Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Justifying slavery with religion.

Domestic worker in Syria
Yesterday there was a research seminar presented by Indonesian academics on Indonesian migrant domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates. Domestic workers in the UAE face the worst working conditions and at the same time, are barely covered by any protective legislation. 

In the law there are referred to as 'helpers', which place them in the private sphere of the household and therefore beyond the bounds of any intervention from external parties like NGOs or their embassies (except if they manage to run away). They are not officially 'workers', who can then fall under employment or labour laws. (Although Singapore gets around this by creating a separate Act that covers 'foreign workers' -- the EFMA.)

So the thing about UAE is that they get the least educated (mostly illiterate) women from Indonesia. In fact, T pointed out that there are impoverished places (e.g. Indramayu) and villages in Indonesia that form steady sources of domestic workers. According to T, many girls in these places are married off young (because of poverty and lack of alternative opportunities like education) and often divorced. 

Once married however, they are no longer regarded as children and they face three choices: 1) remain in their impoverished village 2) work as a prostitute because that brings income, or 3) migrate to work as a domestic worker.

These extremely poor and often illiterate women form the staggering majority of Indonesian domestic workers in the Middle East. What's upsetting is that labour agencies, who are often owned or affiliated to the religious teachers (who claim lineage from Prophet Muhammad) in their community, promote working in the Middle East as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit tanah suci or the Holy Land; and a way to eventually go for their haj or pilgrimage.

Once they get there though, they are often locked at the labour agencies to prevent runaways, overworked by their employers to the point of not having enough time to even pray (in the Holy Land!), suffer physical and sexual abuse at the hands of both male and female employers, and can be sent to jail for having boyfriends or any kind of communication or proximity with males. (And these employers also hire male migrant workers as their drivers and gardeners - do they expect no communication at all??)

Of course there are good employers, but unfortunately they are a minority. There are also domestic workers who actually commit crimes, but I'm just presenting the bigger, general picturs.

What's so great about claiming descendance from the Prophet if you implicate yourself in a business that is basically trafficking young vulnerable women with glass dreams of fulfilling their religious duties? Will you still listen blindly to religious authorities?

This is another example of how religion is used promote a business, a practice which I find disgusting, misleading, insulting to God and shameful for Muslims all over.


Anonymous said...

I attended this workshop on 'Get to Know Islam' session for converts in Singapore.When talking about household duties, the facilitator said that it was justified to have a 'helper' in the house. When I raised questions about the current oppressive nature of migrant domestic workers, other people in the workshop exclaimed 'But that's what in the Quran!' and when I pressed on, they simply said I needed to do more research if I was going to ask such questions.

Someone else told me I needed to sound less snobby and 'know-it-all' when I talk about these issues.
I was attacked for 'not believing' in the words of the Prophet and when that didn't work, accused of being a snobby 'know-it-all'.

I agree with you – What’s the point of quoting scripture if you are just going to uphold oppressive values that are so obviously NOT endorsed in the Quran or by Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W)?

Sya said...

lifeandlima beans,

Perhaps you could have helped your fellow students to understand that there's a difference between something being IN the Quran because it describes the times, or being an actual commandment.

I'm sure if you had asked them what the Quran actually said about "helpers" or "slaves", they wouldn't know exactly. If they do, then you should tell them they should only use camels as transportation, and eat only figs, dates, olives, honey, milk, and seafood.

The only way to counter such people is to have the Quran at your fingertips. I wouldn't say they quoted scripture, since they didn't tell you what the Quran said exactly :) However, imagine how they would be shut up if you could tell them exactly what the verses were regarding helpers.

People will still uphold oppressive values because this is Islam according to their scholars, and this is what they know to be their Muslim identity, and they will hold on to it with the last shreds of their rationality and dignity.


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