“Redha tu Ikhlas”: The Social–Textual Significance of Islamic Virtue in Malay Forced Marriage Narratives

Publication year
12.5 (310)

This is not just about romance novels, but a novel discussed in detail, "Ombak Rindu (Waves of Longing), by the Malaysian author Fauziah Ashari" has a happy ending. There is also a statement from one publisher that

it was important, she stresses, for the stories her imprint publishes to end ‘happily’ for the heroine. For readers, writers, and publishers alike, there is an expectation that characters in such stories to go through a familiar narrative arc: coercion into marrying a man they dislike but eventually grows to love. The stories also follow an emotional arc from great anguish to happy resignation. They provide an emotional blueprint and melodramatic mode for managing personal crisis that can be applied in ‘real life’. (8)

Here's the abstract:

What accounts for the endurance of forced marriage (kahwin paksa) narratives in Malaysian public culture? How does one explain the ways popular fascination with forced marriage relate to assumptions about heteronormative institutions and practices? In a society where most who enter into marriages do so based on individual choice, the enduring popularity of forced marriage as a melodramatic trope in fictional love stories suggests an ambivalence about modernity and egalitarianism. This ambivalence is further excavated by illuminating the intertextual engagement by readers, publishers and booksellers of Malay romantic fiction with a mediated discourse on intimacy and cultural practices. This article finds that forced marriage in the intimate publics of Malay romance is delivered as a kind of melodramatic mode, a storytelling strategy to solve practical problems of experience. Intertextual narratives of pain and struggle cast light on ‘redha’ (submission to God’s will) and ‘sabar’ (patience), emotional virtues that are mobilised during personal hardship and the challenge of maintaining successful marital relations. I argue that ‘redha’ and ‘sabar’ serve as important linchpins for the reproduction of heteronormative institutions and wifely obedience (taat). This article also demonstrates the ways texts are interwoven in the narratives about gender roles, intimacy, and marital success (or lack thereof) and how they relate to the modes of romantic melodrama.