How to beat your pregnant wife

There was an interesting article in this morning’s “New Straits Times” newspaper, p16, written by a lady called Zainah Anwar, who is, I believe, one of a group of local women called the Sisters in Islam. They attempt – sometimes in the face of considerable nastiness – to bring some sense and compassion and equality to the way Islamic women are treated here, while still conforming to Islamic precepts. And I bless their grit and determination.

They have much to do. She describes how, while attending the compulsary pre-marital course for all Muslim couples about to marry, the male teacher told her group that one of the characteristics of a good husband is a man who does not listen to his wife, while at another such course, the male participants were told how they could easily circumvent the local law that severely restricts taking a second wife, by crossing into Thailand and marrying there.

And in another class, a female religious teacher carefully explains to men just how they may beat their wives in the Islamic way: with a knotted towel all over the body but not on the face. And, oh, not on the stomach if she is pregnant. Apparently, according to that teacher, beating a pregnant woman is just fine as long as you do it correctly. Well, thank you very much, ustazah, for that.

I try to be upbeat. Even in the face of the news that some official religious teachers freely prescribe absolute tyranny within marriage, and the physical abuse of women – including pregnant ones – by their husbands, and multiple marriage as long as you don’t do it here, we have to remember that the newspaper above is one of the primary English language newspapers, and they feel free to print an article which is highly critical of the present situation. While that can still happen, there is hope for the Islamic women in this country.

What century was this again?


How to beat your pregnant wife — 10 Comments

  1. I don’t know how to respond to that. All I feel is utter revulsion for Islamic men and the women who enable them when I read stories like that. I applaud the incredible courage of the women speaking out but I want to know — where are the men speaking out against it? Where is the outrage? As far as I can tell, the rigid repression and objectification and depersonalisation — dehumanisation — of women is enshrined in the Koran. And I don’t hear an alternative version being pushed. I could be listening in the wrong places, but I don’t. I don’t hear it here in Australia, I can tell you. What I hear in Australia is men like Keyser Trad pushing for sharia law.

    I hasten to add I also feel utter revulsion when I see footage from docos like Jesus Camp — that one’s enough to scare you atheist. And I feel more than revulsion when I see so called ‘Christians’ saying the little Amish girls who were murdered were whores and are now burning in hell. Which happened this week, and makes me ashamed for Christianity.

    I realise this is not an easy topic, with a nice neat simple solution. But it seems to me that in a so-called ‘moderate’ Islamic nation like Malaysia, for this behaviour to be condoned, accepted, taken as normal — that is a crime against humanity. As are honour killings in Pakistan and bride murders in India. Female mutilations. All that stuff. It is unacceptable — and even more so when committed under the guise of religion. And if accepting that is the price of tolerance and multi-culturalism? To hell with it. That price is too high. Because it’s not men paying that price, it’s women.

    Yup. I’m pissy. But if you’re going to post that kind of stuff, you’re going to get pissy.

  2. Sisters in Islam does indeed have support from many intelligent Muslim men, many of whom speak up for them and what they are trying to achieve.

    Note that they are Muslim women, and don’t question the faith – just how people perceive it and act on those erroneous perceptions, many of which stem from local customs (e.g. the veil or the burqa, female circumcision) or from later post-Prophet Mohammed scholars trying to impress their ideas on a fledgling religion – which of course also happened to a huge degree in Christianity.

    I don’t know the doco Jesus Camp! But there sure are a lot of nasty arrogant people around who profess a deep religious belief of some sort, and have about as much compassion or humanity as a box jellyfish.

    One of the multi-cultural problems is that women themselves are often happy with the situation they are in, and resent outsiders telling them what they should feel or do. There are Muslim women born in UK, under no kind of compulsion, who have chosen to wear the full veil. There are women in that wacko Mormon offshort in the US who choose to be second or third wives and happily send their duaghters off to marry their uncles. And so on.

    It’s a hard line to draw between interfering with a basic human right (e.g. freedom to wear what you feel comfortable in) and overstepping the line into what is unacceptable.

    For example, in Saudi Arabia a woman wearing shorts in public is definitely overstepping the line of acceptability. In Australia, what’s the matter with that? In Malaysia – fine for non-Muslims, unacceptable for Muslims.

    It’s a minefield.

  3. a female religious teacher carefully explains to men just how they may beat their wives in the Islamic way

    i know. i went with my in-laws to take part in negotiations for a family members wedding, apparently aprt of the tradition of the whole thing.

    i couldn’t believe my ears when i heard the imam tell the young man that it would be his right to beat his wife. i thought my malay must have let me down until i checked with my sisters in law afterwards and i was right and they were completely non-plussed about it.

    something in me died towards the religion (or at least how it is practiced here) on that day and it hasn’t recovered since.

  4. When it comes to dress, I feel that if a woman is truly free to choose a veil/not a veil, then fine. But if clothing comes to define what makes a woman acceptable/unacceptable, and that definition is engrained from childhood, how free can a woman be?

    We’ve got issues here where Muslim men say they want their daughters/wives to wear scarves etc because that is the sign of a proper, modest women. Three guesses what happens next? One of the issues raised in the disgusting Muslim pack rape crimes that happened here a few years ago is that the white Aussie girls were targeted because they weren’t dressed like ‘proper’ women.

  5. We are all ingrained with certain norms of behaviour from childhood, including you, Karen. We are not free to walk about the streets in Oz naked – neither under the law, nor by what is customarily acceptable. And yet it might be what I prefer. (Well, no, not really – I reckon there comes an age when everything that can be is better covered!!)

    It is very hard to accept new norms on fundamental things like this.

    I am puzzled by women who are brought up in a culture like that of Oz or UK, and then choose to put on the full veil. Particularly weird as it is not actually a religious requirement. Islam does not promote covering the face. In fact, if you go on the haj (pilgrimage), you are NOT permitted to cover the face!

    People are so odd sometimes.

  6. people can be very odd indeed.

    as to people brought up in the UK and places and then choosing to wear the veil… my bf is Canadian and very interested in the Muslim religion. He was watching a documentary once, in which there was this American normal white woman who had converted to being a Muslim. She was extremely enthusiastic and chose to wear the veil to show her utter devotion to her God. She felt so proud in Him, so right to have found Him.

    On my behalf (I’m from the UK)… if my bf chooses to become a Muslim, I’ll also look carefully into doing so. The chances are if I do convert, that I’ll wear a large amount of the religious costume, maybe it all – but I fear it will be as much because of the love of dressing up which I never have grown out of, and liking to be different in a quiet way than out of love and respect for Allah! It must be fun to see all those people staring at you, but none able to see you. Ah, my terrible love for secrets and veiled people.

    Oh, and also, my bf finds the costume attractive, lol.

    as to the original post… what can I say? I didn’t really realise that this kind of thing had happened for hundreds of years, even though, thinking back a hundred years I think it was completely legal then or just before then, even in England. Thanks for opening my eyes and giving me something to think about.

  7. All very difficult I think. In the West we are trying to stop parents from smacking their children because children have rights. James is constantly telling me about his rights. (he is 10)

    My sister converted to Islam. She liked being different and covering herself. It was part of the convert thing. I think her husband was more likely to be beaten by her than vice versa. She had a strong belief in the power of women in Islam.

    I’m afraid I lump it with other fundamental religions, the only difference is the absence of Jesus. But women can’t hold the priesthood can they? It’s a male given right (not God given).

    I feel sorry for anyone who gives up part of themselves to another. We all do it in some way. Abusive relationships rely on a complex web of guilt, mind twisting and low self esteem. Actually you don’t need religion to get that. You can get that from an abusive relationship.

    Here’s hoping women get smarter and men get smarter too, despite their religion.


  8. Ivory – I remember going to a village in Algeria where women were all veiled. They stared and stared at my husband and I, and giggled, while I felt really uncomfortable because I couldn’t look back at them – the only thing I could see was one eye peeping of the white cloth!

    They knew all about us, and we knew nothing about them, not even their ages.So maybe we are the dopes and they have much more fun?

  9. It’s true.. a full-body, almost full-face veil tends to create an aura of mystery about the woman. This is what get’s intriguing, because you wonder what’s under that veil. Apart from that, it attracts attention to the eyes. I remember being in a shopping complex and meeting this pair of eyes.. it really didn’t matter that the rest of the body was covered, the eyes said everything, practically told me the story of her life. You never get that with lesser-dressed people. 🙂

  10. Maybe Anon. but it also engenders in me a feeling of how stupid they are…

    When I was young enough to first get interested in fashion, it was still the 1950s. Women in the west wore hats and gloves and stiff petticoats and wide patent leather belts and heels and stockings…etc. Starch was part of the contents of any laundry.

    I am so grateful now that we have the freedom to dress to be comfortable in any situation. We can wear hats – or not; wear trousers, or not, and so on.

    A woman in a veil has given up this choice. Outside the home, she has only one form of dress open to her. She cannot go swimming, or climb a mountain, or ride a horse, or play football or go skiing, or go diving, or a hundred and one other things because of her choice of dress. She has given up another choice – the choice to be seen, to be acknowledged as an individual by those she meets casually, a person with an identity. Instead, she is just an amorphous figure in a veil. Which is not even a requirement of her religion!

    It doesn’t strike me as sensible.

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