Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Malaysian Polygamy Club Draws Criticism

“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.”’

Palani Mohan for The International Herald Tribune

Mohamad Ikram Ashaari and his four wives and children at his home in Kuala Lumpur.

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-Qaeda Continues Using Modern Technology to Recruit Youth

The Al-Qaeda organization is stepping up its technological efforts, particularly its usage of mobile phones, in a bid to expand its media, publishing and recruitment activities, Asharq Al Awsat has learned.

This direction by Al-Qaeda is an attempt to circumvent the relentless security crack-down, which has succeeded to a great extent in repelling the group's propaganda activities, particularly online; as a number of Al-Qaeda-affiliated websites have been banned or blocked and their administrators arrested by security officials.

One of the more prominent Al-Qaeda-affiliated websites has announced the launching of a new project called the "Al-Ansar Mobile Team," which aims at spreading the terrorist organization's extremist ideology via mobile phones.

The website is recruiting personnel specialized in producing and publishing extremist content to be received by mobile phones under the supervision of its experts.

The Al-Ansar Mobile Team is compromised of a number of departments that deal with different aspects of its propaganda operation. One department handles the group's audio requirements, mainly uploading audio such as lectures by theoreticians, as well as poems, songs, and other audio materials that support its doctrine. Another department deals with publishing and focuses primarily on uploading literature, mainly jihadi magazines and stories, and finally a design department that specializes in designing and publishing photographs of terrorist operations.

In the past, Saudi security organs monitored text messages by Al-Qaeda stored on the memory cards of confiscated mobile phones, including an audio message from Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy leader of Al-Qaeda, which included recommendations for collecting financial donations on the pretext of supporting the needy families in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Saudi security also discovered a video message stored on a SIM card by Said al-Shihri, the wanted deputy leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, also asking for financial support.

This comes in the midst of official warnings issued by Prince Naif Bin-Abdulaziz, second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, against the phenomenon of using the mobile phones for collecting donations through bank accounts that are not licensed to collect such funds.

Regarding this trend, Maj-Gen Mansour al-Turki, security spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry told Asharq Al Awsat that there is a law that prohibits using such technology, which is the Information Technology Law, which Saudi Arabia adopted over two years ago.

This law defines the information technology crime as "using modern technology equipment, such as computers, mobile telephones, or any of their peripherals or programs to achieve suspicious aims or carry out unethical affairs that are unacceptable to society because they are against public morals."

The law stipulated as punishments imprisonment for a maximum of 10 years and a maximum fine of 5 million riyals, or one of the two to be imposed on anyone who sets up a website for a terrorist organization on the Internet or on the computer, in order to facilitate the communication with the leadership of a terrorist organization, promotes the ideas of such an organization, or how to manufacture explosives.

However, the Communications and Information Technology Commission, through its official spokesman Sultan al-Malik, refrained from commenting on the new project undertaken by the extremist movement, saying, "The commission has reservations on replying for reasons of higher national interests." He declined to explain any of the strategies or mechanisms that can be adopted to prevent the implementation of The Al-Ansar Mobile Team project, and to prevent the success in infiltrating the public mobile phone networks.

In this respect, the extremist groups rely on mobile phones as one of the modern technological tools to convey their instructions and plans, after they have mastered encoding methods that prevent the security organizations from infiltrating these electronic communications and messages.

Currently the center of technology studies and research, which belongs to one of the websites that promote terrorism, has launched an experimental mobile phone program that can be used for encoding messages and files when sent via mobile telephones; it provides encoding for telephone calls, SMS messages, and small files. This program supports three languages - Arabic, English, and French - for all modern cellular telephones.

In this respect, a communications expert - who asked to remain anonymous - stressed that infiltrating mobile telephones is possible. He said: "Any electronic or telecommunication system can be infiltrated;" this depends on the two sides of the operation, "the infiltrating side" and the "targeted side," especially the ability of the targeted side to secure its equipment by a protection program, in addition to the abilities of the infiltrating side, its technical resources, and the extent of its professionalism.

Ahmad al-Kayyali, a researcher in electronic media, explains that after the consecutive strikes they suffered, the hard-line groups are trying to move from the battlefield into the media field. Rather than restricting themselves to virtual reality (the Internet), the hard-line groups have expanded to the real world through mobile telephones by utilizing the companies that provide equipment for sending text messages to groups, and which can send no less than 200 text messages a month simultaneously.

As for the voice messages and video clips, Al-Kayyali reveals that it is difficult to use group messages, as these machines can only be used for text messages. He points out that Bluetooth technology is the most successful method of sending clips that stir up the sentiments of the youths in order to reach the more important aim, namely - according to Al-Kayyali - the recruitment of the largest possible number of youths, whether at the universities, or at the various places in which they congregate.

Moreover, Dr Fayiz al-Shihri, an academic who monitors extremist websites, believes that the use of technology and mobile telephones by hard-line groups is nothing new and dates back to the use of Bluetooth technology to transmit inciting messages and religious clips, in addition to uploading scenes on the Internet in various programs that are compatible with the mobile telephones. Al-Shihri stresses that it is not surprising that the hard-line groups try to exploit all means in order to incite and to promote their beliefs, as we can see a large use of cellular telephones using unknown identities.

Al-Shihri points out that through cellular telephones of unknown identities, individuals can send text messages that randomly break into personal cellular telephones.

Al-Shihri holds the communications companies as the ones with primary responsibility for combating such schemes and projects. These companies ought to put the social and security responsibility before profits. Al-Shihri warns against the great flux of prepaid cards. In his opinion these cards help in introducing many violations, because they are easily circulated, and can be bought by individuals of unknown identities. Al-Shihri calls for the need to organize this "chaotic communications market."