Stan Karp wrote an article about arranged marriages in the Islam faith that opened our eyes. Although it was a lengthy article, it held our attention because he did not just talk about the subject of arranged marriages, but about his personal experience with one of his Bengali students. Stan Karp is a teacher of English and Journalism in Peterson, New Jersey and he narrated his conversations with Jihana (not her real name), a Bengali high school girl who wasnt sure about attending college because of her family’s plans for her future.
Stan Karp teaches at a multi-ethnic school and he says that his Bengali students from Bangladesh are among the hardest working and smartest students he’s ever worked with. Jihana told him she wanted to study medicine and eventually work as a doctor but it all depended on whether or not she was going to get married. At first, Stan Karp’s reaction was one of indignation because he knew that Jihana was implying an arranged marriage and that if she wanted to further her education, he felt this was entirely her choice, not her family’s.
As Stan Karp mulled over the possibility of talking to her parents and telling them about Jihana’s potential, he was reminded of his earlier experience with another Bengali student who was in the same situation. At that time, he wasn’t sure that he could go beyond his duties as a teacher. He had to tell himself again and again that no matter how strongly he felt about Jihana’s right to decide her own future, it wasn’t his place to interfere in a personal family matter.
To make a long story short, Stan Karp decided not to interfere; fortunately, Jihana was eventually allowed to go to college. He also realized that while arranged marriages are regarded by the west as a violation of a woman’s basic rights and freedoms, the Muslims don’t necessarily see it that way. The whole premise of Mr. Karp was that the west tends to judge arranged marriages from a western standpoint without taking into account the way of life of certain countries where arranged marriages are part of the culture.
Understanding Arranged Marriages in Muslim Religions
The issue of arranged marriages was best clarified by Jihana herself when Stan Karp encouraged her to write about the matter. The western world should look at this subject with more tolerance and respect. She wanted to put the issue within a broader context of Muslim culture which had practices and customs that she felt were misunderstood by westerners. ‘muslim women were not ‘slaves’’ and not everyone did things the same way. When it came to marriage, there were a range of practices, and in many cases, Muslim women did have choices and varying degrees of input in the decision.’
To set the record straight, the Islamic tradition of marriage is not drastically different from western marriages. One, Islam strongly believes in and encourages marriage. Unlike Catholic nuns and priests, it does not recognize celibacy.
Two, Islam looks at marriage as a profound and sacred duty and as a social necessity because it is only through marriage that families are built, and the family is the basic unit of human existence.
Third, Islamic marriages are held together by a religious covenant, called a ‘mithaq.’ This covenant is to be taken seriously and requires the total commitment and awareness of each party. It rests upon the fundamental principles of:
- Consent of both husband and wife
- Gift from the groom to the bride (in some Muslim religions called a ‘mahr’ or ‘mehr’)
- Two male and two female witnesses (Islam does not allow marriages to happen secretly; for marriages to be valid, they must be publicly announced)
The notions of romantic love, courtship and dating are the areas where the Muslim religion takes a different view. Potential husbands and wives must see each other before they marry as it would be unreasonable to expect the partners to go through marriage without at least knowing each other. They cannot, however, be left alone. Islam does not permit pre-marital sex, live-in arrangements, or courtship. There is no ‘trying it out first’ before marriage it certainly is not like trying on a dress before buying it.
The Islamic way of marriage by virtue of it being arranged appears to last longer than free western marriages, judging by their high rates of divorce. This is why Muslims don’t quite understand it when the west derides arranged marriages in Muslim religions when in fact these are the types of marriages that endure. Muslim religions put more importance on the durability of the relationship between man and woman rather than on romantic love. According to one writer, there is an Arabic proverb that says ‘the mirror of love is blind; it turns zucchini into okra.’
Admittedly, we’re still trying to unravel the meaning of that proverb. We’ve eaten both vegetables, but we’re not entirely sure how blind love can transform zucchini into okra. Mind you, okra, when cooked, tends to become slimy and mushy.
One thing is clear: Muslim religions approve of arranged marriages as long as mutual consent exists. By definition, therefore, Muslim marriages are a voluntary and willing union of two people. Without the consent of both parties, the marriage is not valid.
According to the book, Arranged Marriages (author’s name not legible), Muslim parents have the duty to provide for the education and marriage of their children. This parental duty is said not to be fulfilled unless their daughter is happily married. One component of Muslim marriages is what writers have referred to as the ‘asking ceremony.’ Four years after the asking ceremony, the marriage must be solemnized.