They are looked on with some fascination by the Western media but vilified by conservative Muslims and were even branded “whores” by a minister. Amid all the fame and notoriety stands Obedient Wives Club Jakarta head Gina Puspita, who says her organization is grossly misunderstood.
Promoting good sex in Muslim marriages may raise eyebrows and a few jokes, but Gina says this and other aspects of her religion are to be taken seriously.
The French-educated former aircraft engineer said she had always been devout, heading straight to the pesantren, or Islamic boarding school, every day as a child to strengthen her faith.
Upon completing high school, Gina moved to France to study. There, she met Abuya Asaari Muhammad Tamimi, founder of Darul Arqam, a Malaysian Islamic group that evolved into Global Ikhwan (Global Friends) — the same group that formed an Indonesian branch of the Polygamy Club in 2009.
Now with thousands of followers around the world, Global Ikhwan’s activities range from running bread and noodle factories to child care facilities, as well as hospitals and even a horse ranch in Australia.
Gina she said she had learned a lot from Abuya about Islam, polygamy and family matters. At the time of his death last year, he had four wives, 40 children and 200 grandchildren.
And Gina is continuing his legacy through the Obedient Wives Club, which is active in Jordan, Malaysia and Indonesia — and still counts Global Ikhwan as its parent organization.
The Jakarta chapter was launched a few weeks ago and quickly became a hot-button topic. Women’s Empowerment Minister Linda Gumelar called the group a “setback for Indonesia,” criticizing a statement from the club’s Malaysian chapter that “a good wife should be a whore in bed.”
The Jakarta Globe caught up with Gina this week at her home in Sentul, West Java, to hear her side on the issue.
The club has already caused a lot of controversy. Why do you think that is?
So far, I think the response has been good. We have a lot of people wanting to sign up as members. We have also had a good response from the South Jakarta administrative office and the MUI [Indonesian Council of Ulema]. Those who are against our club are those who have not come to meet us and talk with us in person. They don’t know exactly what the concept is. They have only heard about it from others.
And I’m sorry to say that there have been some misunderstandings in what some journalists have said about us. Perhaps they don’t really understand the concept, so what they wrote about us turned out differently than what we told them. I’m sure they don’t mean any harm — it’s probably just a matter of writing skills.
For example, I have repeatedly stated that our teachings come from Allah and the Prophet, but very few reporters have mentioned this.
What is your definition of ‘obedient’?
It is actually not a new concept. It has been around for a long time but it appears to be a foreign concept because they have strayed too far from Islam for too long.
It’s just like the jilbab [Muslim headscarf] that was considered foreign and unacceptable in Indonesia back in the 1980s, when I was still in school. Over the years, people have become familiar with it and can accept it.
What we mean by obedient is obeying God’s orders, including being good to your husband. Long before we established this club, Global Ikhwan for nearly 30 years has been teaching Muslims, including men, on how to raise a good family, how you should treat your spouses and be fair with them.
Our club’s focus is on women, but that doesn’t mean we don’t include those other aspects. We aim to help women build strong relationships with their husbands and raise good families based on what God has taught us. I believe that in the end, our concept of obedience will be properly understood.
Why not name it the ‘Happy Family Club’ instead to prevent controversy?
What we try to do is fulfill God’s orders. We couldn’t simply have a meeting and just pick a name for ourselves. It’s not like that. We received the name through prayer and this is the name given by God.
I don’t understand why the word “obedient” has become controversial. When I say that an office secretary obeys her boss, people agree that is a good thing. But when I talk about a wife being obedient in the home, it suddenly becomes controversial. Well, I believe the home is just as important as any office. Why can’t we apply [obedience] in this context?
What kind of men deserve obedience?
We do things because of Allah. If our husband has not been obedient to Allah, then that is a challenge for us. There are stories from our members who, because of Allah, have managed to change their husbands into better people.
How about wives who are victims of domestic violence, are they still expected to be obedient?
There has been no record of domestic violence, abuse or crisis in the families of Global Ikhwan members. For nearly 30 years, we have been educating people on how to raise better families. We started by educating the husbands, and now we are doing the same thing for the wives. The older the marriage, the better it becomes when we follow the formula that God created.
What is your take on the Malaysian chapter’s statement on good wives having to be whores in bed?
Metaphors are commonly used in Islam. Sometimes we use animals as an example. So when we refer to loyalty, we use the example of a dog. A lion is used when we refer to power and a peacock when we refer to beauty.
In this case, a prostitute was used as a metaphor. A prostitute does her best, works hard to satisfy her clients so they will come back to her and she does that all for money. The statement should not be interpreted to mean that a wife should act like a prostitute. A wife should be able to satisfy her husband. Instead of doing it for money, she should do it because of her love for Allah.
Using a prostitute as a metaphor simply makes the message easier to understand. If I said, for example, “Serve your husband the way [the Prophet Muhammad’s first wife] Siti Khadijah did [for him],” those who are not familiar with Khadijah would not understand what I was talking about.
Among a lot of Muslims, sex is considered a taboo thing. It has become a subject that should not be discussed or learned. But it is a good thing and it is important in a marriage.
Global Ikhwan and the Obedient Wives Club cannot be separated from the issue of polygamy. What is your take on that?
Polygamy is a good thing. It is not recommended, but it is allowed in Islam. I understand that a lot of people see it as something that degrades a woman’s dignity. I don’t blame them [for thinking that]. Because the example of polygamy they see in society is not carried out in the name of Allah, nor it is based on Allah.
A man may marry more than one wife because he thinks “my religion says that I can” — that’s what people see in many cases in society. However, if he does not involve Allah in his decision, then that is not allowed by Islam.
If you want to judge the concept of polygamy fairly, then you need to see it carried out correctly. If it is misused by certain individuals, then you can’t blame the concept. It’s just like a person who prays five times a day but still commits adultery. You can’t blame the act of prayer; it’s the person.
The same thing goes for monogamy. If a person has an affair outside a supposedly monogamous marriage, you can’t blame the concept of monogamy.
How do you see the club’s future?
I am not talking about the club itself, but I do believe in what the Prophet said, that Islam will shine again and that everyone will feel peaceful with Islam.
As for the concept of “obedient,” I believe people will be familiar with it again and that they will obey God.