Obedient Wives Club should be legally recognised

I have a sneaky feeling that the government is going to refuse to register the Singapore chapter of the Obedient Wives Club under the Societies Act. If at all the authorities are even considering to grant it registration, the Home Affairs Ministry is going to have to fend off enormous pressure from the orthodox Muslim authorities to say “No”.

To refuse registration is wrong. The Obedient Wives Club (OWC) should be recognised as a legitimate society. One does not have to agree with its aims to speak up for its right to exist. And to promote its beliefs.

Originating from Malaysia, the OWC is reported to be descended from Al Arqam, a group that the Kuala Lumpur government banned on the ground that it preached a deviant from of Islam. Some adherents then went on to start a group promoting polygamy; now there’s the OWC.

What the OWC’s status is in Malaysia is unclear, but it should not matter to Singapore. This is because, while the Malaysian constitution declares that Islam to be the official religion of Malaysia, a position which inevitably entangles the government of the day in the definition of what “Islam” is, Singapore is a secular state. We believe in the separation of religion from affairs of state, and our government should not be in the business of deciding what constitutes “Islam” and what does not. Singapore cannot and should not be trying to decide whether OWC is deviant or not, which a refusal to register would be tantamount to. Any group is free to promote teachings that go against religious orthodoxy. Thus, there is no basis whatsoever to refuse registration to the OWC on dogmatic grounds.

The Malaysian OWC hit the headlines when a spokeswoman for it was reported to have said that a husband whose wife “is as good as or better than a prostitute in bed” has no reason to stray. “Rather than allowing him to sin, a woman must do all she can to ensure his desires are met.”

Keeping husbands sexually satisfied is key to solving several other social ills as well, such as domestic violence — so goes the Club’s argument. The Singapore chapter, by all accounts, adopts a similar position as the Malaysian OWC.

Yet such attitudes are not that far removed from patriarchal ideas dominant in our Malay-Muslim community, as Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib argued in the Straits Times recently:

An unmistakable trend is the idea that the husband has the right to be gratified sexually by his wife at all times.

[snip]

Thus, marriage is primarily seen not as a relationship of mutual love and respect, but as a set of duties and obligations. The man, as the absolute leader in the family, is entitled to absolute obedience from the woman. Any form of denial or subversion of his authority may constitute nushuz (rebellion). Inadvertently, this has led to men believing that they have the right to demand sex from their wives, even if she refuses.

These ideas are part of the worldview of traditionalist Islam. The popularity of books such as Tohfa-e-Doulhan (Gift For The Bride), sold in local bookstores here, latches on to a dominant orientation as much as it seeks to entrench patriarchy through religious discourse.

— Straits Times, 22 June 2011, Time to thrash out gender roles. by Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib

Further one, he points out that the concept of obedience easily becomes central to hopes of dealing with domestic and social problems. However, it brings with it gender inqeuality:

In the simplistic minds of traditionalists, all domestic problems can be solved when men exercise their authority responsibly and women obey men as an act of submission to ‘God’s will’.

In such a patriarchal structure, men are to a degree above women. Thus, internal Muslim critiques of gender biases are often dismissed as an imposition of alien world views such as ‘Western feminism’.

— ibid

The same writer goes on to argue that such a traditionalist view of Islam is now disputed by reformists, with good authority from the Koran itself. Nonetheless, one good thing that might come out of this episode would be to open discussion about gender roles and sex within Islam, he said.

Yet opening up discussion is exactly what guardians of orthodoxy do not want. In 2000, the play Talaq was banned following protests by Muslim clerics, though the grounds of decision mumbled something about “protecting religious and racial sensitivities”. That play did exactly what Mohd Inram would welcome – raise questions about gender inequity within Islam, and the domestic violence it breeds – through highlighting the ease by which a husband can divorce his wife by pronouncing the word “Talaq” three times in a row.

It’s no use saying let’s have a discussion on this to open people’s minds whenever religious leaders want their following to jettison certain ideas, while being equally eager to lower the guillotine when it does not suit those same leaders to have their ideas or “sensitivities” challenged out of turn. One cannot resort to banning to protect orthodoxy from challenge and then bemoan that patriarchal orthodoxy persists.

Indeed it would be deeply ironic for the defenders of male-dominated conventional interpretations of Islam, ever-ready to demand obedience through the use of censorship, state and social coercion, to flap about today when some of their co-religionists make a fetish of obedience.

And this is before we even bring up any citizen’s right to freedom of belief, of expression and of association, for which Singapore’s track record of honouring is disgraceful.

35 Responses to “Obedient Wives Club should be legally recognised”


  1. 1 ST 28 June 2011 at 22:15

    “Keeping husbands sexually satisfied is key to solving several other social ills as well, such as domestic violence — so goes the Club’s argument. The Singapore chapter, by all accounts, adopts a similar position as the Malaysian OWC.

    “Yet such attitudes are not that far removed from patriarchal ideas dominant in our Malay-Muslim community”

    I don’t think it’s that far off from what the ‘general public’ thinks as well since in Singapore, rape is not rape if the woman is legally married to the rapist.

    • 2 yawningbread 29 June 2011 at 01:30

      Exactly. The patriachalism in our laws (and amongst PAP leaders) wants to remain hidden as “societal consensus”, but now comes the OWC that explicitly celebrates it. It should be painfully embarrassing to the PAP. To ban the OWC would be hypocrisy. To not ban them would permit the OWC to expose their own patriachalism.

  2. 3 Tan Tai Wei 29 June 2011 at 08:28

    The name of this club isn’t “promoting Islam club”. If so, then I am inclined to agree it should be registered along with other religious organisations, despite that they may also, here and there, still entertain views which are morally repugnant to more enlightened minds today. (Provided, of course, that those views do not cross the threshold of acceptability, and on the whole, better for society to have or tolerate them.)

    But this club, by its name, aims to promote exclusively unjust, nay inhuman, treatment of husbands of their wives. Even on only pragmatic considerations, it is wrong, for it is wont to destroy the very basis of good marriage, the foundation of the family unit and of society.

    It should not be registered, not because the state pretends to protect true Islamic teachings, but because its function would undermine morals and subvert our social frabic

  3. 4 Leong 29 June 2011 at 09:41

    They really have no reason not to approve it.

    Afterall remember at one time, some leader even proposed to allow Singapore men to marry more than 1 wife legally to solve our propagation & aging problems. But when GKS wanted to marry a much younger colleague, it was not taken too kindly as it was seen as detrimental to the PAP image.

    Such is the irony of our leaders, hypocrisy is the order of the day.

  4. 5 melbyfool 29 June 2011 at 10:55

    “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Ephesians 5:23)

    “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands…” (1st Peter 3:1)

    “To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:5)

    All in the Bible.

  5. 7 Tan Tai Wei 29 June 2011 at 11:56

    But why press them to be consistent now when the result would be to force them to register such a “patriachal” society?

    Better to congratulate them now for being morally and/or religiously progressive on this matter, and only after they ruled against that registration, then press on them to be consistent and review those other patriachal rules.

    • 8 blake 30 June 2011 at 01:12

      You seem to have missed YB’s point altogether. The point is that the Government should not be in the business of vetting the moral or ideological beliefs of societies. As long as a group isn’t advocating violence, they should be allowed to register.

      A true liberal would support the freedom of association for EVERYONE, including people whose views you strongly disagree with.

    • 9 Anders 30 June 2011 at 12:02

      Not recognizing a conservative/patriarchal organization does not make you progressive. I suggest you re-read YB’s second paragraph, in particular its last two sentences.

  6. 10 Bujang Teruna 29 June 2011 at 14:32

    the late Haji Ashaari Mohammad (died May 13, 2010, aged 73 was a spiritual leader who started Al-Arqam, an Islamic organisation in Malaysia. The organisation was banned by the Malaysian government which cited practices that deviated from mainstream Islam.

    http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2010/5/13/nation/20100513185130&sec=nation < (Al-Arqam founder Ashaari dies)

    Ashaari was nicknamed "Abuya" (father in Arabic) by his followers, and was known for wearing a turban, green Al-Arqam rope, and having mascara-lined eyes. He had four wives and 37 children. He gained notoriety in Malaysia when his Islamic sect, called Al-Arqam was banned for being heretical.

    http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2006/11/27/nation/16141324&sec=nation < (Don’t try to revive banned al-Arqam)

    http://www.nytimes.com/1994/10/10/world/sungai-penchala-journal-a-malay-plot-or-just-a-well-meaning-commune.html < (Sungai Penchala Journal; A Malay Plot? Or Just a Well-Meaning Commune?)

    and also

    Al-Arqam is a worldwide Islamic religious movement, which originated in Malaysia. The movement was banned by the federal government on 21 October 1994. More than 5 Al-Arqam members including Ashaari Mohammad (leader of movement) were arrested under Internal Security Act (ISA) in Thailand and were flown back to Malaysia to be detained.

    Some of the latest articles written on Al-arqam (written in Bahasa Malaysia) are listed at this Harian Metro site.

    A news article by Bernama on the banning of 2 books written by Khadijah Aam at http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v3/news_lite.php?id=235079 < (Books Proof Ashaari Still Believes In Al-Arqam Teachings, Says Ex-Follower)

    It is alleged that the Ikhwan Polygamy Club is a modern attempt to revive Al-Arqam at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/06/world/asia/06malaysia.html?hp < (Malaysian Polygamy Club Draws Criticism)

  7. 11 homemaker 29 June 2011 at 16:27

    Perhaps it would have been wiser to substitute the word “obedient” for something less politically incorrect.

    All in all, there is nothing wrong with the mission and vision of the OWC. It is a sad fact that most men do not get sexually satisfied leading many to turn to the unhealthy habit of seeking out prostitutes. This is turn creates the demand of the illicit flesh trade and fuels vices related activities. Not to mention the spread of STD. I suspect one reason why wife’s may lag behind what is currently offered by the sex industry is bc many of them have not been exposed to sexual training. This is partly due to the failure of AWARE to plug this hole. If they had bothered with filling the demand then the role of the OWC would be redundant.

    The way I see it OWC is simply forwarding one idea – if wife’s can be trained to see the full range of the potential of their orifices and maximize of what they can do humanly to bring joy to their better half. I am sure this will bring harmony to the household of many in both Singapore and Malaysia.

    The problem is not sex per se, but the lack of sex. I wish the OWC the best of luck. Just as nothing beats home cooked meals. Nothing should be allowed to top home entertainment.

    • 12 Calculon 30 June 2011 at 02:41

      It is a club after all, much like golf clubs, book clubs, crochet clubs, an union of like-minded people sharing like-minded interest, not that they go out on the streets with placard, protesting at Fort Canning.

      I am perhaps ignorant of the various kinds of sexual training would be wife needs to undertake though, hope the local CC can offer some assistance.

  8. 13 ariq 29 June 2011 at 19:19

    Forget about religion, forget about politic… Just see in neutral mind.. What does OWC means…? I only can see OWC as a by-product of Taliban’s teaching. I think goverment shouldn’t approve this club.

  9. 15 K Das 29 June 2011 at 19:19

    The registration apllication for Obedient Wives Club (OWC) is premature. It should be kept in ‘hold’ till the alternative Obedient Husbands Club (OHC) is formed and submitted for registration. Why not if not for gender equality that we talk so much about?

    Societies all over the world is alpha dominated. It started on valid premises from primitive societies when man tilled and toiled, kept guard and fought predator animals from harming one’s family and brought bread to the table. The recognition and acceptance of him as the head of the family was thus understandable. Over the centuries economic nature and functions having changed and with women coming into work force, earning and standing on their own, man-woman, husband-wife relationship has taken total transformation.

    Age is not on my side and I do not have the energy. If someone starts OHC, I will certainly sign up gladly. When they get on track, both OWC and OHC can colloborate to get the following done for a start.

    A child is a creation of both the father and mother. When a name is given to the child and registered in the birth certificate, it carries the father’s first name as surname and mother’s name is no where mentioned. It becomes a non-entity. Only father matters and not mother it seems.

    SWEE LIAN’s father is TEO and mother GOH but she is named as TEO SWEE LIAN
    When the two Clubs start operating they should campaingn for gender equality and make this reflect in the naming of a child. They should call for (a newly re-born) SWEE LIAN to be named as SWEE LIAN TEO-GOH . Similarly SARATHA whose father is RAMANATHAN and mother KAVITHA will have her current name RAMANATHAN SARATHA changed to SARATHA RAMANATHAN-KAVITHA. The same should apply for a male child. Likewise for Malays and others.

    I have only given the starting base for name changes to accord women their rights and be not discriminated against. I do realise the suggested name change can bring in a host of problems later on like when the girl gets married and again when she herself gives birth to a child – what their names be like. But the problems may not be insurmountable, I think.

  10. 16 53891 29 June 2011 at 22:09

    Homemaker

    To paraphrase your comment, you are saying women who do not work as prostitutes are:

    1. Not interested in sex.
    2. Not good/trained in sex.
    3. Don’t give enough sex to their husband, who want lots.

    Your view is Victorian, chauvanistic, outdated, and plain wrong. Women enjoy orgasms as much as men (you didn’t know that, did you?). Yet they have orgasms less frequently than men. They are nice enough to pretend they have one (or two) though, so that the male ego doesn’t get hurt.

    Women are interested in sex but, unlike men, they are not interested in bad sex. And good sex for women is far more difficult than good sex for men. Hence, the ones taking sex lessons should be men, not women.

  11. 18 prettyplace 29 June 2011 at 23:19

    It is interesting to know that boundaries will be forced to be redrawn, even in Singapore.

  12. 19 Tan Tai Wei 30 June 2011 at 08:12

    The aim of OWC is self-defeating.

    The kind of fulfilling loving sexual relation you want with your wife cannot be had if you treat your wife as a prostitute, and she feels being treated like one. She doesn’t give you the response you really need, even should you not realise that. On your part, the reality is felt by you when, at the end of your “sex” using her, you feel the same disgust you feel each time you finish with a postitute, or with some “sex toy” after masturbating.

    The solution is not to be taken in by sex advertisements on your way home from office, and develop that rounded, mutually respectful soulful, and not only bodily, relationship with your wife, wherein physical sex has its rightful place (“Man shall not live by bread alone…”)

    • 20 ST 30 June 2011 at 16:20

      Tan Tai Wei wrote: “On your part, the reality is felt by you when, at the end of your “sex” using her, you feel the same disgust you feel each time you finish with a postitute, or with some “sex toy” after masturbating.”

      When you say “disgust”, do you mean that men who pay for sex may feel disgusted with themselves or with the sex worker? I don’t think either emotions are a given and if it’s present, I think the person paying for sex has issues (shame, guilt or whatever) and is unhealthy.

      I think there’s certain subversiveness about the OWC that I admire. It’s pretty cool for a certain group of women to take charge and say that’s what they want to do for themselves no matter what people say. Am I being naive? Maybe. But I think they should be left on their own. If it fails, it fails. There’s no need for a ban.

  13. 21 Tan Tai Wei 1 July 2011 at 08:06

    Thanks, ST.

    I meant, besides such guilt feelings you mentioned, the contrast in your attitude towards her before the act to that after.

    Someone sent me a joke about how meticulously, even artistically, a man would feel and inch his way around undressing a woman, but only, immediately after the act, to leave her to search for her own pieces of clothing and get dressed. Nothing else of interest about her remains!

  14. 22 Bujang Teruna 2 July 2011 at 06:06

    As oppose to the Obedient Wife Club, WOMEN ARE NOT SEX SLAVE. Marriage doesn’t mean putting the wifey through an act of sexual torture and it suppose to be a lesson for some MAN on what is right and wrong. Wife is not a man property but a man responsibility.and also WHY we need this club anyway…

  15. 23 jeremy 5 July 2011 at 17:01

    You cannot make this stuff up.

    Just reading the title of the blog, I thought it was about a satirical society formed by pranksters or the Singapore variant of ‘Fathers for Justice’

    I did not dream that it would be a thousand times sadder, a thousand times more hilarious.

  16. 24 Nurra 14 July 2011 at 14:18

    Quote: “Singapore is a secular state. We believe in the separation of religion from affairs of state, and our government should not be in the business of deciding what constitutes “Islam” and what does not. Singapore cannot and should not be trying to decide whether OWC is deviant or not, which a refusal to register would be tantamount to. Any group is free to promote teachings that go against religious orthodoxy. Thus, there is no basis whatsoever to refuse registration to the OWC on dogmatic grounds.”

    What about the banning of Jehovah Witnesses? As much as we want to believe in “separation of religion and state”, it’s truly not possible. Take America for example, a true “separation of church and state”, To the point that no religious holidays are considered a public holiday, All their holidays are secular. So is that a vision of how Singapore should be in future? I don’t think so.

    Anyone can start a movement and declare it a religion, from flying spaghetti monster to star wars, and the government is doing a good job of sieving radicals/deviants from the mainstream. They have to. Otherwise we’ll all be gone back to the middle ages where crusades and wars about “which is the real deal” religion will surface.

    • 25 yawningbread 14 July 2011 at 14:43

      The government should not ban Jehovah’s Witnesses.

      You wrote: “the government is doing a good job of sieving radicals/deviants from the mainstream.” But that is exactly the problem — why and how should the government be in the business of deciding religious questions? Most organised religions we see around us started off as deviants.

      • 26 Nurra 15 July 2011 at 13:22

        Let us not forget that the Maria Hertogh riots – despite the factual case was basically a custody battle between the real parents and the adopted mother, Religion did play a part here. Muslims versus Catholics.

        There’s another reason why Racial Riots of 1964 was also dubbed “Prophet Muhammad Birthday Riots” although this was racially motivated, I wouldn’t be surprised if yet religion was a factor.

        The government has to intervene, in my opinion, or else the unrest will never cease. Even now, as Poker player puts it, “You have this problem even without “new” religions. Hell, even within the same religion.”

        Who knows, missionaries of Anton LaVey and L.Ron Hubbard will set up branches in Singapore one day, together with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And then what? Riots between Atheist and believers?

        Screw that. I’ve seen how radical clerics ruins people’s lives. Just ask the Westboro Bapstist Church.

      • 27 Poker Player 15 July 2011 at 15:44

        “Who knows, missionaries of Anton LaVey and L.Ron Hubbard will set up branches in Singapore one day, together with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And then what? Riots between Atheist and believers?”

        Yes! Yes! And what of Catholics and Protestants killing each other!! We should never have let them set up churches here!!!!

      • 28 Poker Player 15 July 2011 at 15:48

        “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster”

        Lets rank them according to danger to others:

        Number of people killed by Protestants in the name of Protestantism = X
        Number of people killed by Catholics in the name of Catholicism = Y
        Number of people killed by FSMs in the name of FSM = Z

        We rank them and
        we start banning the one with the highest number.

  17. 29 Poker Player 14 July 2011 at 16:57

    “To the point that no religious holidays are considered a public holiday”

    Christmas?

    “Otherwise we’ll all be gone back to the middle ages where crusades and wars about “which is the real deal” religion will surface.”

    You have this problem even without “new” religions. Hell, even within the same religion.

    The best education for people who think this way is to be put in a time machine back to 100 A.D. And have the authorities apply exactly the same reasoning. In those days, other than jail, they had hungry lions.

    • 30 Nurra 15 July 2011 at 13:02

      Have you had Christmas in US? There are groups petitioning to change the greeting “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays”. In fact, there have been lawsuits filed. Shopping malls aren’t allowed to potray nativity scenes (it is about Jesus after all, right?) but instead the icon of consumer capitalist “Santa”.

      That’s just ONE so called “Religious” holiday the US is celebrating. No Easter, nothing.

      • 31 Poker Player 15 July 2011 at 14:46

        “That’s just ONE so called “Religious” holiday the US is celebrating. No Easter, nothing.”

        Notice when people like Nurra complain about Church and State, they really mean just that: ***Church*** and State. Too bad if you worship in a way they disapprove of (see his previous comment). That’s the rationale for secularism.

        Hey Nurra, Hare Krishnas want their holidays too. You got one, they got none.

        I hope YB lets in Nurra’s reply about how Hare Krishnas are not a real religion – should be entertaining.

      • 32 Poker Player 15 July 2011 at 14:51

        “That’s just ONE so called “Religious” holiday the US is celebrating. No Easter, nothing.”

        And are there any restrictions when the celebration is among Christians?

        You are unhappy that there are restrictions in situations where non-Christians are involved?

  18. 33 Nurra 15 July 2011 at 17:18

    Yeah, in a way, I missed Singapore. We have Hari Raya for Muslims, Deepavali for Hindus, Easter and Christmas for Christians and Vesak day for Buddhist. I don’t like the way that things are being potrayed in US, crying equality for all and such from feminist, gay and black communities alike, yet the there’s nothing, no hannukah for Jews, or Kwanza or Hari Raya or Holidays for Scientologists. It’s sad, so yeah to answer your question, I am unhappy.

    So basically, OWC should have the “rights” to abuse human rights and ignore the women’s charter in the name of religion and gvmt shouldn’t be involved? NIce. Good luck with that.

  19. 34 Nurra 16 July 2011 at 07:10

    “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster”

    Lets rank them according to danger to others:

    Number of people killed by Protestants in the name of Protestantism = X
    Number of people killed by Catholics in the name of Catholicism = Y
    Number of people killed by FSMs in the name of FSM = Z

    We rank them and
    we start banning the one with the highest number.”

    Back in the Dark Ages, it was inevitable, normal even. people fought wars. Crusades, kingdoms invade each other, Mongolians, Romans, etc etc etc. Hell, even now in Afgan and Iraq governments still declare war. Apartheid in Africa etc, So basically governments have dead body counts too. Shall we start banning governments as well?

    You seriously need therapy.


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