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What are we teaching young Malay couples?

Published in Malay Mail Online

A lot of young Malay couples get indoctrinated into their spousal roles the moment they get married.

A popular prayer recited during the Malay solemnisation ceremony wishes that the couple will emulate the relationships of Adam and Hawa (Eve), Ibrahim (Abraham) and Hajar (Hagar), Yusuf (Joseph) and Zulaikha, and Muhammad and Aisyah.

As it stands, none of them are particularly the best role models for a young couple in a modern world.

One fell in love with the other since she was the only female around at that time. Another left his wife and son stranded in the middle of the desert, only to attempt sacrificing his son years later. Another fell in love with the temptress wife of another man. The lesser said about the last the safer.

A Malay woman takes many vows after she is married. Among others, the husband now becomes her top priority, way above her parents. As for the husband, his number one priority is still his parents.

Another vow is for the wife to never leave the house without the consent of the husband.

The message is simple, the husband is the master of the house. As for the wife, she is just a wife.

For some, the indoctrination begins a bit earlier, during the pre-marriage courses that are mandatory for Muslims nationwide.

In theory, a pre-marriage course should benefit a Muslim couple. It gives essential education on the jurisprudence of marriage, and should it not work out, the divorce.

The courses also offer advice on reproductive health, stress and financial management. But more often than not, these more important aspects are easily overlooked and reduced to rushed slides and presentations.

As for the rest, it would sometimes be nothing more than male religious teachers, or ustaz, telling adult jokes in order to keep students awake.

At times, there will be lessons on how women are “different” from men in the way they think, and how a husband should handle his wife. For example, how to be strict with a wife who loves shopping so much until she wastes the alimony given to her.

These skewed gender roles are recycled every so often: Men are the breadwinners. Men are the more frugal ones. Men are good with money. Men spend their money wisely.

Not women. They love shopping.

These course are so “effective”, that the federal Islamic authorities had even considered making another course, post-wedding, mandatory for Muslims due to the rising number of divorce cases.

As soon as these youths get into their married lives, some would often get their marriage advice from of all people, popular religious clerics. After all, they see them so often, either on TV shows, or giving speeches in mosques, or on their social media accounts.

The abundance of questions on sex and intimacy being posed to the clerics, is just proof that many young couples are clueless not only of marriage, but their own spouse.

But why would they not be, when marriage is presented as a sweet dream, an end goal that must be reached as soon as possible?

It’s a running joke that the top 10 bestselling Malay books will almost always be about a dream husband or wedding. It is almost the same with the Malay TV scene.

A reason behind this is mostly the cultural restriction behind pre-marital relationships. Portraying halal relationships in fiction is almost always safer than the forbidden ones.

But at the same time, it provides a safe narrative to explore intimacy and sexual tension between the characters. Which ultimately resonates with young Malays, especially the girls, when such excitements are frowned upon publicly.

In the end, this has led to marriage being seen mostly as a way to obtain “halal” sex between boys and girls. Which leads to younger and younger couples getting married to seek a “morally-acceptable” sexual relationship.

Add to that the way clerics feel about how husbands should treat wives, and it is no surprise that many just cannot fathom that it is possible for a wife to cry rape against her husband.

The attitude posed by religious clerics and Islamist groups in the renewed marital rape debate has been nothing but shocking.

Instead of recognising the existence of marital rape, the Perak mufti Harussani Zakaria argued that it was just a “European invention.”

Razali Zakaria, a senior editor of Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), shifted the attention to other religion, accusing them of allowing sodomy. To Razali, Muslim men are masters of the bedroom who do not need to force their wives into sex as they can always marry more wives, or divorce any who refuse them sex.

But more shocking is how many young Malay men view wives as nothing more than property held by a man, and how some women submit to the same notion.

It is undeniable that men and women, husbands and wives, have different roles to play. But these roles should always put them on equal terms, complementing and completing each other. One should not be subservient to the other.

So it all comes down to this: What exactly are we teaching young couples, with the way we view marriage and our gender roles? What sort of men are we telling young husbands to be?

And when these young husbands grow to be fathers, what then, will they teach their sons and daughters?

Published inMMO column
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