What is the first thing that pops to your mind when you think of your wedding (if you do want to get married, of course)? Your significant other? Applying for BTO? The expenses? Strangely for me, none of those things come to my mind. What it actually reminds me is the scary process of matchmaking that would eventually be initiated by my family.
As an Indian Muslim, I was brought up the same way many other South Asian girls were brought up – realizing that we are pretty much screwed if we were ever caught with a boy before we get married. Romantic relationships, regardless of the race or religion is still heavily frowned upon among some families in my community, including mine. I was so sensitized to the idea of arranged marriages, it took me a long time to realise that this type of arranged marriages is actually not the norm anymore and that Indian Muslims are one of the very few communities that still actively follows this tradition.
My family still follows this tradition and they have made it clear that they would prefer me getting married through the arranged marriage (aka no boyfriends for me). Initially I had a lot of issues with this concept and it took me a few years to analyse this concept and finally, form my own perceptions of relationships. I also identified the flaws in some of the marriages around me, the main one being my parent’s relationship. Therefore, a lot of my thoughts and opinions in this article have been formed from my own observations.
Islamically, arranged marriage is allowed. However, the religion also encourages the prospective bride and groom to get to know each other and have a say on whether they like each other enough to get married. And this is exactly the step that many Indian Muslim families conveniently ignore.
Before the issues, let me break down the process of how this works. Let’s assume, the bride is a girl named Fathima and her parents are looking for a prospective groom for her. It starts with her parents engaging a professional matchmaker, or “broker” as how the Indian Muslim community call them. If the matchmaker has found any family that is interested in Fathima, they would visit her house where Fathima would be dressed to the nines so that the groom’s family would like her. If they find Fathima to their liking and fitting for their son, they would discuss further with her parents and the marriage is fixed. This would come as a shocker, but some brides and grooms do not even meet or talk to each other until the day of the wedding.
I know way too many couples who have not met or spoken to each other before they got married, including my parents. Many of these couples do have a happy marriage, I won’t deny that. However, there are many couples who could have avoided an unhappy and toxic relationship if they had gotten the chance to speak to each other. In a time where couples date for years before they get married, the least these parents could do is to let their daughter get to know her prospective groom and let her decide whether she would be happy with him.
Fortunately, many parents in the current generation are starting to understand the importance of getting their children’s consents and allowing them to get to know each other before proceeding any further. However, not everyone has the privilege of understanding parents and if you are one of them, I pray that your parents gain the understanding soon enough and allow you to marry whoever you want to.
My second and biggest issue, in fact, is how much arranged marriage has stifled Indian Muslim women’s growth. There is so much of misogyny and patriarchy that an Indian Muslim woman faces within her family and I definitely consider arranged marriage as one. This is especially true for our mothers. Previous generations prioritized their daughters’ marriages over their education, and it is something that still bewilders me. From the time a girl is born, the parents prepare their daughters to be an ideal wife and save up for their marriage and jewelries, instead of their education. After attaining a certain level of education, the girls would be asked to stop and then get married. Like I said previously, yes, some of them do have happy marriages. But what about those couples who are not compatible?
I grew up in an environment where my parents could not get along at all. There were more days of them being in an argument than days they were happy, or at least, holding a united front. I spent years questioning if they would have been happier if they did not have me and constantly being the middle person whenever they gave each other silent treatments (which would last for weeks). I also wonder, maybe, if they were given the chance to know each other before they got married, would they be even married? I don’t think so.
It saddens me that there are many women out there who are stuck in unhappy and toxic relationships because they are not financially independent and hence, have to rely on their husbands indefinitely. The current generation is changing for sure; they are becoming more open-minded and allowing their daughters more freedom, but I still believe that a girl has to work harder than her brothers to ensure she gets the extra education because of the misogyny in Indian Muslim families.
I feel it is also important to explain the extent Indian Muslim parents would go to get a groom for their daughter. If the parents do not find a suitable groom locally, some families have a habit of extending this search to finding grooms from their native village in India or Malaysia. They connect with their relatives in India to find prospective grooms for their daughters and if they do find one, the family usually heads to India to conduct the wedding. This concept is something that is still prevalent among certain families and something that still surprises me. Is it really necessary to go the lengths of finding a groom in a whole other country? Is it really worth all the process of applying for PR for the new groom? Would you really trust a man with your daughter who does not have the similar backgrounds? I really don’t know. This just shows how much emphasis families place when looking to get their daughters married.
I do know one thing for sure. In a typical arranged marriage, the woman is definitely more vulnerable than the man and as a society, we must do better. If a marriage does not work out and the couple gets divorced, the women are more affected by this action than their ex-partners, in terms of how they are treated in the society and the chances of them getting remarried are also generally lower.
I am not against arranged marriages, in fact, I have made peace with the fact that I would most probably get married through one. I also have friends within the community who are experiencing the same thing and honestly, we are okay with it because we have been prepared for this situation ever since we were kids. However, we just want our families to understand the need for us to get to know our prospective matches before choosing who we want to marry. We should not be persuading our parents to let us to get to know the prospective grooms, because it should be a given.
Things are changing for the better, yes, but we must constantly ensure that the women are not shortchanged in a relationship.
Ensure she pursues the education she wants, allow her to get the job she has dreamt of ever since she was a child and become financially independent. Get her consent before proceeding with anything. Most importantly, realise she is a woman who knows herself the best and let her choose her life partner. Let her speak to the men and make the decision for herself. Prioritise her needs and wants before the expectations of the society.
Begum is a brown girl who makes way too many self-deprecating jokes, cries a little too easily and laughs too loudly. She is also always trying to be the best version of herself.
Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu