RAWANG, Malaysia (AP) — As a new bride, 22-year-old Ummu Atirah believes she knows the secret to a blissful marriage: obey her husband and ensure he is sexually satisfied.
Ummu and some 800 other Muslim women in Malaysia are members of the Obedient Wives Club that is generating controversy in one of the most modern and progressive Muslim-majority nations, where many Muslim Malaysian women hold high posts in the government and corporate world.
The new club, launched Saturday, says it can cure social ills such as prostitution and divorce by teaching women to be submissive and keep their men happy in the bedroom.
"Islam compels us to be obedient to our husband. Whatever he says, I must follow. It is a sin if I don't obey and make him happy," said Ummu, who wore a yellow headscarf.
The club, founded by a fringe Islamic group known as Global Ikhwan, has been dismissed by politicians and activists as a throwback to medieval times and an insult to modern women of Malaysia. But the group's activities, which previously included the setting up of a Polygamy Club, show that pockets of conservative Islamic ideas still thrive in Malaysia.
Groups such as Global Ikhwan are unlikely to gain much popularity beyond generating shock value. Still, there is concern that radical groups could garner support among other Muslims, who make up 60 per cent of the 28 million population, and upset decades of carefully nurtured racial and religious harmony.
"Unfortunately even today, there are still many Muslim women who are ignorant of their rights or culturally inhibited to exercise their rights in full," said Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, a female Muslim minister in charge of family policy.
Despite the group's conservative Islamic background, Rohayah Mohamad, one of the founders of the club, openly talks about the virtues of marital sex even though most of her colleagues are shy about the topic.
"Sex is a taboo in Asian society. We have ignored it in our marriages but it's all down to sex. A good wife is a good sex worker to her husband. What is wrong with being a whore ... to your husband?" she said.
"This way, the family institution is protected and we can curb social ills," said Rohayah, the club's vice president who is also a trained physician.
She said wives must go beyond the traditional roles as good cooks or good mothers and learn to "obey, serve and entertain" their husbands to prevent them from straying or misbehaving.
Indirectly, "disobedient wives are the cause for upheaval in this world" because men are not happy at home and their minds and souls are disturbed, she said.
Authorities recently said Malaysia's divorce rate has doubled from 2002 to 2009 with higher rates among Malay Muslims.
"When husbands come home, wives do not welcome their husbands with warm alluring smiles and sexy dressing ... That is the reality today," she said.
The Global Ikhwan group is an offshoot of former members of the Al-Arqam sect outlawed in 1994 after its teachings were found to have deviated from Islam. It is funded by the group's restaurants, grocery stores, poultry and other businesses abroad.
Most of the 800 women who are members of the new club, including Ummu the new bride, also belong to Al-Arqam.
Expectedly, the club has faced intense criticism.
Some Malaysians started a Facebook page called "We do not want sexist nonsense from Global Ikhwan".
One Muslim man, Amirul Aftar, wrote: "I do not want a wife to submit to my every beck and call. I want a wife who understands me ... we are not your masters, we are your equal."
Women's group, Sisters in Islam, said Islam advocates marriages based on mutual cooperation and respect. It said domestic violence happens regardless of women's behaviour.
"Communication, not submission, is vital to sustain any healthy relationship," it said.