HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Exploring Islamic Marriages and Traditions

In light of Valentines Day, I decided to lightly delve into Islamic marriage and the traditions and ceremonies that are associated with such. Many have the stipulation that forced or arranged marriages are predominate throughout Islamic culture and suppress freedoms of individuals that is only somewhat correct. While most men and women do not ‘date’ in the traditional Western sense of the world, they rely on arranged marriages and their families or community to find their spouse.

“The expectation is that the seed for love is planted and will continue to bloom after the marriage.  Before any potential candidates are considered, families as a unit decide the values and characteristics that potential spouses should have so the couple has a satisfying life together.”

The faith that Muslims have in their family to find them a suitable match shows the close-knit familial culture of Islamic society. For these men and women, an arranged marriage, or courtship, is something to look forward to instead of frown upon. To them it is not a lack of freedom or choices but a deep and long-standing cherished tradition of their society. Another tradition that still upholds in Islamic society is presenting a dowry. The Mahr, or dowry, is taken very seriously in some cultures and only is only a light formality in others, but with globalization and the increasing independence of women, an elaborate dowry is often no longer as crucial to a marriage.

“Often in Islam, marriages are not considered to be ‘made in heaven’ between ‘soul-mates’ destined for each other; they are not sacraments. They are social contracts, which bring rights and obligations to both parties, and can only be successful when these are mutually respected and cherished.”

With the increasing influence of technology, it has become easier on the bride and groom to get to know one another without direct contact. Many families now allow the use of phone calls, texts, or email between the two individuals to help them get acquainted. There are also various degrees of arranged marriages all the way from not meeting your spouse until the wedding day to meeting each other at a university and having both families consent before getting married. Through Islamic law, no parent is allowed to force their son or daughter to marry someone they do not want to. This is called a forced marriage and is illegal in Islamic law and can be easily annulled. Many Muslim marriages are very happy, even when the couple have not seen each other before the marriage, but have trusted in the judgment of their parents to arrange a good match for them. These days an arranged marriage it is more of an arranged courtship than anything else.

More recently, weddings have started to show more western aspects. While the family and decorations might remain traditional, it is not uncommon to see the bride and groom in a white wedding dress and a tuxedo for the first part of the ceremony and then change intro customary dress for the rest of the ceremony (or vice versa). The traditional wedding ceremony varies on the sect of Islam and the culture and traditions of the families and region. Muslim weddings are very intricate, ceremonial and quite beautiful. The colors and details used in the decorations and dress such as customary henna designs, traditional dances and music create a fun and uplifting atmosphere reminding everyone of the true celebration that is taking place.

Resources:

http://muslimmatters.org/2011/12/22/arranged-marriage-is-not-forced-marriage/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/ritesrituals/weddings_1.shtml

http://wedding.theknot.com/wedding-planning/wedding-ceremony/articles/muslim-wedding-ceremony-rituals.aspx

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27 Comments

  1. Such an appropriate article for this week! Although Muslim weddings are not new to me (my father is Iranian) so he tells me about them, they are very interesting and I’m glad you chose this topic because most Americans do not know the details. You are completely correct about how the term “dating” does not exist over there. It’s basically up to your family to make the decisions for you. I have Iranian relatives that have Facebook, and when they see pictures of me on my profile with my girlfriend, they assume we are getting married. Before I turned 18, I had to always be careful on what was on my Facebook because of the chance my Iranian relatives would see it. They tend to draw conclusions based on what they’re used to in their society, and forget the fact that I’m across the Atlantic in a completely different country.

    I can also enlighten on this:
    “They are social contracts, which bring rights and obligations to both parties, and can only be successful when these are mutually respected and cherished.”

    -When the 2 families meet with each other to decide if their son and daughter are a good fit for each other, they agree upon which side will provide the house, the car, the furniture, etc. They literally plan ahead as if literally signing a contract with each other. I just find this fascinating.

    Also, just another little fun fact, some Muslim old-schoolers sacrifice either a baby goat or sheep upon arrival of the bride at weddings. I’m not sure how many still do this but my father was there for one a few years ago.

  2. flambert3 says:

    This is a good article I still thought of the traditional practice and that of the Qadi and the Fortune Teller. Since we have not spoke much about it in class. Based on your findings how would you describe the, in my opinion forced, marriage arranged in the Qadi and the Fortune Teller?

  3. It is interesting when reading the post and Chris’s comment together. I think I should add some information since I am from a country which has a long time tradition of arranged marriage. Chinese practice arranged marriage because ancient scholars think that women should obey whatever their male relatives tell them to do. Women are used to make wealth or to consolidate relationships between families and countries. One of the famous example was Princess Wencheng, who was sent to Tibet to consolidate friendship with Tibetans. Different from what the post and Chris’s comment say, there are tons of evidences from ancient texts show that women under arranged marriage are not happy or satisfied. Many of them wanted to escape, but there were no social protection for those women. Women were simply objects of their brothers, fathers, and eventually husbands. Similar to the idea of Sati in India, widows who kept themselves away from other men or simply killed themselves were deserved to build Chastity memorial arches. However, if a woman was not deserved to build the memorial arches, they would be considered as unclean, and they could not few of them could survive under social pressure. In my opinion, women in ancient China suffered a lot from arranged marriage and social inequality, and I really want to understand in depth about why Islam women are not expressively unhappy about those.

    Shitian Liu

    • I definitely don’t deny that some women are not happy with their marriages. I know it still happens today, especially in rural areas of the middle east. There was a movie that came out a few years ago that is based on a true story about a woman being stoned to death because she was accused of adultery. She was falsely accused because her husband was unhappy with her and wanted a new wife. He knew that accusing of adultery would be an easy way to get rid of her. (Movie: The Stoning of Soraya M.)

  4. ojanus3 says:

    I like that you chose this topic this week! Although this blog seemed to just skim the surface of marriage in the Middle East it has definitely caught my attention. Born in raised in the USA, the practice of dowries seems to be something you just read about or observe in movies. I hope that we talk in more detail about this during the discussion!

  5. I always thought about arranged marriages as some tradition in the past until high school when I made a lot of friends who were Indian and had parents that had arranged marriages. I guess in high school we always thought it was weird, but then I also watched a Bollywood movie recently called Vivah about the courtship of an arranged marriage and learned a little bit about the cultural context of marriages. Courtship is very different among cultures and I don’t want to make judgements on what is best, but I definitely take issue with forced marriages or child brides. I’d also like to talk about Muhammad’s wife Aisha at some point in class. I think there needs to be a more clear distinction made between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage/marriage made for economic gain/child marriages.

  6. mjuren3 says:

    I’m glad you chose to write about this topic as well. I find the courtship/marriage practices and traditions of other cultures to be fascinating. As an American girl, I am very grateful for the freedom I have to choose who I date/marry. However I realize that the Western concept of dating is a rather new thing in world history and will be very interested to hear more about the more traditional way of going about marriage.

  7. akranc3 says:

    It’s pretty cool that forced marriages are illegal. It’s also quite interesting that families make the match for their son or daughter. This would definitely involve a firm knowledge of what your child is like and what your child wants if you were the parent. From this, it seems that Islamic families are extremely close and each family member knows the others intimately. This is something that, I will haphazardly say, does not exist in America.

  8. tnatoli3 says:

    I like how you distinguished the difference between forced and arranged marriage. I had no idea they were considered different. I always assumed arranged marriages were not enjoyable for the couple from what I have seen in movies and on TV, but I am glad to see this is not the case. I guess the idea of free will can apply here, but it seems like these people are choosing to let their families make the choice thus making it their choice.

  9. kolson23 says:

    Very interesting post. I can see where one would have to be extremely close with your family in order for something such as an arranged marriage to work. How does a family decide how much contact the future couple will have? I feel that this could have a big impact on the success of the marriage as well. Being able to get to know who your supposed to spend the rest of your life with would be nice, rather than being thrown blindly into it.

  10. jdowling6 says:

    In the Qadi and the Fortune Teller, it didn’t seem to me that the Qadi knew his own daughters very well. If this was the case, it is nice to see that family ties are in fact closer than what they once were. I agree that to have happy arranged marriages, the parents must know the kids in extreme detail. Thanks again for distinguishing arranged marriages from forced marriages. I think it is safe to say that in the novel, many arranged marriages were forced, there wouldn’t be any more clear reason for Aisha to have run away from home. The laws making forced marriages illegal that were mentioned earlier is good evidence that Islamic marriages have come a long way and consider the feelings of the people actually involved in getting married.

  11. mnicholas6 says:

    This piece gives really good insight on an often misunderstood marriage custom. The graduate student I researched under completed her PhD and moved back home to Pakistan this past August. Within a month, the lab was fluttering with the news that she had recently become engaged. None of us could understand how she could go from having no love interest to having a fiancée in such a short amount of time. The only story we were able to piece together was that she knew the guy from her childhood and they kept in contact through Gchat. Even though it now seems like her marriage was arranged, she’s the happiest I’ve ever known her to be.

  12. shaimsn says:

    You are right man, the colors are awesome! Those weddings are full of tradition; I’ve been to a couple of them (thankfully they were good).

    This is a subtle matter though. Arranged marriages are not as bad as they’re portrayed nowadays, but there are several aspects that concern me a bit.

    Let’s try to put ourselves in the following position for a second:

    You live in the 21st century. You have access to internet. You can see how other societies work. You see how most of the population choose their partners without any predominant pressure. But, you come from a conservative Muslim/Jewish family that believes in arranged marriage. Either you have to cope with the concern – convincing yourself that it is a good tradition, or forcing yourself to believe it – or you have to disrupt your entire family. This is really tough.

    I’m not saying that arranged marriages are overall a bad thing; nonetheless, there are definitely considerations that need to be taken at the time of analyzing them.

  13. I think the idea of an arranged marriage to be very fascinating. Since i have been born and raised in America, at first the idea seems very constricting and horrible. However, i have heard some great insights from friends who are from the middle east. One talked about how he doesnt mind it. He said his parents have known him his whole life and themselves have gone through the process and are wise with age. For him, it seemed like a good idea compared to a young couple to decide in marriage on a whim that only lasts a couple of years.

  14. chai164 says:

    Interesting topic choice. I was born and raised in India, a country that seems to have the worst reputation for arranged marriages, glorified of course by Bollywood.

    First of all, it’s good to know that Hindu families aren’t the only ones big on arranged marriage. It’s very interesting to see how similar the thought process behind arranged marriage is, across Islam and Hinduism. I’m really glad you made the distinction between arranged marriage and forced marriage. I think that makes all the difference between perception/stereotyping and reality.

    The reality of it today, at least in upper middle class, urban India, is that arranged marriage is more like arranged dating. Parents will set up their kids to meet each other because the families know each other and believe that their kids will have an easy enough time adjusting and adapting to each other’s ways of life. After that point, it’s really up to the couple to decide if they want to move forward or not. (Not to make it sound like forced marriage doesn’t exist any more, because it certainly does. Just not as badly as it’s perceived)

    In any case, you’d probably be surprised to know there are a lot of people who are open and willing to have arranged marriages. (Especially if you’re in your 30s and haven’t had a successful relationship yet) There’s a pretty good success rate to fall back on and our generation has seen enough examples to know that you can fall in love with your spouse on the way. It just happens to be an alien concept in the US. Love is love, people just have different ways of finding it.

  15. jkipp3 says:

    I don’t think arranged marriages would work very well in most American cities, where hundreds of cultures and subcultures can exist in a single neighborhood. While parents generally know what is best for their children with regards to health, money, etc., they should allow their children simple freedoms of choice with respect to emotional expression and romance. It is an outdated custom.

  16. tdkohlbeck says:

    My understanding of arranged marriages is almost exclusively limited to The Simpsons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Two_Mrs._Nahasapeemapetilons), so my perception of the practice is skewed to say the least. It’s neat that this form of courtship is romanticized and appreciated just as much as ours (well, maybe not quite as much–the western idea of love is heavily influenced by media and pop culture, to the extent that it may be considered harmful). And I think there’s a lot to say for familial involvement. Those close to you can spot a bad match from a mile away.

  17. Jeffrey Lester says:

    This is such a nice article. I always thought arranged marriage was a poor idea. I never considered the family aspect of it. We saw in the Qadi that it can have it’s ill consequences, but I think in that case it was more for material gain and not about love. It seems reasonable that on the basis of love two families can pick suitable matches for their loved ones.

  18. nholdaway3 says:

    I agree with jkipp that arranged marriages would not work in America mainly for the same reasons. The U.S. has several cultures which meld together that many people change frequently. This coupled with a culture of self dependence when entering college leads to parents not fully understanding their children. That said, parents are rarely left completely out of the loop.

  19. kledbetter6 says:

    This post, and the idea of arranged marriages in general, makes me wonder about the role of the husband-wife relationship in the modern Islamic world. I recently read a book about modernization in the Zambia Copperbelt, and domestic life was discussed in one chapter.

    The chapter centered on why the nuclear family ideal, which the copper companies were attempting to impose on their workers, simply didn’t work in Zambia. One reason the author gave was that marriage is different in Zambia. It is an economic contract, a safety net relationship made for the benefit of both parties.

    Furthermore, in Zambia, the husband-wife relationship is not the most important relationship of a person. It doesn’t have the almost sacred status it has in the United States and Europe. For instance, many men want their inheritance to go to their matrilineal relatives rather than to their wives.

    I wonder if the role of a marriage in Islamic society affects why some are content with the arranged marriage system.

  20. sstephenson3 says:

    While I am loathe to compliment anything pertaining to Valentine’s day, I have to say this is a good article. However, I would like to say that, in the global sense, a removal of the dowry tradition is hardly progressive. In fact I don’t see the difference here between forced and non-forced for women. It seems to me that these women are placed in a situation by their society where either they accept their traditional, which also means secondary, roles in society or they are a disgrace to the family at large. However, it is nice to see that marriage in Islam is moving in a more progressive direction, even if it is at a snail’s pace.

  21. nathenj65 says:

    This was a really great post but i agree with the general consensus it seems that arranged marriage would never be able to work successfully in the United States not only because it is such a hodge podge of different cultures but as a whole there is no history of it being done in a large scale in the United States. In places where this is practiced there is a tradition in which this has been occurring for a long time and it is very hard to fight against a tradition once it has started. Here though seeing as there is no tradition it would work the opposite and it would be very hard for something so radically different from the norm to be able to take root in the United States.

  22. marymsherman says:

    Its amazing to think of the amount of trust people put in their parents to decide who they’ll be with for the rest of their lives. I personally have good relationships with my parents, but I know many of my friends who do not. I guess this helps establish the importance of respect for your elders in these cultures too. And I find it very interesting how statistically divorce rates in arranged marriages are much lower. That may not say anything about the happiness of the couples, but it is something that should be noted.

  23. mcharles6 says:

    I really enjoyed this article, and you could not have chosen a more appropriate topic for this week! I enjoyed reading this because I have admittedly stereotyped Muslim marriages without taking the time to study them in depth for myself. This was very educational for me and has encouraged me to study this particular subject more for myself.

    On a different note, and as others have pointed out, it is incredible how much trust Muslims place in their family members! I have a good relationship with my parents, and it is very important to me that they approve of who I date and eventually marry, but I cannot imagine placing complete trust in them to choose my husband for me and not even meet him until my wedding day! I really respect the closeness of Muslim families and their devotion to one another.

  24. drippykins says:

    I didn’t know it was illegal by Islamic law that you cannot be forced. I’ve always assumed many arranged marriages were forced in some aspect. It’s still difficult to imagine marrying someone whom you have not dated or known for an extended period of time. I’ve been married for 4 years, and I knew my wife for 9 years before that, and still there are times you really have to work at it. I think establishing that foundation of friendship is important, but then again the statistics don’t lie that arranged marriages experience less divorce than others. Their faith, trust and loyalty to their family is certainly a powerful force.

  25. Ben Townsend says:

    Cultures develop institutions to address their own needs
    American culture is biased towards the short term and many traditional cultures are not
    Seems straightforward

  26. mitch7991 says:

    Honestly, I think arranged marriages are the way to go. In the Western culture, it’s all about trial and error. And there’s so many nice lookin’ girls out there.. I’d go crazy trying to pick just one for the rest of my life. And really, we (westerners) put to much in to looks. Or maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been in too many relationships where the girl was hot, but when I look back on it, her attitude was stank. Parents aren’t blinded by that stuff. They’ve been through the rigamarole and they know the deeper characteristics that are needed for a successful marriage. I think it would take a few generations to get used to, but it could definitely work.

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