Monday, July 5, 2010

Women in Conservative Islam

I grew up in Indonesia, which holds the largest population of the world's Muslims in the entire world. Because of that experience, it bothers me when American Christians, journalists, or anyone really.... paints all Muslims with a broad condemning stroke. There are many, many kinds of Muslims. They are not all terrorists. They are not all extremely conservative. They interpret their scriptures in different ways and have different beliefs of how the Koran should be applied to the private life and to the government.

Having said that..... when I visited my family in South Asia a couple of years ago, I was, for the first time, immersed in a very conservative Muslim culture (Indonesia may be mostly Muslim, but they are generally not that conservative). Here I was faced with a daily conservative culture and the potential presence of extremists, militants, and the Taliban.

While I was at a grocery story with my parents in the big city, I picked up a Magnum bar (delicious, amazing ice cream bar) and flipped through the books on a  small bookshelf by the checkout counter. This one caught my eye and reading it has reminded me that there is so much in fundamentalist Islam that I find offensive and dangerous:
 
The Pious Wife - Majlis-ul-ulema

It's apparently published by a very conservative Islamic group in South Africa. Immediately I was shocked, because I NEVER saw women in Indonesia treated like this book instructs. I bought the book. It makes me angry. It also makes me want to read the Koran, because several times the book says that a woman is given certain rights under Islamic law, but that she should given them up in order to please her husband. Like this quote:


Under the prevailing circumstances of ignorance and intransigence, the wife, if she desires a happy and successful married life, has to cast a blind eye in the direction of her rights and dues.

Grr.. So it seems to me that this book and group are more conservative even then a pretty literal reading of the Koran. What really gets me... perhaps more then anything else... is that the book pretty much says that the woman's spiritual state depends on how happy her husband is with her:

It is essential that the Muslim woman understands that of all people, her husband commands her first and highest allegiance. He is the pivot of her salvation in both worlds. He is her ruler, her guard and guardian here on earth.

"He is either your Jannat or your Fire" - Your Paradise or your Hellfire. In other words, Allah's pleasure and displeasure in so far as the wife is concerned, are dependent on her husband's pleasure and displeasure. Thus, for attaining happiness in this world and Akhirah, it behooves her to court her husband's pleasure at all times. She must necessarily abstain from all things and every kind of behavior which find disfavor with her husband. She should mould herself to wholeheartedly submit to his whims and fancies. His likes must become her likes and his dislikes, her dislikes. She must acquaint herself with his moods and act accordingly to cultivate pleasure. She should step out of her way to comfort him and to console him in his worries and distress. She should never do anything to augment his worries.... Allah has created her for her husband's comfort and peace... Thus, any activity or behavior of the wife, even if permissible and meritorious in the Shariah, but which conflicts with the lawful wishes, desires, whims, fancies, likes and dislikes of the husband will be negatory of her role of wifehood and in contradiction of the aim and purpose for which Allah has created her.

Second-most infuriating is the advice about affairs and second marriage:

The husband involved with another woman is emotionally disturbed. His wife's rough and harsh attitude [in response to learning about the affair] will convince him that the other woman possesses qualities of love and charm with his wife lacks... An intelligent wife who desires to salvage her husband and keep intact her marriage, will not allow the situation to deteriorate to this level.

If the husband happens to marry a second wife, the first wife should not think and behave like a non-Muslim woman to whom polygamy is unthinkable. .. A man is fully within his Islamic rights to marry more than one woman.
It just feels like a woman is to remove all personal taste, preferences, or personality, and be a blank slate. Not only does this feel offensive to me as a person (then again, that is partly because of my western attitude about what is inherent in personality), but it also just puzzles me, because I think guys LIKE spunky personalities and a strong woman, as long as she doesn't dominate him.


It does not behoove her to display anger and displeasure in the face of her husband regardless of any dislike she may have for any of his acts. With humility and patience she should tolerate his shortcomings and even his injustice. 

Her demonstration of anger and displeasure will never benefit her in any way. On the contrary, she will turn her husband's heart away from her. She will, by means of showing anger, extinguish his feelings of love and affection for her... The woman who angers her husband invites the Wrath of Allah, hence her deeds of virtue are rebuffed and find no entry into the heavens.

Do not at any time express yourself in any way which conflicts with his temperament. If he says that day is night, then you too, agree with him. remember well that once you have embittered your husband, the impression will remain in his heart even after you have regretted and apologized. Therefore, be careful when you speak to your husband.

It seems like everything is meant to control the women, to instill fear of everything that will go bad if she doesn't allow her husband total control.


There will be times when the husband becomes annoyed with his wife. He might voice himself angrily, loudly and even aggressively. He holds higher rank. .. The Shariah has rules that the husband enjoys the right of even beating his wife if she obstinately neglects her duties.

The lifestyle rules are so strict, which I expected, but it's still a bit surprising. These aren't generally followed in the country we were in - in fact the only place I know where they have ever been enforced by law is under Taliban rule, and perhaps Iran.


 Among the rights which the husband holds over his wife is her adorning herself for his sake. He possesses the Islamic right to compel her to beautify herself for his sake. "He has the right to beat her if she refuses to beautify herself when he so desires.."

Glancing at other men is infidelity. Speaking to other men is infidelity. 

By means of driving, women places herself in the forefront of exhibition. She barters away her hayaa by aping the ways and mannerisms of males in the driving seat. Her place is not in the driving seat to wander around, putting herself up for public gaze and display. Her place is in the home - to live in dignity, respect, hayaa, and honor... It is virtually impossible for a woman who drives to observe the Islamic laws of Hijaab.

Never extract any any service from your husband. Even if he offers to assist out of love, then too, lovingly refuse and do everything yourself. Will you extract service from your father? Now ponder! Your husband's rank is higher than that of your father.

In this modern era of loose morals most women displease Allah by shamelessly violating Islam's Hijab rules on the occasion of childbirth. The age-old, respectable and Islamic system of childbirth taking place in the privacy of the home has been largely abandoned.. Most women in western countries are required to undergo un-Islamic, shameless and haraam medical tests and checkups. ... It is often believed that giving birth in hospitals and supervision by male physicians are necessary. But this is a myth peddled by the secular medical establishment.... Giving birth in hospitals and attended by male physicians are among the most shameless and immoral misdeeds which violently militate against the Islamic code of modesty.

It's all a bit surreal, eh? The book did have some good things, about the sanctity of marriage, about parenting, about loving your husband.... but the element of manipulation, control, and dominance just infuriates me. It is totally possible to keep the sanctity of marriage and respect and honor your husband WHILE still being your own person, expressing your own opinions, and living life in the public sphere! I am thankful for the freedom I have to speak my mind within this culture and to my husband, and for the appreciation my husband has for my intellect and opinions.

4 comments:

Young Mom said...

This sounds very very similar to fundamentalist christianity. This book is like the Islamic version of "Created to be his helpmeet" by Debi Pearl. I agree with you. It is terrifying, and I am equally thankful that my husband values me as a person, instead of just an extension of himself.

GretchenJoanna said...

I didn't get anything like this impression from Debi Pearl's book, but the book you are reading, Kacie, reminds me very much of the novels I just read, The Cairo Trilogy, describing Muslim culture in Egypt between the world wars, and also The Bookseller of Kabul, A Thousand Splendid Suns, etc. But The Cairo Trilogy was the most extensive and philosophical, and showed the tension between the (less than ideal) ideal of the religion and how men actually twist it to suit their own carnal desires.

I think we don't always appreciate the Christian foundations of our own western ways or at least standards; it is fascinating, and often infuriating, to see a culture that has none of that heritage.

Kacie said...

Agreed, GretchenJoanna. When I visited Pakistan I went in with an open mind, and most people are more conservative than in Indonesia but nowhere near what you see in Taliban, etc. Still, you can see the cultural struggle between modernization and this extreme conservatism. These voices are still present, and they shocked me.

Lucian said...

My! That's so horrible! How sad! :-(

Orthodoxy --on the other hand-- treats women like queens! -- especially redheads... :-|