Everything we do is a choice. Whether it’s avocado or pancakes in a breakfast toss-up, opting for leather not suede or choosing to take the bus and leave the car; everything and everything is a choice. Every time we make a decision, we make the decision that is right then. The choice that makes sense, that follows our current version of logic. No regrets.
The news making Facebook pages across the globe yesterday, the “Obedient Wives Club,” a guidance group established by a fringe group of Islamists in Malaysia, both frustrated and saddened me as an affront to Islams teachings of respect and mutual equality within marriage. Eighteen months after we first started living together -sharing a bed – G and I chose to get married and I re-scrutinised the Koran, and hadith. I had to be certain, had to know clearly, how, where and why the Koran defines the roles of a wife and husband. Where the balance lies, and the one place it isn’t is in the submission of women to their husbands.
While studying, I believed that at somepoint I’d have to make a fundamental choice. Working in Chambers, there’s no room for extended maternity leave – not if you want to reach the top, and as it’s never made sense to do something half-heartedly, neither in work nor love, it would have been incomprehensible for me to compromise either on being a Mum or being a lawyer. No matter how protective legal rules are of a womans’ right to non-discriminatory maternity leave, the two roles would not have balanced in my world. And as my then agnostic world, where everything from housework to nappy changes is a 50-50 share (theoretically, at least), to give up work and stay at home with children wasn’t an option I believed was achievable, or even thought I could aspire to. A feminist, barrister-in-the-making I truly thought my life would be work, not love.
There are fundamental flaws in the Global Ikhwan’s premise for their “Obedient Wives Club”, flaws that are often unrecognised as flaws by many women – and men – born into the Islamic faith. Nowhere do the teachings of Allah swt instruct women to be whores to their husbands; in no passage are women told to be simply submissive to their husbands and throughout the Koran, as well as each and every accompanying hadith, the equality of men and women is emphasised. From the sunnah of the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him), Muslim men are told to approach their wives, not as animals but with kind words and kisses…from my understanding, that’s not quite how one is expected to approach a “whore.” In Islam – from the book, the examples, the essence – men are not elevated above women in daily life and this religion doesn’t teach submission but encourages women to think, to question, to learn. A wife, in Muslim teachings, is the leader of the home and her family within. Since when do leaders have to obey?
One of my earliest memories of life with G is lying on a beach, reading. Exactly what now escapes me, but the premise of the material was questioning the role of women, and in particular, the role of women as parents. Parent, not Mum. Seen from a Western society where gender roles have been erased to the extent that parents are one entity rather than two clearly defined, – yes, you could say stereotypical – examples of Mum and Dad. Having both grown up with Mums who were Mums in the traditional sense of homemade chocolate cake and play-house-in-the-garden, for G & I, the image of what our individual parenthoods would be if given the choice, chance, opportunity, were strikingly similar given we’d grown up in different worlds, under different rules. I will forever be grateful for the husband I found in him, and the gift of being able to mother our son in a uncompromisingly way.
If I adhere to the belief that from every negative comes a positive, then I guess I hope that from the misguided beliefs that aim to seek obedience from wives, debate will also have sprung forth. And again, I hope (God willing) that that debate will reach the ears of Muslim women who believe what Global Ikhwan are proporting to be the obligations of muslim women. Unfortunately, often women born into Muslim families find it hard to distinguish between what has become culture and what is Islam. Often the families themselves are oblivious to their being a distinction. More unfortunate is that many of these women have the strongest, unquestioning of faiths – they believe in the one God, and of the Prophets on earth – they’re steadfast and pure in their devotion and dedication to living a guided life, but for all this, they would find it hard to articulate what it is they practise.
Converting to Islam does not mean I’ve chosen to accept a lifestyle dating back to pre-Koranic times. One of the beautiful things about this religion is its applicability to all people, in all societies, at any time. And because of that, it is meant to be, intended to be, interpreted – as any set of rules or “laws” should be. As a Muslim woman, and a convert at that, I’m expected to jump on the bandwagon and defend the name of Islam and all of the tenants within. Unlike women born into Islam, I was lucky enough to discover Islam for myself, and coming at it from a legal, feministic background, was able to pull texts apart and put it back together again. That time back on the beach, bikini-clad and cigarrette puffing, thinking out of context of convention as I knew it, of the role of women, the only thing I knew about the role I wanted to take – as a woman – was the one that felt right true to me. I didn’t know then whether that would be as a lawyer or a Mum, but I knew I didn’t want to be confined into a pigeon-holed definition. In the UK, women are meant to be it all – the mother, the wife, the hot-shot-solicitor; and in Turkey, thanks to the every increasing role of nannies and au-pairs, womens expectations of women are fast going that way too even if society as a whole is slower to catch up. But in Islam, women are meant to be what they are for the circumstance that fits them; no more, no less. Be a Mum, be a wife, be single if you choose; work for money or not, but always pull your weight. Be an equal with the people who surround you.
The series of choices I’ve made, choices I continue to make, lead me if you like into the exact place Global Ikhwan would have us believe is Islams intended place. Yes; I’m an obedient wife! I stay home with my son and I cook and I clean. My husband and I discuss and the decision we agree upon, I stick to. I obey. I obey the rules of our home, the rules of our marriage and the rules of our life. But doesn’t every wife who wants to make her marriage work?
I’m sure that the minds behind Global Ikhwan are misguided in their interpretation of Islam. I choose to believe they never intended the “Obedient Wives Club” to be misoginistic in Islam’s name, but that they themselves knew no better. I also like to believe that the global contraversy of the club may lead them to reexamine their understanding of the Book and set them on a straighter path. Just go with me on that: God works in mysterious ways.