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Arranged Marriage: Muslim Women Speak Out

Part 2

Read part one

Saima addresses a pertinent aspect of arranged marriages – perhaps something unique to the Sub-Continental culture. She admits that many arranged Pakistani marriage are laced with ill-feelings, such as anger, jealousy, and hatred. Many scholars hailing from the Indo-Pak region,often address this dimension in lectures, talks and even khutbahs.

“Many women don’t get along with their in-laws,” admits Saima. It may be due to poor pre-marital negotiations or the general devaluation of the role of women in society. It is not uncommon to hear of Indo-Pakistani women married off to serve their in-laws, and get treated rather poorly.

While Saima doesn’t work herself, she is an active member in the Muslim community, churning out educational projects for Muslim women and children, while balancing her busy schedule chauffeuring and tending to her children.

“My mother-in-law was a headmistress, a working woman, so she is also very independent and sympathetic.” The two had a symbiotic relationship in house chores, errands, and raising the children. Saima believes due to her mother’s independence, her husband – the only son – was also raised to be independent himself, rather than someone who “demanded” service and attention from his mother or wife.

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While Saima’s relationship worked out well, Zahira had to deal with emotional baggage of her in-laws, who even robbed her of her financial rights before and during the divorce proceedings, without consideration for her two young children.

So, are Arranged Marriages really all that Superior?

While it seems there is a wide spectrum of experiences that can define “arranged marriages,” the problem doesn’t only lie with the way the couple meets, but how Islamic understanding is imbued in families, especially on how to treat a spouse or an in-law.

“Alot of patience and sacrifice is needed,” says Umm Zaynab.“I have seen ‘love’ marriages that have worked out and arranged marriages break down. But adhering to the Sunnah of ‘arranged’ marriages is still better but both sides must know and be clear and practical on what their requirements and expectations are that they want in a spouse.” She also advises on going about negotiations – something that Zahira should have known when she was about to get married – on watching out for red flags.

Zahira admits that she lacked the support when she wanted to break off the engagement, as she was taught it was the “wrong” thing to do. The cultural (not Islamic) circumstances and her decision inevitably sealed her fate as a single mother, many years down the line.

In a different Muslim world, Naziah Nawawie, mother of four lovely girls, says she met her husband at University, and were engaged two years after that – and married the next. This is considered *normal* for Malaysian Muslims who see a higher ratio of female students in tertiary education compared to their male counterparts.

As someone who came from religious grandparents but begin to take religion “a little lightly,” Naziah says, this is something she wants to change for her family.

“I actually would prefer not to interfere in their decisions later on,” she admits, but she wants to impart the importance of marriage – like the one of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Khadijah , and the idea of having a simple wedding to begin with.

“I always make du’a for the girls to become good Muslim women, educated, and amongst those who give back to society. I also pray for good husbands for them – those who can provide for them and guide them to be better Muslims.”

Marriage for their Children

Naziah still can’t bring herself to intervene much with her children’s future relationships, as she strongly believes in championing their independence. She does however, believe that if they like a boy, that the boy should come to their home to meet with her daughter and family. “I want to raise them on this idea, but I know I can’t control everything, so that is why I want them to make good decisions for themselves.”

Umm Zaynab does share her concern for young couples coming of age: “Today’s youth are for the most part very immature and have grand expectations (of marriage). The fault is mostly due to the parents who haven’t taught them well and still don’t really understand the sacrifice to keep a good relationship.”

Especially with the emergence of Generation ME, where focus revolves around “what *I* want,” as reflected through media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, making sacrifices *for another* seem like a whole, new, other world.

On top of that, the race for success – also implemented by parents and the corresponding environment – measure success and value for “the individual.” The type of car you drive, the promotion you get, the size of the house – these are all pertinent measures of success as compared to the intangibles like manners, sacrifices, humility, and the need to give and serve others, (all within the Islamic framework).

Not much emphasis is given on finding a suitable spouse and working on a strong relationship. “Families assume that what they’ve read of strong, good marriages from the seerah came without there being struggles,” Umm Zaynab continues, and cautions that even between the best of spouses, conflicts will arise. Rather, it is how you deal with them is what makes or breaks the marriage.

Saima doesn’t plan for the long term. As her eldest son isn’t 12 yet, she believes she has at least 10 years before she starts thinking about potential marriage spouses and proposals. “I would like them to marry within the family first,” she says, but seeing as all four of her children were born and raised in the UK, they live in a completely different time and place. “We are open to cross-cultural marriages too, of course – as long as they find good Muslim spouses who understand the teachings of Islam very well.”

Umm Zaynab advises parents who are dealing with conflicting messages of society when it comes to marriage – whether by mutual arrangement of the couple’s own independent choice. “Start speaking to your children as soon as they are mentally capable of understanding what you’re saying.

Be open about the tests, trials, difficulties, sacrifice, responsibility that comes with marriage but also let them know the beauty one can find in it. Tell them about companionship, love, respect, and feeling safe and protected. Also about being able to be yourself even though you will ultimately change over the years. We all do.”

On the flip side, parents also have to accept that young adults may just not want to listen. “In a situation where you as a parent can’t support their choice with legitimate reasons, let them know what the consequences of their decision may bring but that you will always be there as a parent and they will always have a home to come too if they so wish.”

However, Umm Zaynab still advocates for freedom of choice that jive with religious teachings and for parents not to impose their expectations, choices and / or potential spouses upon their children. They need to learn to make their own choices but also be gently guided, very much like the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad ( PBUH).

Ten years after her relationship began, Nina finally married her husband. Her parents – who were disconnected with the reality that the youth in her culture were facing – have made amends to accept her husband, but at the same time, it helped that they were staying two blocks away (which is what they wanted). One begs to wonder what would have happened had she moved to his stateinstead or faced realities that other couples face as well. And what would happen if their grandchildren were to marry outside of their norms.

The issue of marriage for today’s youth is complex and encompasses different factors like the lack of Islamic understanding of marriage, blurring cultural lines with religious ones, and the general outlook of the youth today.

Some may say they face far more temptations than generations of the past. Others may feel that they are consumed with the culture of hedonism, and thus put their own selves at risk for allowing problems to own them. Regardless, parents have to be the calm in the treacherous storm to continue to guide the youth to be good Muslims – hence great spouses – and to seek out compatible persons (arranged or not) in order to build the foundations of marriage for generations to come.

First published: October 2014