Daniyal Yusof is good-looking, works for an IT consultancy and is divorced with four children. He is on a spiritual mission: to find himself through religion. It is through religion that he is able to save himself and protect himself from worldly temptations and sins.
When I first met him, he was hell-bent on redeeming himself and absolving himself of his past wrongdoings. He has been attending religious classes somewhere in Sri Damansara, and applying all the teachings into his life. He goes to work in a somnambulistic state - every night he recites Surah Al-Ikhlas 3,000 times. It is his only way of coping with loneliness and the unbearable silence that reverberates in his small flat.
“I lost so much,” he says softly. He has lost his family, house, car and high-paying job as a consultant for a multi-national. Just as he was picking up the pieces, he met someone and fell in love deeply. When it ended, it devastated him.
“My marriage was a practical one. I had everything except a wife. She was a friend, we knew and liked each other, got married and then everything went downhill. Divorced, lost everything except the clothes on my back, and then…” he faltered, “… I met her…”
All he remembered of that episode was crying in his rented room. He had done the women, the drinking and partying before marriage. Everything he was supposed to do, he did and failed gloriously. What else was left except to turn to prayers and God?
We have been debating on this matter for a few weeks now. I tell him, much as it is encouraged to turn to God, he is using religion as a superficial crutch during times of need. Supposing something happens, some great calamity and he feels that God has failed him again, where would he go?
He is adamant that he is on the right track, despite visiting nightclubs like Passion and Bar Savanh every Friday (”But I go for my classes on Saturday night, so it’s not like I have forgotten myself. And I do pray, you know”) and meeting potential life partners on a regular basis. After his latest romantic fiasco – the blind date I set him up with was a disaster - he has decided to abstain from dating and the nightlife, and stay home.
He is sincere about his latest goal.
“By staying away from such temptation, I will be on the straight and narrow. I am weak. I enjoy women’s company, and I don’t think I can cope with the guilt of unlawful sex. I had it… once or twice, and while it was really good, I was overcome with shame and guilt. This is not what God wants from his subjects. The over-riding guilt that came after that night of passion almost killed me.
“Also, I noticed that when I undertook this journey, if I did something bad, my rezeki tutup (my wealth was cut off). For instance, a project that was mine got called off. Or something good that’s meant for me is side-swept or stalled. But God is merciful and gracious, so when I correct myself and do my best to be on that path, things come my way.”
True, I say, I agree with you, do good and good will come to you. But your practise of religion is like slapping a plaster on a cut. Kamu perlu menghayati ugama. (You must absorb the teachings of the faith).
“Oh. I never thought of that before.”
What kind of Muslim are you?
“I believe I have a gift, to lead people. I notice that I am like a signpost for people – I remind them of their religious obligations.”
And on Friday nights, you cruise?
“You don’t understand me.”
Who am I?
Men are often bewildered when they find themselves single again, after being husbands for so long. These are the things to consider now: weekend and holiday visits with the kids; coming home to an empty house or moving back to live with his parents (much to his embarrassment) and all that spare time he once fantasised about is now a perplexing concept he can’t quite grasp.
Some take the route of reliving their youth with younger women, fast cars and carousing the nights away at bars and clubs. Some concentrate on their careers. Of course, not all divorced men spiral out of control. They have their own way of coping.
Divorce means one thing: a loss of his sense of identity. What is he to do next?
Religion gives men and women strength and faith, and in patriarchal societies, it only reaffirms their masculinity.
Men are the maintainers (qawwamuna) of women, [on the basis] of what Allah has [preferred (faddala)] some of them over others and [on the basis] of what they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are devoutly obedient (to God), guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded. And (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion (nusyuz), admonish them (first), leave them alone in bed, (and last) chastise them… (The Quran, Surah An Nisa: Verse 34)
This verse alone has been misinterpreted countless of times by various parties; for this article however, let us use this as an example that has been quoted to me by my male friends to prove their superiority over women.
I am harsh. Perhaps their belief in the particular verse is proof of their need to believe that they are men.
Bring on the whips
Halim comes from one of the more established families in Kuala Lumpur. His family is also known for their piety and generosity. Soft spoken, articulate, intelligent and handsome, he is the kind of man a woman should marry. He too is another single father, struggling to cope with his new status.
After a year in marital wilderness, he has bounced back with a vengeance. He has ‘regrouped’ himself and after realising that all the right things he did had come to naught – marrying his childhood sweetheart, being a loving and dutiful husband and son – he is now ready to discover his wild side.
All he wants now is sex. Hot, passionate, almost criminal sex.
It is by finding himself sexually and transgressing into a world unknown that he will find the right woman for him.
“I learned that doing the right things have not served me well. My former spouse cheated on me and our intimate life suffered. I did everything to save the marriage. As long as I knew where she was, I consented to her philandering. I didn’t want the divorce. I loved her, and I wanted our family to stay together. Whatever she wanted to experience, I allowed.
“After the marriage ended, I had a few brief relationships. I did everything the right way: getting to know the woman first, kissed her after the requisite number of dates, and so on, and I discovered they were wrong for me. I could not see them being the mother of my child, the daughter-in-law of my parents and as my wife. I broke their hearts, and I felt guilty for doing so.
“My quest is for that woman who’ll be my lover for the rest of my life. We’ll be in lust with each other and cannot live without one another. She and I then will be each other’s soul mates.”
And then what? You meet one woman, have wild sex and then find that she’s not for you. On to the next woman, and so forth. You’ll find lots of willing women but whether they’re right for you is another thing, for your intention is not a fulfilling relationship, but wholly sexual. That’s not wrong, and it is your life, you can do whatever you want, but you may just end up lonely. And alone.
“I am mercenary.”
You are hurt.
“I am not.”
How do you reconcile this quest for sex with your religious practise? You come from a religious family. When you speak, you pepper it with phrases like Insyallah, Alhamdullilah, and you have spoken to me about how you view religion. You once said you cannot accept Indonesia’s brand of liberal Islam, and it would be difficult for you to marry a divorcee with children, as there will be that problem of children of opposite sexes sharing rooms.
Can you live with yourself and your practise of Islam, by taking a walk on the wild side, so to speak?
The interview is over. We shake hands.
“This is what I want. This is so that I’ll be done with the worldly; so when I meet her, it’ll be just us and our children. I don’t want another divorce. I want my marriage to be for forever.”