Malaysian Polygamy Club Draws Criticism

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Liz Gooch, New York Times

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Mohamad Ikram Ashaari and his four wives and children at his home in Kuala Lumpur.      Palani Mohan for International Herald Tributne.

KUALA LUMPUR — Rohaya Mohamad, 44, is an articulate, bespectacled medical doctor who studied at a university in Wales. Juhaidah Yusof, 41, is a shy Islamic studies teacher and mother of eight. Kartini Maarof, 41, is a divorce lawyer and Rubaizah Rejab, a youthful-looking 30-year-old woman, teaches Arabic at a private college.

The lives of these four women are closely entwined — they take care of each others’ children, cook for each other and share a home on weekends.

They also share a husband.

The man at the center of this matrimonial arrangement is Mohamad Ikram Ashaari, the 43-year-old stepson of Hatijah Aam, 54, a Malaysian woman who in August established a club to promote polygamy.

“Men are by nature polygamous,” said Dr. Rohaya, Mr. Ikram’s third wife, flanked by the other three women and Mr. Ikram for an interview on a recent morning. The women were dressed in ankle-length skirts, their hair covered by tudungs, the Malaysian term for headscarf. “We hear of many men having the ‘other woman,’ affairs and prostitution because for men, one woman is not enough. Polygamy is a way to overcome social ills such as this.”

The Ikhwan Polygamy Club is managed by Global Ikhwan, a company whose businesses include bread and noodle factories, a chicken-processing plant, pharmacies, cafes and supermarkets. Mr. Ikram is a director of the company.

While polygamy is legal in predominantly Muslim Malaysia, the club has come under fire from the government and religious leaders, who suspect it may be an attempt to revive Al-Arqam, a defunct Islamic movement headed by Mrs. Hatijah’s husband, Mr. Ashaari Mohamad, who is the founder and owner of Global Ikhwan. Al-Arqam was banned in 1994 for “deviant” religious teachings.

The club denies allegations that it is trying to revive Al-Arqam, and says that the aim of the club is to help single mothers and women past “marrying age” find husbands.

The Ikhwan Polygamy Club says it has 1,000 members across Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, the Middle East and Europe. It recently started a branch in Bandung, Indonesia, and plans to open another one in Jakarta. Most of the members are employees of Global Ikwan or former members of Al-Arqam.

Members get together regularly for meetings and relationship counseling, which is given by senior members of the group.

Under Malaysian law, it is legal for Muslim men to marry as many as four wives, although they must obtain permission from an Islamic, or shariah, court to marry more than one. Women’s groups say it has become easier for men to obtain permission to take multiple wives in recent years, a development they say coincides with a rise in Islamic conservatism in Malaysia.

While some states require men to obtain the consent of their existing wives before seeking court permission to marry another wife, Sa’adiah Din, a family lawyer who practices in the shariah courts, said other states no longer required the wives’ consent.

In 2008, 1,791 men applied to the shariah courts, which apply only to the country’s Muslim population, for permission to take another wife, up from 1,694 in 2007. The government could not provide figures on the total number of polygamous marriages, but researchers including Norani Othman, a sociologist at the National University of Malaysia, said the number could be as high as 5 percent of all marriages.
Despite the growing number of polygamous marriages, the club’s effort to promote the practice has put it in the sights of the authorities.

The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia, a government department that is responsible for the promotion and administration of Islam, is investigating the activities of the Ikhwan Polygamy Club and says it believes Mr. Ashaari and his family may be promoting teachings contrary to Islam. A spokeswoman would not provide further details, saying the investigation was continuing.

Al-Arqam had asserted that Mr. Ashaari had the power to forgive the sins of Muslims, an act Muslims believe can be done only by God. Some reports have suggested that the movement had as many as 10,000 members when it was banned.

A leading religious official, Harussani Bin Haji Zakaria, the mufti of Perak State, said followers of Al-Arqam had claimed that Mr. Ashaari had the power to send people to heaven or hell.

Mr. Harussani said he believed the polygamy club could be a front to resurrect Al-Arqam. “I think because they have been banned they want to attract people to come to him again,” he said, referring to Mr. Ashaari.

The club has also been criticized by women’s groups like Sisters in Islam, a nongovernmental organization based in Malaysia.

Ms. Norani, the sociologist, who is the lead researcher in a Sisters in Islam project investigating polygamy, said the practice could be harmful to women and children, particularly those born to first wives.

She and her fellow researchers have interviewed 2,000 men, women and adult children who have experienced polygamous marriage.

Although she stressed that her comments were based on preliminary observations, Ms. Norani said many of the first wives interviewed reported feelings of resentment and depression after their husbands took a second wife, and “a significant number” had considered divorce.

She said she knew some well-educated, financially independent women in Kuala Lumpur, including business executives and lawyers, who had chosen to become second or third wives.

“Usually they marry late, they do a second or third degree, they put off marriage until later and they find it difficult to find an unmarried man,” she said. “One of them said ‘all the good men are either married or gay.”’

With 17 children among them, ages 6 to 21, Mr. Ikram’s four wives all have their own homes near their workplaces, but on weekends they gather at the family’s five-bedroom house on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

Most of the older children are at boarding school or university, but the children of primary-school age stay at the family house, where they are usually cared for by the first wife, Juhaidah, during the week.

Mr. Ikram takes turns spending nights with each of his four wives. “It’s like one, two, three, four,” said Dr. Rohaya, pointing to each of the wives.

The wives usually meet Mr. Ikram at the family house but they say there is no strict arrangement, and Mr. Ikram sometimes comes to their individual homes during the week.

On weekends, at the family house, the women take turns doing the cooking.

“We share clothes,” Dr. Rohaya said. “We’re like sisters, really.”

None of the women grew up in polygamous families, and although they admit to having had some initial reservations, they all said they were happy and would recommend polygamous marriage to their daughters.

Mr. Ikram rejected suggestions from the women’s groups that polygamous marriages may benefit men while causing hardship for women.

“Actually, in a polygamous marriage it’s more of a burden to a man than to a woman because the husband has to face four different women, and that’s not easy,” he said, prompting laughter from his wives.

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Amid All This Chaos

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Beena Inam, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Pakistan Correspondent, from Islamabad

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Lions’ Chairman Zafar Iqbal, with his wife Shazia Zafar and their daughter, in Islamabad.

In the midst of all the pandemonium, there are a number of people and organizations who are beyond doubt serving the humanity and making a difference.

Whether it is toward the vision disability, education, health and dowry, Lions Clubs International (LCI) is there for all and sundry and so is its Multiple Council Chairman, Zafar Iqbal.

Their 45,000 clubs and more than 1.3 million members make Lions Clubs the world’s largest service club organization.

According to their web site, LCI, founded in Chicago in 1917, has grown into a worldwide organization, helping where help is needed for nearly 100 years.  There motto is “We Serve.”

Melvin Jones, Chicago business leader, founded the Club and built its foundation. Since1925, conventions are held every year. Helen Keller, political activist who was also deaf and blind, participated in 1925 convention and about 14,000 Lions attended the convention from everywhere around the world.

Due to Keller’s challenge the club today is among some of the highest rank organizations.  She challenged, “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”

The organization is preeminently notorious for combating blindness.

“From that day till today lions are working for the blinds,” Iqbal said.

In Pakistan, LCI began burgeoning in 1956. Cyrus F. Minwalla, owner of Hotel Metropole, was a Founder, and First District Governor of LIC known as Father of Lionism in Pakistan and President Iskander Mirza as Patron of Lionism in Pakistan.

Now, Iqbal monitors the whole affairs of LCI in Pakistan and coordinates all five districts, three in south and two in north which breaks down into 478 clubs.  Each district has minimum 35 clubs. Although all the clubs are autonomous in their policies, their focus, endeavor and purpose is identical.

“I am a country head of this institution in Pakistan,” Iqbal said. He visits all clubs and governors as a MCC and meets head of the state and head of the provinces.
Every district has its own governor but their jurisdiction and authority is restricted to their clubs, “my responsibility is along with the governor to see after the district,” Iqbal said.

Around the world, LCI consist of 22 boards of directors, who run the club. No women became a board of director until 1998 when Nilofar Bakhtiar, a public official in Pakistan, became the first lady international director in their board, Iqbal said. It is an immense acclaim for Pakistan.

In Karachi, LCI have 3800 underprivileged children in 22 schools in diminutive areas. Iqbal said they work from zakat fund.

They perform 25,000 cataract surgeries every year. Two years ago, when he was the sector coordinator of campaign SightFirst from 2005 to 2008, they campaigned world wide for blind people and helped raised two hundred and twenty two million dollars all over the world, Iqbal said.

“More than four million people will be cured for blindness. About 17,000 people everyday becomes blind. Every five seconds one person is getting blind. According to World Health Organization (WHO) if we didn’t do anything by 2020 this figure will be doubled. We have to join hands with them,” Iqbal said.

They begin from screening and going to schools and visiting undersized areas. They set eye camps; treat people who require surgical treatment for cataract, trachoma, river blindness, childhood blindness and glaucoma.

“We do lot of work but the main focus is toward the welfare for blind people,” Iqbal said.

He added, “White cane stick that blind people use is because of the lions’ invention. We celebrate blinds day on Oct 14. White cane safety day is because of our struggle that it was passed in American Congress. Through United Nation’s recognition it is celebrated all round the world.”

At present, Lions club is functioning in 205 countries. “We are bigger than united nations,”Iqbal said.

He said they have so great collaboration with United Nations that every second Monday of March, United Nations whole building is vacant for lions club and lions can go anywhere in the building. He further said they can even hold a conference in secretary general’s room.

“It’s a tribute or compliment from United Nations to the lions club,” Iqbal said. 

In 2007, Lions Clubs got an inimitable award that Lions Club International is the world largest service project association.

Every club has a project. They dispose eye camps, food and youth camps.

Iqbal said, “Our club is small. But even we try to do one or two projects.  Active members in our group are seven but total there are 20 people in our group….  Some clubs even have 10 to 20 projects running.”

For becoming a lion that is the member of the LCI is by invitation only.

“Attend our meetings so we can see that your thinking isn’t coming in our way. One must be service minded, should have a concept of charity and be loyal to the country. If a person believes in charity but is not loyal to the country than he can’t be a member of our club,” Iqbal said.

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Bloomfield Unity Center

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

1430 ‘Eid al Fitr, Sept. 20 2009

Ramadan moon Note–Most mosques in the Michigan area began fasting either according to the ruling of FCNA (the Fiqh Council of North America, in association with ISNA) or following Saudi Arabia. 

Some people began fasting Friday rather than Saturday, for example people in Turkey and Albania began fasting Friday, and many Lebanese Shi’a began fastin Friday. 

Nevertheless, likely nearly all local mosques will be celebrating ‘Eid on Sunday. 

The Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center is also among those mosques, and they have announced ‘eid will be Sunday the 20th.

Expecting overcrowding, the BMUC has arranged a shuttle back and forth from 9am – 2pm from overflow parking at the Forest Lake Country Club at 1401 Club Dr. (close to BMUC).

BMUC will hold two ‘eid prayers, at 8 and at 10.  There will be an ‘eid breakfast after the second prayer service at 11AM, $10 per person for members and $12/person for non members, $15 at the door, with children 5 years and under free.

‘Eid Mubarak!

Upcoming Michigan Events

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

* Ramallah Club of Metro Detroit 3rd Annual Golf Outing

Saturday, July 25, 2009 10:00AM; Fox Hills Golden Fox CC

* Arab and Chaldean Festival

Saturday, July 25, 2009 12:00PM; Hart Plaza Detroit

* Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce Party-Mixer

Thursday, July 30, 2009 6:00PM;  Bayview Yacht Club

* ActionGAZA Fundraising Gala

Saturday, August 01, 2009 5:00PM; Arab American National Museum

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