SO an apology has been issued and the online video has been removed. But its impact is still reverberating.
After all, as they say: The Internet never forgets. Once it is out there, it is always out there, especially since in this case there is a longer version on YouTube.
The video in question is a 56-second clip entitled Kenapa wanita lambat dapat jodoh? (Why are women slow to find suitors?) uploaded online by a local celebrity motivational speaker, Prof Datuk Dr Muhaya Mohamad.
As soon as it was released, the video had gone viral, causing a stir among women and a great number of men nationwide.
In her video, Prof Dr Muhaya had made three main statements:
“As women we must always appreciate men as they are leaders. No matter how our husbands are they are always our imam. No matter how high our position is, a man is the imam. We must celebrate God’s decree on the leadership of men.”
“Avoid the desire to liberate and wanting to be equal to men. If you busy yourself with what men do, your testosterone level will increase and for those who are unmarried, it will be a long time before you do. Those with high testosterone, who are driven to drive, to achieve, to be independent are asking for it.”
“Men like women who are gentle, with high estrogen, hopeful towards them and dependent on them. It’s alright to dumb down a little (bodoh-bodoh sikit). To those who are yet to be married you should review your character.”
Almost immediately thousands had opinions on the video. Social media sites were littered with comments. Many were shocked by it and most were affected by the “bodoh-bodoh” statement. Some interpreted “bodoh-bodoh” to literally mean stupid or dumb. Some interpreted it as pretending to be weaker and needy. Others interpreted it to mean being submissive or gentle or humble or “manja”...
A religious figure Ustaz Ahmad Dasuki, who had approached Dr Muhaya for clarification, shared that by “bodoh-bodoh” she had meant to advise women to be humble, not arrogant and egoistic.
The dispute on the interpretation and differences of opinions caused many arguments online, to the effect that those who disagreed with the statements were attacked by Prof Muhaya’s defenders, who accused them of not understanding the “metaphor”.
Syed Azmi, who uses social media as an outreach platform for troubled teenagers and abused women to get in touch with him, was blocked from his work accounts only because he posted an opinion against the stupefying video.
Dr Nur Amalina Che Bakri received hostile and malicious messages after she criticised the “act a little dumb to find love” comment.
A day after the controversy, Prof Muhaya uploaded an apology on her social media for the “misunderstanding” caused and explained that the video was edited from another video with a longer duration that was published in February and for further clarification one can watch it on Youtube.
Unfortunately, the video on her Youtube Channel does not provide any more clarification to me. Once again I was disappointed.
Prof Muhaya has ultimately not addressed anything else besides the definition of “bodoh-bodoh” and neither has she retracted the skewed perception of men’s special position according to God which should definitely be corrected.
To me, the definition of ‘bodoh-bodoh’ is not the main concern here, and how women should be with their husbands is not even the point in question, although strangely that’s all most people want to discuss.
If we go by the main point, which is obviously the question in the title of the video Why women are slow to find suitors?’ and Prof Muhaya’s definition of acting “bodoh-bodoh sikit” in her answer – the video is stating that the problem is that these single women want to be equal to men, they are too driven and ambitious, they are not displaying their “gentle side” and that they are arrogant and egoistic. Now to me that is worst than saying you have to play dumb!
I am not one to create controversy or to dwell on things or even to blame. My only concern is how we can improve and learn from mistakes. I’m a firm believer of mistakes being the best teacher and if we are making the same mistake over and over again, it only means we have not learnt our lesson. And there’s much to be learned in this situation for everyone.
I see the possible issues here. While Prof Dr Muhaya may mean well, and I really do believe that she means well, the generalisation, personal judgements, false information, skewed religious claims and making unclear statements with metaphors or ambiguity should not be ignored.
By saying NO MATTER WHAT, a man is an imam, is to not recognise the exceptions which are not uncommon in our society. This shows lack of exposure to women’s condition in our society and the Islamic principle of men fulfilling duties to earn what is rightfully theirs. It is important to note that there are many “Muslim” men who are not equipped to be an imam or to lead. Some women who are stuck with the notion that their husbands are their imam NO MATTER WHAT have endured abuse for years when they didn’t have to. It is people like Syed Azmi and various women’s organisations who have been picking up these pieces.
To say that all men have a special place as decreed by God is to be ignorant of the fact that everyone, male and female, has an equal standing in Islam. To say women shouldn’t be doing what men do, shouldn’t be ambitious or independent indicates that the Professor herself doesn’t reflect what she is preaching.
Prof Muhaya is no doubt a high achiever to be in the position she is in today - a celebrated ophthalmologist and motivational speaker – and so perhaps the statement made was not well thought through. To even mention testosterone and to give the wrong information about it also shows carelessness or disregard for true facts.
To give a specific reason as to why women are not married, and in that tone, is simply showing narrow- mindedness. There are various circumstances in life as to why things are, including God’s will if one truly believes. The claim to talking in metaphors and having to explain or refer to a different video to justify the real meaning of these statements only raise questions on one’s credibility.
Above all, the lack of empathy, tactfulness and foresight reveals the level of one’s wisdom. Professionals should also be aware of boundaries. Honestly, I don’t expect someone who had been married from the age of 22 like Professor Muhaya to understand what it is like to be unmarried, let alone try to motivate (read judge) those who are.
It is true that everyone is entitled to their opinions, but while it is an opinion, if it has the power to influence others especially in the millions and especially when it is presented in a manner of a professional advice, it should become the civic duty for anyone to share their opposing views with good intention.
I do understand that sometimes we say things we don’t mean or there are days that words just don’t come out right, but that no longer can be a reason if the same manner has turned into a habit. (The entire fiasco leaves me curious though, how does one qualify to be a motivational speaker? What is the duty of care of a motivational speaker?)
While damage has been done, apology is accepted for the misunderstanding of the definition of “bodoh-bodoh”, we can all choose to learn from this unfortunate incident.
Prof Dr Muhaya plays a pivotal role in our society. To have influence over millions of women is a very special position, so I hope she can motivate her followers who endearingly refer to her as Bonda to stop attacking and cursing others with opposing views, and to reflect the positivity that she preaches.
Nik Jassmin Hew is an author and screenwriter. The views expressed here are solely her own.