KUALA LUMPUR - A Malaysian women club that encourages wives to be more obedient to their husbands is sparking a new uproar in the country, with feminist groups accusing it of bringing back an "oppressive" interpretation of Islam.
"The Obedient Wives Club went kind of extreme, Ivy Josiah, executive director of Malaysia's Women's Aid Group, which advocates for women's rights, told the National Public Radio (NPR) on Monday, January 30.
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."
Launched in June, organizers say Obedient Wife Club aims at teach women how to please their husbands better to prevent them from straying or misbehaving.
Holding their meetings in Kuala Lumpur, club members are offered speeches and shows that illustrated how women can keep their husbands happy and contented.
Organizers say the club's idea came after a sharp increase in the divorce rates with statistics showing that a Muslim couple gets divorced every 15 minutes.
The warning rates, issued by the Islamic Development Department (Jakim), showed there were 27,116 divorces in 2009, up from 17,749 in 2005.
Though Muslim Malays compromise only 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million population, they made up about 82 percent of total divorces in the country.
Over the past few months, the club has expanded overseas and now boasts some 3,000 members worldwide.
But the club's branches, in places like Britain and Indonesia, have drawn fire from local critics.
"It's hard to ignore them, you know, said Josiah.
They're good for a laugh, actually, I think."
Josiah opined that the club was basically using religion to reinforce cultural messages that 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 said.
Dismssing the accusations, the club's organizers say their efforts are aimed at tackling social problems as rising divorce rates.
"The idea was actually just to invite the Muslim community to go back and follow the Qur'an and the Sunnah," Jamaluddin said.
"Because through the years, I think people have actually gone astray a little bit. We have all these social ills because of that."
Jamaluddin cited a Qur'anic verse to prove his point.
"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."
This concept, however, was challenged by the former first lady of Indonesia, Sinta Nuriyah Wahid, who rejected the group's interpretation of the Qur'an 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 said.
"In my opinion, as a feminist, I would say that [the Obedient Wives Club] should be banned."
In Islam, marriage is a sacred bond that brings together a man and a woman by virtue of the teachings of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
Each partner in this sacred relationship must treat the other properly and with respect.
Divorce is not at all viewed favorably in Islam and is discouraged unless warranted by valid reasons.