Saturday, June 23, 2012

Arab Marriage Controversy: getting married to a stranger or a friend?

       In the Arab world there is now a cultural gap between the new and old generations in many aspects. One of the major aspects where many of us can feel this difference is in the subject of marriage. Some people will not accept new ways of meeting a future spouse; they will not accept anything other than the traditional way which was passed down from generation to generation. Others, especially younger generations which may have been influenced by Western culture and globalization do not see traditional marriage as a good way to choose a spouse; they want to know every aspect about their future spouse before they are willing to make a commitment. Of course, some people just want to get to know their partners better and have an idea about their character and personal traits and this can be achieved through both types of marriages (in traditional marriages if the family is not too strict for no reason).
            Each person has their own preference and their own ideas when it comes to the way in which they would like to know their future partner. Let us make a brief introduction about traditional marriages in the Palestinian society in particular and the Arab world in general. To make it clear, we are not speaking here about arranged marriages where two people are forced to marry each other whether they like it or not. That is a complete subject on its own and may be discussed later, but since it is not that common we will leave it for now. Traditional marriage is when a guy is ready for marriage and his mom or family members search for families who have girls that are also ready for marriage. The man's family will contact the girl's family and tell them that they want to come see their daughter as they have a son who intends on getting married. The man goes with his family to the girl's house (many times  his female relatives go first to get a first impression of the girl and her family as to evaluate whether she is initially right for the man or not) the families sit together; the girl comes out offering her guests refreshments or coffee; she sits with the families; they make small talk; the guy and the girl go off to another side of the house where they can be seen but not heard; they then converse and ask each other questions to get to know each other better; they finish and the man and his family go home; if the guy is interested, his family calls back and asks for another date to come over (either for the guy and girl to try to get to know each other better or to begin with the engagement process). This is a rough outline of traditional marriage and how it is initiated but there may be many different scenarios of this type of marriage.
            Many people who are pro-traditional marriage view this type as the best way to choose one's spouse and see the more untraditional ways as inefficient for a lasting marriage. Some people are even extreme to the extent that they will not accept a bride/groom if they know that their son/daughter has known the person beforehand. They don’t think it is proper to know one's spouse before marriage, even if the couple has not done anything to break the laws of religion. Here is where culture makes the rules, and in Arab society culture has strict rules and it wants people to follow them or it will outcast them. In cases like these one does not have a choice other than to be an outcast rather to live as a prisoner of cultural laws that lack common sense. Traditional marriages can be effective, and one can get to know their future spouse especially if the engagement is long. But some families do not allow their adult children to be engaged for long; to them it is not proper and most importantly what will people say about them? That they are allowing their children to date?  In this case the couple will officially get married paper wise, but they will not begin to live with each other until the marriage ceremony. And in this time the couple will still be getting to know each other, so if it does not work out and they want to break things off, it will not be the breaking off of an engagement but a divorce. So why rush things?
            The more recent type of marriages is where one knows the person they intend to get married to. In the Arab world, this acquaintance with the other person may be through university; work; outings; friends; dating; coincidences that bring people together or any other untraditional ways. Here there may be fewer surprises as you already know the person, and it is less likely that something you don’t like about them will only be revealed after marriage.  With the exception of things that only come into the light after marriage or living with a person. Even if you live with a person, things may not be the same after you become bonded by a marriage contract. I am not calling for living with other people before marriage, just giving hypotheses. Some friendships may develop into something more and thus when you get married to a person who was your friend you will most likely already know their pros and cons. In the Arab world, many people comment that if a guy/girl tells you their weaknesses and problems then they are not looking at you as a potential partner; because they want to get married to a person who has a perfect view of them.  That is why they go for traditional marriage where they can give a false impression of themselves.
            There are millions of people married in the Arab world by both ways; conventional and modern. Many marriages have not gone smoothly and eventually came to an end whether traditional or untraditional. If you were to take such a decision which would you go with? Which do you think is more credible?