argued. If Islamic feminism is to take shape, Malaysia's Obedient Wives Club doesn't offer an alternative, but a negation.

Source: The Guardian, London