Having up to four obedient wives is the key to happy marriage, according to a Malaysian club, which is gaining popularity and concern.
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Sunday, October 30, 2011 - 20:30
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SBS

Dateline takes a trip down the aisle to find out the secrets of a happy marriage; Malaysian style.

A growing number of brides are members of the Obedient Wives Club, and when they vow to obey their husbands, they really mean it.

Wives should be ready to satisfy their husbands at any time, according to the club's female president, and if one wife isn't enough, three more are not just permitted, but encouraged.

Adrian Brown meets one man, who has a roster for spending time with each of his four wives, and struggles to remember the names of his 23 children.

But women's rights groups are appalled, and there are concerns about links to the founder's radical Islamist movement.

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Transcript

"To love, honour and obey" was a staple of wedding ceremonies the world over, but a group of Malaysian Muslims have decided there's not enough emphasis on the word "obey".

They've formed the 'Obedient Wives Club'. But even in conservative Muslim Malaysia, some of their prescriptions are proving controversial, with accusations it will lead to domestic violence and the abuse of women's rights. Adrian Brown went to meet some members of this headline-grabbing group.

REPORTER: Adrian Brown

The bride was suitably bashful and the groom knew he was a lucky man. Fatin Nor Bazilah, just 21, has vowed to be a faithful and obedient wife - a very obedient wife. The new in-laws, who arranged the marriage, have high hopes for the bride.

REPORTER: So, she should be an obedient wife?

MOTHER IN LAW: Obedient wife. Yes. I hope. Inshallah.

Fatin knows what's expected of her.

REPORTER: What do you think the key to being a good wife is?

FATIN NOR BAZILAH: I must give full obedience.

REPORTER: Full obedience.

FATIN NOR BAZILAH: Be obedient? Yep. Be obedient to him.

REPORTER: Obey your husband?

FATIN NOR BAZILAH: Yep.

For better or for worse, Fatin has just joined the 'Obedient Wives Club' which has more than 1,000 members so far and is growing fast. She's the latest member of the group that's teaching Muslim wives how to gratify their husbands in the bedroom.

FAUZIAH ARRIFIN: You be submissive to him. Obedient - Fulfil his desire, more than what a first-class prostitute can do.

Among the guests at today's reception is the club's persuasive president, Fauziah Arrifin, who is only too willing to repeat the club's mantra.

FAUZIAH ARRIFIN: Obey the husband, present a good personality to the husband. When the husband comes back home, she's in a good shape, good dressing - allure to the husband, fulfil the husbands needs.

That way, she says, men won't stray outside the bonds of matrimony. But Fauzhiah concedes - sometimes one wife just isn't enough.

FAUZIAH ARRIFIN: Not all the time can the wife, one wife, fulfil a husband. Sometimes she's sick or she's pregnant;. When the wife says 'I'm not ready for you' or something like that, so the husband at that time, maybe the husband's needs are so great that leads to the husband getting somebody else.

To keep husbands satisfied, the club encourages polygamy and a third of its members are in polygamous marriages. Fauzhiah practices what she preaches. As wife number-two she shares her husband with his first wife -And if he wants a third?

FAUZIAH ARRIFIN: I won't object if he needs another one. Because for me it is better he has a lawful wife than getting a prostitute or something "

In Malaysia, a Muslim man may legally marry up to four wives, as long as he obtains permission from a Sharia court. I've come to see what daily life looks like for Club members. Lukman Pfordten is the club-president's stepson. Today for prayers he's joined by his own 4 wives and 23 children.

LUKMAN PFORDTEN: OK, this is my first wife. Her name is Saiyidah Nafisah, and my second wife, Nural Inee. My third wife, Rachma, and my fourth wife, Mardiana.

REPORTER: From Port Hedland? G'day.

MARDIANA: G'day mate.

Mardiana grew up in Western Australia and admits she's still coming to terms with the arrangement.

MARDIANA: It's not easy. It's not easy. It's got a lot of obstacles. Because us, we as a human, we have a lot of feelings. Feelings of jealousy, hatred, love. Of course, in any of our human hearts we want to be loved. In our case, one man - four women. Of course in our little minds we want to be the one he really loves, but then it's not up to us to tell the husband you have to love me more - kind of thing.

To ensure he spreads his time evenly among the women, he's devised a roster.

LUKMAN PFORDTEN: We have arrangements, every wife has two days. Two days and two nights, so, that's the arrangement!

It isn't easy being a polygamist. Lukman says it takes a big heart and a strong faith in God to love all his wives equally. With 28 mouths to feed, the grocery shopping never ends. Wife number four reveals that it's not always a joy being subservient.

REPORTER: I guess you buy lots of washing powder because of all those children?

MARDIANA: I buy it because I have to wash someone's clothes!

REPORTER: And whose clothes are they in particular?

MARDIANA: I don't know!

REPORTER: Let me guess? They couldn't be for the only man in the house?

MARDIANA: If you guess the right person, I'll buy you a drink.

A rare flash of disobedience that appears to go unnoticed - In addition to sharing the husband, they also split the house hold chores between them.

LIZ GOOCH, JOURNALIST: They see it as an easier way, an easier life in that they have three other women to share the child care, share the house work. They even make jokes about it and say, I don't have to see my husband every night.

Journalist Liz Gooch has written extensively on the Wives Club and says they really know how to provoke headlines.

LIZ GOOCH: This group sees that women or wives who are not obedient to their husbands. They see them as the cause of social ills. Everything from domestic violence they say the reason why men bash their wives is because they are sexually frustrated, because their wives have not been sexually available to their husband.

HAJIERAH HARTLEY: True enough to a certain extent. Like I said if they are disobedient, it causes provocation. It irritates a man.

Hajierah Hartley is the Club's secretary.

HAJIERAH HARTLEY: They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.

She runs cooking classes for the Club's new recruits.

REPORTER: Is it very important for a woman to be a good cook, do you think?

HAJIERAH HARTLEY: Most definitely.

REPORTER: Why?

HAJIERAH HARTLEY: There are more blessings if a mother of the house prepares a meal at home. She pleases the husband most of all.

However, it's not the club's cuisine that's stirred the biggest out-cry in Malaysia, but that they push obedience to the extreme.

HAJIERAH HARTLEY: When a wife is obedient, the whole family is full of harmony.

REPORTER: But supposing a husband is violent?

HAJIERAH HARTLEY: In Islam, actually it depends on what kind of violence. If it's just

little slaps.

REPORTER: Slap around the face?

HAJIERAH HARTLEY: He knows he is not supposed to slap around the face. But sometimes wives are very obedient. They even take slaps and they still be patient and they still love the man.

RATNA OSMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF 'SISTERS OF ISLAM': Well, this is a classic example of the 'battered wife syndrome' that every fault or wrong in the society, or in their lives, is back to them.

Ratna Osman is the Executive Director of 'Sisters in Islam' - a group that campaigns for the rights of Muslim women. She accuses the Club of distorting the Koran's teachings.

RATNA OSMAN: So, what we see from the way the Obedient Wife Club look at marriage is an insult to the Koran itself, is an insult to God's teachings in Islam.

Ratna Osman insists some are coerced into polygamous marriages.

RATNA OSMAN: Some of them would feel that they are pressured by the family because they say, "oh, it works for that other family. Why can't you accept this way of life?" It all comes back to their link with God and their belief that this is the way to get closer to God. It will be quite problematic for them, because they say this is how God wants it to be. But then to turn around and say, I feel pain in my heart, I feel jealousy.

The Obedient Wives Club's most recent activity has once again thrust them into the spotlight. They've published a risque guide to Islamic sex.

MAN (Translation): If a husband desires one of his wives, even if they're riding a camel, she should fulfil his desire.

One of the more astonishing recommendations is that a man should have sex with all of his wives at the same time. The book launch goes well into the night, with the Club performing a play in praise of polygamy.

PLAY (Translation): Islamic sex is once again making the world a brighter place. In the homes of Muslims husbands and wives are enjoying amazing Islamic sex. It is many times more amazing than the forbidden sex of the Jews.

In case the club hadn't already offended enough people, the anti-Semitic overtones ought to do it. The founder of the Obedient Wives Club was, unsurprisingly, a man - the controversial cleric, Ashaari Mohammed. When he died last year, he left behind a business empire called Global Ikhwan - which funds the club's activities. The company is closely associated with radical Islamist movement Al-Arqam, that has been banned for "deviant teachings".Many see the Obedient Wives Club as an attempt at reviving the defunct sect.

REPORTER: The government says you're trying to bring back this organisation, that's what they claim.

FAUZIAH ARRIFIN: Oh, they claim, because they didn't really meet us actually, when they come to us.

REPORTER: Is that true?

FAUZIAH ARRIFIN: They try to claim as, but of course we didn't bring back what's already been banned.

Saved by the bell! Ratna Osman doesn't believe the Club's denials.

RATNA OSMAN: They are separatists. They don't cut off their relation with the mainstream society. They are self-sustained economically. So they target usually professionals. They don't

really go spreading their message to the drop-outs. So, you will find in the Obedient Wives Club women who are very highly qualified. Engineers, dentists, lawyers, doctors.

Just two days after Fatin's wedding reception, the 21-year-old economics student is coming to terms with what her future has is store.

REPORTER: If your husband decides to take a second wife, a third wife or a fourth wife, would you accept? How would you feel?

FATIN NOR BAZILAH: I will love him to marry.

REPORTER: Will you accept?

FATIN NOR BAZILAH: Yes, I will accept - because in Koran it says, a man should marry four, four women.

Today, Lukman is meeting his four women for lunch, while the kids stay home.

REPORTER: Will you have any more children?

LUKMAN PFORDTEN: Yes, I will.

REPORTER: You want to have more?

LUKMAN PFORDTEN: Yeah.

REPORTER: How many more?

LUKMAN PFORDTEN: It's up to God.

I wonder, though, if he remembers the names of all his 23 kids.

LUKMAN PFORDTEN: All the names? Eh, OK. Eh!

After six names, driving suddenly requires more focus.

REPORTER: You've paused!

LUKMAN PFORDTEN: Yah, because I have to concentrate on the road.

In an uncommon role reversal, Lukman is being the obedient spouse preparing the snacks.

REPORTER: I just noticed something unusual. Your husband is serving you.

MARDIANA: Today only. This hour only. We'll make it up to him later!

And for that, they may need to consult the club's latest manual.

MARK DAVIS: The Obedient Wives Club claim they are expanding beyond Malaysia. There are now branches in Indonesia, Egypt, and not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia.

Reporter/Camera

ADRIAN BROWN

Producer

DONALD CAMERON

Fixer

KRISHNAMOORTHY MUTHALY

Editor

NICK O'BRIEN

Translations/Subtitling

ROBYN FALLICK

Original Music composed by Vicki Hansen

30th October 2011