Local Time

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

KU students dispel the stereotypes of arranged marriages

by Samara Nazir
Source: The University Daily Kansan


For Sheba Shaffie, a psychiatrist in Overland Park, the marriage process all happened so fast. Her soon-to-be husband Khalid was visiting Pakistan with the intention of finding a wife. His sister-in-law recommended Shaffie, who was interning at the hospital where she worked. Khalid visited Shaffie at the hospital on Feb. 2, 1978, and 15 days later, once both families had made the final arrangements, Shaffie and Khalid were married.

In a predominately love-marriage society, the concept of an arranged marriage may seem startling. But, a majority of people in several Middle Eastern, South and East Asian countries prefer the process. Women are usually not forced into arranged marriages but agree to them for family values and religious, cultural and even personal beliefs.

Shaffie defines arranged marriages as a process without courtship, where an agreement of marriage is made but not forced upon either side. Arranged marriages hold both cultural and religious significance. Arranged marriage is the process preferred by the Pakistani community where Sheba grew up in, so she learned to understand and accept it.

In fact Shaffie even recommends arranged marriages. She says parents, who are making the decision, are the ones who know you the best and go through particular care in picking someone for you.

“When you go to buy a shirt, you look at it from every angle,” Shaffie says. “You try it on, show it to your friends and family and are always willing to get an experts advice.” Why not take the same care with marriage?

For Shaffie, there was also the excitement of getting to know someone in a completely new situation. Plus, she says, she’s able to learn and adjust to Khalid’s personality and traits throughout her marriage.

For Jomana Quaddour, Overland Park junior, an arranged marriage is a possibility. But, she stresses that in no way are arranged marriages as forced upon women in the Arab-Islamic tradition, as many in the United States seem to think. Also, if she were to find someone on her own, it would be acceptable in her family, she says.

According to Quaddour, the father primarily handles the marriage process in the Arab-American culture. If a suitor is interested, he approaches her father and says something like, “I am interested in your daughter and would like to meet her.”

In such a scenario, Quaddour’s father would then get to know the guy through others who know him. If the suitor is someone Quaddour might be interested in, and meets his criteria, her father would then suggest she get to know him as well.

“It is important to know what influences a person’s behavior, or how religious he is, and if his values and ideas are similar to mine and my family’s,” Quaddour says. Parents taking the time to learn this information is why she says she thinks the Islamic divorce rate is lower than the American divorce rate.

Hamed Ghazali, Islamic scholar and principal of the Islamic School of Greater Kansas City, agrees that the elimination process of potential candidates provides safety in a marriage and contributes to fewer divorces.

The misunderstanding of forced arranged marriages, Ghazali says, arises from misinterpreting Islamic beliefs. For instance, it is stated in Islamic scripture that a woman must have the consent of her parents before marrying. This can be misinterpreted as the parents having full authority over their daughter’s marriage. He understands that requiring parents consent may sometimes lead to forced marriages, but states that such cases seldom occur and have little religious merit to back them.

Arranged marriages are also custom in the Indian culture. Seeing her grandparents still in love and witnessing her parents successful marriage, both in arranged marriages, Deepti Mathur, Topeka senior, prefers to have a traditional arranged marriage based on personal preference.

To her, arranged marriages are more realistic because people have a different mentality going into them. It isn’t just about love; it also incorporates other aspects of a person’s life.

Arranged marriages in the Indian culture work through family networking. Mathur’s parents, as well as her relatives, will collectively look for someone who will match well with her personality. It brings unity among family members because everyone has a role in the process, and each person is enthusiastic about making it work, she says.

Once her parents find someone they are interested in, the parents of both families arrange a time to meet. A person marries into a family, not just to the individual person, so it is important for the families to connect. If things go well, the parents introduce their children. After the guy and girl get to know each other, they tell their parents if they are interested in marrying each other or not.

Although no exact statistic for arranged marriages is available, The U.S. News and World report does state that approximately 95 percent of marriages in India are arranged, and divorce is seldom heard of.

Shaffie, Quaddour and Mathur acknowledge the negative connotation associated with arranged marriages in Western society. From a professional viewpoint as a psychiatrist, Shaffie thinks that lack of opportunities for people in the Western culture to experience or talk about arranged marriages causes preconceived notions that the process is forced. Americans hear about arranged marriages through the media, which pick dramatic stories to portray. Shaffie suggests that those in or accustomed to arranged marriages educate others on the matter because, after 27 years of being happily married, Shaffie says she has found no reason for regret.

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