The (un)arranged Marriage

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Polarised between tradition and revolution

I hear the Mufti’s and the Sheikhs say all the time that loving or falling in love is not haraam, it’s what you do with it that matters and love is an integral part of marriage in Islam.


I hear the traditional members of my family say all the time that love comes after marriage, that if you stick to tradition you will be just fine, these modernists just go on about changing the way we do things and then eventually end up regretting it.

Before anyone goes spreading rumours or having a heart attack or crying because their undying love for me will never be professed… no, I’m not getting married. But, I want to, someday. And as that desire dawns, I am realising how difficult getting married could be.

What’s the gag? What is it that makes the pursuit for love so difficult when you’re South Asian and a female Muslim?

It’s easy to postulate conventional excuses such as 

“Muslims have never been exposed to the opposite gender and have had no experience of gendered relationships or conventional dating” 

(say it with a received pronunciation accent, you’ll get what I mean), that’s the kind of shit we usually hear, right? That Muslims are as clueless as Alicia Silverstone and we have so little knowledge of the opposite sex that finding a spouse becomes a near impossible task. Seems legit.

Well, to put it simply… Nah. I don’t think you can narrow down the complexities of finding a future hubby to a mere lack of experience.

It could be true for some, but realistically, I’ve hardly been deprived of interactions with the opposite sex. Before someone calls the haraam police, I don’t mean like that. What I mean is that I’ve not been closeted and interacted only with women. I went to mixed schools, have lived in mixed environments, have been a part of events or organisations where it is OKAY to speak with a brother and not have judgemental glances thrown my way so long as we are behaving in accordance with boundaries.

I know how to communicate with men, I know what kind of men I like and what kind of men I dislike, I know that men have varying personalities and preferences and are not ‘all the same’.  I know that men have slightly inflated egos and a diminishing sense of responsibility when it comes to ‘understanding women’ (excuse the huge generalisations). I know that some will appreciate my humour whilst others will frown upon it and think that I am a shameful woman for daring to be funny and witty.

In summation folks, I’m not short of experience with men, and I don’t think that it is hindering me or anyone else in the mission for a spouse if they do ‘lack experience’ (whatever the hell that means).

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Tradition

Here’s a thought. As a South Asian female Muslim, there are very traditional ways which navigate how the marriage process works, stuff that might not be so prevalent in other communities. The process of suitors coming over to scope out your potential is traditional.

It’s quite hilarious imagining the process at all. Wingmom on the watch, boasting your excellence, a tray of deal seal samosas and saucers holding conversational chai. I imagine myself tripping up in almost every one of these scenarios, spilling something, catching my clothes on something, getting my arm stuck in the most Bollywood fashion to the suitor’s button or watch and briefly gazing into each other’s eyes before realising the horror of my hijab slowly unravelling as I try to undo the caught fabric.scrf

Typical, clumsy, tasked with the labour of transporting snacks and beverages and cutlery to and from the kitchen.

I must, however, jolt myself back into the less comical reality of scanning faces and having endless conversations about being nineteen and wanting to start the rishta quest, and how traditional approaches are too limited for me.

Take the ‘in the family’ rule as an example (if you are looking at this blank faced and are wondering if I just referred to incest, hold on, I will elaborate). For those of you who may have no idea about the notion of keeping it in the family, it’s not uncommon for certain communities to keep relations only with the networks of people that they already know. So that doesn’t mean you have to marry your cousin, it just means that you’re likely to be directed towards someone who is a close family friend or is closely related.

That could be a’ight… for some. But that also means that looking at potential suitors can become very, VERY limited, to the point that everybody who was once a potential may already be married and you’re stuck between one or two just because they are the only fishes in your close-knit community that remain in the sea. That can be incredibly daunting, especially if you’re stuck with the bums. There are other complexities that arise because of this approach, an arranged marriage doesn’t mean keeping it in the family, but by taking that approach you risk ruling out good suitors from elsewhere. It also rules out suitors of other backgrounds if your family are hell bent on marrying someone of the same ethnicity, same community, same caste, same family. Finding someone becomes problematical when you’re seeking something that is very different from your family’s ‘same same’ ideals.

Revolution

I’ve become accustomed to fleeting moments, thinking that someone might be okay and then realising that it’s not me thinking that at all – it’s the family checklist that agrees. Pakistani, ‘in the family’, somewhat good looking. It’s all the validation that’s enough for them… but not for me.

Stuff like Pakistani and in the family seem so trivial to me, I’m rooting for things like interracial marriage because I’m tired of the same community and the unwillingness to compromise because of racist ideologies that are yet to be unlearned. I’m rooting for different. Most of all, I’m rooting for newness. Things that to them may be unheard of.

I don’t think someone like me can do same old same old when everything I stand for is about change. (Like J.Cole’s songs  ‘Change’ and ‘High for hours’, this is my personal revolution, not me demanding change from everyone else.)

I feel like if someone meets the criteria of Pakistani and in the family, then it’s easy to overlook the important things like character, manners, religion and lifestyle. Those things that are important to me and those are things that I feel are way too important to compromise on. Yeah, some handsome lad from the family networks could stroll over to the house and suddenly seem like a Mirza, but what if he’s not a family person? What if he doesn’t value education and women’s rights? What if he, like many of the auntyfolk, thinks that clever and confident women (tooting my own horn a bit) are too much for their mediocre sons. Yet, because he ticks those few, irrelevant boxes… he’s enough? Why shouldn’t I interject and say that actually, that is not what I want for me?

But I guess we can’t blame it all on family ideals. I’ve heard of people who are fixated on one quality so much that they overlook genuine suitors just because they lack that one specific quality. We all know that the profession is the most common trait here, “I want to marry a doctor” “I want my son/ daughter to marry a lawyer.” However, some people even have height and weight requirements or prefer their potential spouse to dress a certain way or to be from a certain place. Quite understandably, what may seem like a silly and irrelevant thing to others may be important for you when considering a potential spouse. Whenever I hear or think about people’s nit-picky preferences, the whole marriage ordeal begins to seem like a bit of a comical farce. I begin to imagine aunties with measuring tapes and weighing scales, armed with CV’s and profile photos, ready to calculate your potential. I don’t think I’m one of those… unless someone was to point out how horribly unrealistic I’m being.

L-O-V-E 

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The idea of spending your life with someone should not be defined by immense pressure to please everyone, it shouldn’t be difficult to talk to someone that you like about marriage. It should definitely be reinforced that it is about the journey of self-determination and wanting to grow rather than a set of rules and expectations.

So…

I would be daft to assume that I could just sit here and remain how I am and love would find its own way to me. I have a lot to do, personal goals to achieve, personal growth to maintain and all that comes before considering spending life with someone else. Yet, as a South Asian female Muslim and nearly twenty years old the sand timer has just been turned and there seems to be a lot of unsaid rules about what the marriage selection process is all about.

I have a confession, principally for myself.

As unpalatable as this truth may be, it is the truth. I cannot take the traditional route nor entertain the idea of beginning the rishta hunt when I already know that my heart is not in it. It is elsewhere, pioneering social change and disrupting cultural expectations. It is rioting against the stigmatisation of interracial marriage and protesting against tradition.

I cannot, I’m afraid, give you closure just yet because I am just beginning in this quest.

– Shazmeen

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