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BBL 3206. Malaysian Literature in English. MARIAH. Che Husna Azahari. Themes. Themes. Sexuality and religion * Sexuality within the confines of religion is explored through the character of the Imam * Note that he is not referred to by his name, but as a religion authority

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bbl 3206

BBL 3206

Malaysian Literature in English



  • Sexuality and religion

* Sexuality within the confines of religion is explored through the character of the Imam

* Note that he is not referred to by his name, but as a religion authority

* His human urges are subsumed by the role that he is expected to play in the Molo community

  • However, this duality is partly self-created; he assures himself of the divorce between religiosity and passion by citing ‘the verse from his Pattani days’

“O lady of excess who strips away my

Acts of devotion in every state.

There is no kindness in my wound.

Either it is by abasement and it is

Attached to passion, or it is by

Might and attached to Kingdom..”

  • But then marries the two when he recalls that:

“ Did not the Prophet himself say that three things are pleasing to him, prayers, women and perfume? ”

  • If we are to appropriate this duality onto the characters of the story, we can loosely classify:
    • Cik Yam ‘religiously’ – this is because the Imam’s marriages to her is largely devoid of passion; the fact that they have no children (regardless of the real reason) alludes to the sexiness of their marriage; it is in the context of this marriage that he recites the first prayer
    • Mariah under ‘sexuality’ – when he entertains thoughts about Mariah, it is then that he recalls the Prophet’s fondness for ‘prayers, women and perfume’

In short, within the context of his marriage to CikYam he prioritizes the divorce of passion from religiosity; whereas in the context of his longing for Mariah he considers the union between the two

  • Negative images of women

* Women in this story are viewed through the ‘goddess/whore’ duality, echoing the duality of ‘religiosity/sexuality’

* ‘Whore’ is a strong term, and very inappropriate in the context of this story

* The terms of this duality simply refer to the way women are perceived by men – either as ‘goddesses’ who are chaste, virtuous and pure, or as ‘whores’, objects of sexual desire

  • Thus, Cik Yam is portrayed as a ‘paragon of virtue’, and Mariah as somewhat of a ‘harlot’
  • The very fact that this duality is perpetuated by the women of the community (and sometimes by Cik Yam and Mariah themselves upon themselves) gives away the extent to which the community is formed along patriarchal lines

“Please God, let it not be true,” she prayed.. “Why her? The loving devoted wife, the model housewife?”

“Mariah was in fact, slightly in awe of the pious Cik Yam, Mariah felt like a harlot in her short orange kebaya, sitting beside the robed Cik Yam”

  • Imam
  • The Imam is the true protagonist – the crux of the story is that he has to make decisions concerning all the sets of dualities mentioned above
  • Imam/man, religiosity/sexuality, goddess/whore, Cik Yam/Mariah
  • He is not entirely portrayed in a sympathetic light; depending of the reader's viewpoint, his actions can be seen as abusing a technically, as it were, in his religion to satisfy his lust
  • However, he can also be seen as transgressing the ‘corrupt moral authority’ stereotype – if the reader finds that passion can be harmonized with spirituality (in a manner allowed by that religion), seeing as it is natural human impulse, then his actions are justifiable
  • This is especially so considering that his marriage to Cik Yam can be seen as somewhat of a marriage of convinience:

“ Cik Yam, though no raving beauty, was an accomplished cook as well as being modest and extremely virtuos. She had been an obedient and excellent wife, but she was not the Sheikh’s daughter. The Imam had been happy with Cik Yam and gradually as he got older the hurt had been eased ”

  • Mariah
  • Mariah, despite being the title character, is not the protagonist of this story
  • She is portrayed in a passive, almost gormless light, in the sense that her actions do not directly affect the outcome of the story
    • She is neither actively pursuing the affections of the imam nor repelling them
    • She is neither purposefully flaunting her sexuality for material or sexual gain, nor is she actively concealing it
  • In many ways, she is similar to Cik Yam – they are both unassuming but strong women
  • The reason that they are perceived to be at opposite ends of the female spectrum (goddess/whore) is entirely due to male (and hence, patriarchal) perception
  • This is most evident in the Imam’s treatment of Mariah – unbeknownst to her, and entirely free of any action on her part, she reminds the Imam of his long-lost love, and thus becomes the object of his desire

“ Oh Mariah.. ” sighed the Imam. “Why do you have to be so like her.. My long-lost love, the Passion of My Youth? Oh Mariah, why do you have to look like her from your toes right up to your eyebrows? ”

  • Cik Yam

* Like Mariah, Cik Yam’s participation in the story is mostly passive

* She is, as is established throughout the story, “a paragon of virtue”

* However, because the Imam is able to separate the role of the wife and that of the lover (see dualities above:, her marriage is essentially passionless

  • That is not to say that they do not love each other; it is just that that love is of a different variety, borne out of ‘devotion’ alone, rather than passion

“ Fifteen years of marital bliss had left it’s mark. Love and understanding shone through Cik Yam’s tear-filled eyes.

“ Tell me what grieves you, my husband, and I will make it better for you,” Cik Yam whispered to the Imam. At these words the Imam felt himself choke… He told Cik Yam of his unrequited love for the Sheikh’s daughter. ”

  • “ I love you and I will always love you, Yam. Nothing can change that. I will always be your husband. I will care for you, Yam..” He said in between kisses on Cik Yam’s forehead, hands and finally in the final act of submission, on Cik Yam’s feet.