Weddings are popular everywhere in the world. However, arranged marriages as practiced in some cultures remain a point of discussion and concern. How about the practice of forced marriage in Arabia today?
For more than 16 years I have been living in Arabia, or more precisely in the Persian Gulf, which the Arabs prefer to call „Arabian Gulf“. I also used to live for almost one year in Egypt where I studied in the British Center at the University of Alexandria. Destiny, as it sometimes happens, took me, a native European woman, abroad to a different and strange world beyond the European and Western borders.
Living among the people of Arabia I noticed that some of their less admirable traditions and customs have changed too. As long as I have lived here I have not heard about any unlucky girl being forced to marry someone she did not accept, unlike the practice of our Turkish citizens in Europe, a point of great concern especially in Germany. According to Islamic law forcing a woman to marry against her will is forbidden and no one should be able to drag a girl in front of a clergy to marry a man she does not agree with. As per Islamic law the clergy should ask the woman if she agrees to marry a man without coercion and out of her own free will! During my Islamic marriage-ceremony I was asked so many times if I really wanted this man out of my own desire, without compulsion or false pretext, not against my will, without fearing the anger of any person or family that I became impatient; in church you are asked once and that should do. However, the Islamic clergy should make sure beyond any doubt that the woman is not forced to marry a man. Well, kind of. Unfortunately, some of our Muslim brothers do not handle this issue as correctly as required, because their traditions and family interests seem to be holier in such cases. That is why the girls need to be „persuaded“ so they „want“ to marry the man who has been chosen for them.
Well, luckily I have made totally different experiences in my new residence country. Whether the future couple has met at university or work or was introduced by a match maker, the intention to marry begins with a preliminary proposal. The usual ‚tactic‘ is that a female member of the applicant’s family will ask another female member of the chosen girl’s family, or nowadays the girl herself, if she is interested in a marriage with the guy who would like to propose officially. The girl’s family will then ask around to find out as much information about the applicant as possible, his conduct and environment as well as people’s opinions and any possible drawbacks. If the profile fits, the girl will agree to a visit from the applicant including his family. The two young people will then have the opportunity to talk face to face with each other (if this has not already happened at university or wherever they might have met before in public). Thanks to modern technology they might continue to communicate by telephone or via the Internet if they feel that they like each other.
If both interested parties have become attracted to each other during the time that they get to know each other under supervision, then the families would meet again in order to discuss the marriage contract and some wedding ceremony arrangements. In most cases, the daughter has already prepared her dad about what to demand for her marriage contract. I was personally present during some of these visits in which the men would loudly discuss the bride’s conditions so that we could hear them despite of us sitting in a separate place of the house according to tradition. The women meanwhile would talk about other questions of interest such as family relations or if the bride intends to work after marriage.
Once the men have reached an agreement they would inform the women who would announce the happy outcome with a loud yodeling noise. Finally, they would serve the many delicacies that the guests could already smell during the negotiations but that had to wait until both sides would have come to a satisfactory agreement. It has, of course, already happened that no agreement was reached and the applicant family preferred to leave with empty stomachs, as the question of the bride’s dowry (to be paid by the groom) or the conditions of the marriage contract sometimes divide the two sides. But most of the time these discussions have been predefined by the young couple with their family beforehand as they have fallen in love by then and the families only meet to decide the date of the official wedding contract signing. In this event a cleric will ask the bride many times if she really wants to marry that man, how much dowry she demands and what conditions she has. For example, she could demand a suitable indemnity in case her husband divorced her, or to register the family home in her name for her security, in case of him marrying a second wife. And because love is known to be blind the bride’s family will make sure that such conditions are taken care of properly. With regard to the opportunities that such conditions may offer, women are becoming more inventive how to protect their interests and rights realizing that pretended modesty is of no advantage to them.
After the marriage-contract signing has been performed in a relatively simple party-kind procedure, there will first be an engagement party (and I have no idea why it is called that) for which the bride usually wears a colored dress. During the time after this party the young couple has the opportunity to get closer without the need of an overseer to be present when they are alone, because according to Islamic law they are already legally married. However, the bride will stay in her parents‘ home until she is ready to move in with her husband. Before they are finally declared as married there will be another „wedding party“ with a white bride dress according to Western custom copied from the romantic Hollywood movies. After that the couple will receive well-wishers and many gifts in their own new home.
It also happens that the young people after falling madly in love with each other marry against the will of their families, who have no choice but to accept the new son or daughter-in-law either with or without their consent. Nowadays the families cannot prevent such marriages anymore as in the old times.
The girl who refuses an applicant may certainly do so by all means. In case of an applicant having difficulties to accept a refusal he might be rebuffed in a more „direct“ way by the girl’s male family members. My eldest daughter, who is still too young for marriage, already had to rebuff her first proposal. As mother of two European/Arabic-mix girls that are very popular for their fair complexion in this part of the world I have already mentally prepared myself for the applicants who might come to our door more often from now on and who will have to be rebuffed, because, luckily, my daughters have already declared that they do not intend to get married for the next hundred years. I think that is a wise decision and I hope they will not change their minds for the next 10 years. At least.