By Ray Charlston
Several weeks ago, Margaret O’Reilly began seeing a local psychiatrist in her city of Seattle Washington. Dr. Ahmed Abdullah Rahman is a licensed psychiatrist who originally practiced in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He has been practicing psychiatric medicine in the US for more than 10 years. After one session, according to Mrs. O’Reilly, Dr. Rahman stunned her by suggesting that she was suffering from “Disobedient Wife Disorder.”
The treatment for “Disobedient Wife Disorder” (or DWD), which is even more controversial, involves light beatings using a stick called a “miswak.” The punishment is administered by the woman’s husband, along with verbal admonitions from him for his wife to be obedient, or to end her rebellion. The practice is designed, allegedly, not to injure a woman or to harm her, but to shame and humiliate her into compliance. The controversial treatment is allegedly about “Bringing the woman back to her senses and back to reality” according to one booklet on the topic.
“Disobedient Wife Disorder” remains a controversial diagnosis, sparking strong feelings among those on both sides of the issue. Most of the psychiatrists in the West who do accept the existence of DWD are Muslim, and this fact is often cited by Islamophobes and reactionaries. The American Psychiatric Association, as well as the American Psychological Association, both reject the diagnosis. When I began writing this article, Margaret O’Reilly was suing Dr. Rahman for medical malpractice.
According to Mrs. O’Reilly “I have always been progressive and strongly anti-racist. I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my entire body! When I learned that Dr. Ahmed was a devout Saudi Muslim, that he had a special room just for praying in his office, and that the government of Saudi Arabia expelled him from their country for alleged ‘extremist’ activities and associations, I didn’t judge. This has nothing to do with Dr. Ahmed’s religion; this is about discrimination against women and medical malpractice. For a male doctor to tell me that I have “Disobedient Wife Disorder”, and that I require beatings from my husband, is outrageous and intolerable. This isn’t about Islam at all; it’s about male-chauvinism. Islam is a beautiful religion of peace and moderation practiced by millions of people around the world.”
When I asked Dr. Rahman for his comment, responding to Mrs. O’Reilly’s quote, he stated that “I am a devout Muslim. I strongly object and take exception to Mrs. O’Reilly’s statement that my treatment has nothing to do with Islam. Islam fully informs my practice as a doctor, and inshallah (God-Willing), I hope it informs everything I do in this life. I was trying to help her and her husband and family in sincerity as a Muslim psychiatrist. I never had any malicious intent. I believe in the Hippocratic Oath; I will not do any harm. If I failed to warn Mrs. O’Reilly as to her mental sickness, I would be negligent in my responsibilities! She is a very sickly disobedient woman. She needs help very badly. I hope her husband helps her soon.”
When I pointed out that many reputable psychiatrists reject the existence of DWD, Dr. Rahman responded, “Some in the West reject my treatments and advice. As a matter of fact I think most do. The fact is, while most American psychiatrists deny the existence of Disobedient Wife Disorder, they now label homophobia a mental illness! If you think homosexuality is wrong, they say you are mentally ill and need treatment! They say, if you don’t want to ‘experiment’ with homosexual activity, you cannot know that you wouldn’t enjoy it! These people are sick and evil, not me as a Muslim psychiatrist or my practice! They should be sued, not me, by Allah, I swear it!”
I tried very patiently and calmly to explain to Dr. Rahman that homosexuals are born that way, and that it is just as valid, moral and healthy to be homosexual as it is to be heterosexual or any other sexual orientation. Dr. Rahman became enraged, and told me that “Homosexuals will dwell in the fires of hell, so too will all their advocates! There is only one God, Allah, and Muhammed is His Prophet! Get out now, you deviancy defending degenerate! Get out! I won’t let you infect my patients with your satanic mental diseases.” Dr. Rahman then opened the door demanding again that I leave his office. I complied and walked outside.
Reflecting on the day’s events, I wanted to believe that some kind of misunderstanding occurred. Could this all be some sort of cultural or religious misunderstanding or snafu? Is it possible that some Muslims actually believe a husband should command his wife, rather than marriage being an equal partnership, and that if she disobeys, it is ok to hit her? I refused to believe it. No, it has to be a mistranslation or a miscommunication. Islam is a religion of peace and not violence. I vowed to investigate the matter further.
I contacted King Saud University, in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. I spoke with Professor Tariq Aziz at length on the phone. Prof. Aziz explained to me that I had not misunderstood. Disobedient Wife Disorder is an accurate translation of the Arabic name for the condition in question. Beating a rebellious wife with a miswak a small stick, and demanding that she cease her rebellion, is the prescribed treatment. I was stunned. I asked Prof. Aziz how he could possibly consider this practicing medicine. He told me that this treatment has its source in the Hadith, an old collection of alleged sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, handed down orally and then codified into written form.
I read several booklets about Disobedient Wife Disorder before I reached the obvious conclusion. Actually DWD was fairly new. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that DWD was officially classified as a mental disorder by psychiatrists in the Middle East. No doubt, it was under chauvinistic white-colonialist influence. While the idea of punishing a disobedient wife may have some basis in obscure Islamic writings, the idea of treating this as a mental illness was something new. It was clearly the result of western influence! I discovered through my research that originally, Middle Eastern psychiatrists relied heavily on associations from abroad, including the American Psychiatric Association, for their information and knowledge!
The next day, I contacted Margaret O’Reilly and explained my research to her. She cordially agreed to drop all charges against Dr. Rahman, and instead to sue the real culprit. Margaret O’Reilly is now suing the American Psychiatric Association. We both agreed that obviously the AMA failed to adequately explain the discipline of psychiatry to Middle Eastern psychiatrists now practicing in the US. It was, in reality, their fault that Disobedient Wife Disorder was being propagated as a diagnosis. Fortunately, a great injustice against a Muslim-American was averted through some investigative journalism.
Margaret O’Reilly personally called Dr. Rahman to apologize for initially attempting to sue him. Dr. Rahman, understandably still stinging from the threatened lawsuit, hung up on her, after calling her a “lowly kafir sharmootah” before adding “I feel very sorry for your unfortunate husband.” Of course, the doctor’s anger is perfectly understandable given the misunderstanding that transpired.
Mrs. O’Reilly, realizes that she almost brought about a major injustice against an innocent immigrant doctor. Wishing to cleanse herself of her misdeed, she has decided to donate a large sum of money to an Islamic charity. Fortunately, in a world where so much has gone wrong, some stories still have happy endings. It is events like these that make me especially proud to be a writer for Diversity Chronicle, knowing that we are making a real difference in the world.
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