Date: 2015 · Country: Malaysia · Text: Marta Kasztelan · Photos: Thomas Cristofoletti
Although polygamy is legal in Malaysia, it is heavily criticised by local human rights groups and is rarely practiced in the open or with the knowledge and approval of all the wives involved in such a relationship. Despite the society’s opposition to the practice however, one company in this moderate Muslim country, called Global Ikhwan, only employs women, who view polygamy as the integral element of “the Islamic way of life.”
Global Ikhwan is a Malaysia-based multinational company associated with the banned Al-Arqam Islamic sect, whose founder Ashaari Mohammad was once held under the Internal Security Act. The enterprise, which employs 4,000 people worldwide through its complicated network of subsidiaries, operates restaurants, clothing shops, noodle factories and health clinics – just to name a few. It also runs its own schools for children aged between 12 and 18, where the importance of polygamy is stressed throughout their education.
Since the banning of the sect in 1994, some activities funded by the company have attracted widespread media attention and criticism. In 2012 for example, the female employees of Global Ikhwan established the Obedient Wives Club – a move seen by the authorities as an attempt to revive the sect. The Club encouraged women to act “like first class whores” in order to keep their husbands from straying.
Most of the company employees are the descendants of the founders and first members of the Al-Arqam sect. However, the enterprise also attracts devout women from outside the original movement – like the Australia-educated Azlina Jamaluddin, who joined Global Ikhwan in 2001 and convinced her husband to enter into a polygamous marriage.