‘Arranged’ marriages

‘Arranged’ marriages get a pretty bad rap in the media. It seems that many people don’t seem to be able to make the distinction between an arranged marriage, which merely involves the guy and girl being introduced by some third party, and a forced marriage, which involves compulsion and duress. As Muslims, we don’t use those frames of reference because we’re well aware that this distinction exists. I personally tend to replace the word ‘arranged’ with ‘traditional’, because meeting a partner through this way often involves following a set of  culturally appropriate behaviours.

Whenever a friend of mine undertakes the traditional marriage journey, I marvel at the relative ease with which it often unfolds. It usually goes like this:

Family member/family friend suggests a guy>Guy comes over to the girl’s house>They meet a few times>They talk weddings, career plans and life plans>They get engaged>Party time >Then a few months later, it’s party time again, because they’re getting married.

I suggest that the smoothness of these proceedings can be explained by two things:

1.) Treading a well-worn path

My friends who did things this way concede that by choosing the road not taken, they saved themselves a lot of hassle. For these people, meeting a partner in this way was simply the done thing and they had no particular reason to object. Why would they? As girls, they didn’t have to do much at all. A guy will come to their house, and if they like him, they can choose to see him again, and if not, they simply pull out the ‘no naseeb’ line. It involves minimal effort, besides dressing nicely and serving tea to the guests.

The girl’s behaviour, the guy’s behaviour and the behaviour of the respective families throughout the process are all dictated to some extent by cultural norms. The timing of the engagement and wedding will be arranged in reference to both these cultural norms and what suits the couple. The rituals and traditions are all well-established. When there are problems, there are mechanisms in place to solve them. If it doesn’t work out, and it sometimes doesn’t despite all of these safeguards, the hurt is arguably somewhat less than it would be if they found their partner themselves, which leads me on to my next point.

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2.) Maintaining an emotional distance

I’m not trying to suggest that people can’t and don’t fall in love through the traditional method. Obviously people wouldn’t proceed with getting married if they didn’t at least like each other on some level. But because of the business-like way it begins, it is possible to remain somewhat more detached than the average person in a relationship. Meeting someone this way forces people to consider a potential spouse’s on-paper traits first and foremost. They assess the person’s family, and see if they can spot any warning signs there. They may also assess the person’s answers to pre-prepared questions and ‘grade’ them accordingly.

Before they get engaged, the guy and girl generally don’t meet on their own. Some communicate on the phone during this time, while others keep contact outside of the girl’s living room to a minimum. Warm yet business-like emails may be exchanged, sometimes with a relative of either party CC’d in to prevent anything from getting out of hand. This lack of alone time obviously inhibits the couple’s ability to form powerful emotional bonds before they are at least Islamically married in most cases.

All of the above may sound clinical, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Strong emotions inevitably add complexity  to any relationship, and so removing them from the equation, at least to begin with, can ensure things proceed a lot more smoothly. Passion and intensity may sound great on paper, but in reality they may cause arguments and romantic misunderstandings. ‘Love comes after marriage’ is the oft-repeated maxim, and I don’t doubt that this can be the case for these couples.

Personally, I think doing things the traditional way is fantastic. All ventures in the sphere of the heart are laden with risk, and this method attempts to minimise risk. This is why some friends of mine never considered doing things any other way. But it’s certainly not for everyone. Some may feel that it’s too stiff and formal. Others may feel intimidated by the idea of being put on show in front of a strange family, while others simply have become enamoured with the concept of finding ‘the one’. They want their feelings to guide them towards their choice of spouse, not the other way around.

But most Muslims I’ve observed are somewhere in the middle. The Muslims I’ve spoken to about this tend to see the traditional method of meeting a partner as an alternate path open to them, or a back-up if their independent romantic expeditions go awry. They’d like to meet someone on their own, but if it doesn’t happen, they know they always have the traditional method to fall back on. Some girls even give themselves up until a certain age to find a partner on their own, and if they haven’t, they’ll start working the traditional circuit. Others have had a failed ‘love’ relationship and wish to avoid further heartbreak; they see the traditional method as their best chance of doing so.

What do you think of the traditional method? Are you open to it or do you think it’s not for you?

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9 responses to “‘Arranged’ marriages

  1. Assalamualaikum sister 🙂 Insightful read. Perhaps the cultural climate here in Singapore is somewhat different. ‘Arranged’ marriages aren’t the norm. Personally, I am quite open to the concept, but a small part of me goes ‘eww’. I’m turning 28, and just got out of a serious relationship with a childhood friend and slated to wed this December, but Allah has better plans for us, so things didn’t turn out. The heartbreak is enough for me to entertain thoughts of an ‘arranged’ marriage. But at the same time, I would much prefer to ‘chance’ upon the one destined for me, without having to go through the awkwardness of having to be introduced to one man after another, in order to come across one I actually like. Here in Singapore, muslims don’t typically marry young. The normalcy is 30-35 years old. And most of them marry their partners after being with them for years, in what we’d call a ‘love marriage’. I personally don’t believe the number of years together will determine if a marriage will last. Call me a realist. However if meeting someone through an ‘arranged’ set up will facillitate the process of finding a man who shares the same values and principles, lays the foundation of marriage on taqwa and for the sake of Allah; I’d say we’re well on our way to something that can, Insha’Allah, last.

    I’ve grown a tad jaded the past few months, but with that, too comes experience. Compatibility isn’t everything.

    As of now, I’d much rather take my time and meet more people. If it happens, it happens. If not, then perhaps Allah has better plans for me.

  2. That’s really interesting. Marrying that late is definitely not the norm amongst Muslims here! I agree that being together for a number of years is no guarantee-the length of the ‘getting to know you’ stage often seems to have little bearing on the ultimate success of a relationship. Obviously you need to know the fundamentals, but there are some things you really need to live with a person to know.
    As for compatibility, you’re right, it’s no guarantee either. There’s only so much you can rely on a person’s ‘on paper’ characteristics. Circumstances play a massive part in determining whether that on paper compatibility translates into a successful relationship.

  3. Reblogged this on Emboldened Hearts.

  4. Assalamualaikum everyone! I’ve found this blog as truly great guidance for me. May Allah bless you for it.

    My question is that, how would one find a future spouse if one is a convert? My whole family is non-Muslim (for now…hehe…;) ) so I can’t really be recommended someone.

    Btw, I thought even informal contact with the other gender was discouraged in Islam? I’ve seen a few lectures on the issue (by Nouman Ali Khan, if I may add) and he makes it quite clear. :S Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    I feel like there’s no way out. Please help. And keep up the blog in any case! It was a gift to stumble across! 😀

    • Wa alaykum salam, thank you so much. InshaAllah you continue to benefit from reading 🙂
      I’m not a convert but I know some converts have a wali who acts as their father and looks out for them. They also rely on friends to recommend people for them. Don’t worry, plenty of born Muslims don’t have families who help them look for a partner either so you’re certainly not alone 🙂
      As for your point, it depends how you define ‘informal contact’ I suppose. I’m not a shaykh but there are certainly different opinions on these matters.

      • That is a very satisfying thought, thinking about it. By informal contact, I meant anything besides what is necessary. Anything outside school or texting. And yeah, it’s quite a controversial issue, unfortunately.

        But I guess I need to learn to trust Allah completely, for He is the Greatest of Planners. InshaAllah, it’ll all work out. And even if it doesn’t, I have so many things to be grateful for already, right?

        Thank you Sister for replying, it really is quite a help knowing that there are so many people to turn to for advice. And I’m sure that this blog has helped plenty of Muslims (converts as well) feeling insecure about themselves.

        May Allah bless you with His Guidance and Jannah. Keep up the great work! 😀

      • InshaAllah you will find everything you are looking for and more 🙂 Thank you so much for your kind wishes and please feel free to ask questions any time or share your thoughts!

  5. Great read and definitely agree with you on all counts. I think issues arise amongst young Muslims because parents and members of the community don’t explicitly lay out the whole scope of “love” and “marriage”. Media like TV, movies, and books give young Muslims one idea of how love and romance should work that’s not always realistic. But since they’re usually barred off from “dating” as they may see their friends or other young people doing, and it’s not made clear for them the wisdom behind traditional marriage (or from a wider scope, the wisdom of Islam’s system of marriage), the young people feel they’re missing out. They get into situations out of rebellion from their faith and they’re ill-equipped to handle relationships maturely.

    It’s really a matter of open communication and clarification, and this blog is a great step in that cause. And once again, Love Haqtually is the greatest title ever. (I’m a filmmaker, and I might steal it for a movie parodying Love Actually. Don’t sue me if I do, please and thank you).

    • Definitely. There’s not enough open conversations about how children can and should go about finding a partner in a ‘Halal’ way. So many parents simply expect that their children will stay away from all things romance and relationships until they’re finished university-not the case for most people. Parents need to discuss what they expect from their children and children need to express how they’d like to go about things from a relatively early age.
      Thank you! I’m actually an almost-lawyer so I’ll have to look into copyright laws and get back to you :p what kind of films do you make? That sounds like a hilarious idea!

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