Academic journal article International Education Studies

Educating the Silenced: Threads of Visual Culture in Domesticating the Wives in Malaysia

Academic journal article International Education Studies

Educating the Silenced: Threads of Visual Culture in Domesticating the Wives in Malaysia

Article excerpt

Abstract

As a very controversial issue in Islam, polygamy allows Muslim men to marry up to four wives. It has been told that the Quran encourages polygamy; thus, it is a part of Islamic Sharia. Many Muslim men practice it at their whim and they contend that they do so to follow the Sunnah. Amongst Muslim countries, Malaysia is one of those countries where polygamy is rife. To make it as an acceptable Islamic practice and a more common phenomenon, polygamy is favoritized and advocated through the mass media such as TV shows and newspapers. Although suffering agonizing experiences of being a co-wife, many Malay Muslim women cannot resist polygamy as they think it would be a rebuttal of religion. As a counter-argument of the seemingly happy images of polygamous marriages in Malaysia, this paper exhibits the vicissitudes of it through analyzing a documentary entitled 'Four Wives - One Man' and it demonstrates that the traditional interpretation of the Quran as regards to polygamy is in favor of patriarchy and cannot be appropriate. Utilizing the Contextualist interpretation of the Quran, this paper tries to educate the silenced women that polygamy is, indeed, not encouraged and questioning it would not mean disobeying the Quran.

Keywords: polygamy, polygyny, women, Islam

1. Introduction

The issue of women's right has been the most controversial issue in all societies. Throughout the centuries, it has been assumed that there is a huge discrepancy between male and female not only in basic anatomy but also in terms of thinking and acting. What causes this assumption can be traced back to the creation of Adam and Eve where Eve is created from Adam's rib to be his mate. Having eaten the forbidden fruit, Eve was castigated with laborious childbirth as a punishment of her misdemeanor. This primordial story of human creation had a dramatic impact upon the orientation of women's body as an inferior and subordinate figure. The male domination and discrimination against women put them in an inferior position to that of men; the Christian church of the time reinforced this attitude by practicing the discrimination against woman. Many women were not even aware of their rights even in the West until the commencement of the nineteenth century AD when they started to fight for their rights which led to suffragette movement at the outset of the twentieth century. Consequently, women formed different liberation movements in various parts of Europe and America and gained their social, economic, and political rights denied to them earlier. It is worthwhile to mention that the reinterpretation of the Christian text and its values played a significant role in discarding the male biasness against women (Syed, 2004).

Eastern Women's position before the emergence of Islam was even worse than that of women in the west. The patriarchal domination of those societies has turned women into a commodity. They were treated as a mere property that could be exchanged at times and inherited by the husband's heirs. The revelation of the Holy Quran and the Hadith of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) changed the sentiment towards women. The Islamic reforms through the Holy Quran assisted women to gain almost equal rights to those of men. However, as Syed (2004, p. 2) asserts, the "male-dominated Arab society resisted the ideals of sexual equality prescribed by the Quran and the Hadith."The male domination of the pre-Islamic Arab society was preserved by the then conservatives and traditionalists. These conservative men held the status quo of the women as inferior and tried hard to justify their act through the bias interpretation of the Holy Quran. Many rights that have been conferred on women by the Holy Quran 1400 years back are denied by the male (mis)interpretation of the Holy book. The (mis)interpretations by these conservative framers of Sharia deprived Muslim women of their so many rights; these male interpreters, instead, conferred various rights to men ideologically which are being practiced even today. …

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