Unchanged Marriage Customs

June 11, 2009 at 8:54 am (Opinion) (, , )

 

     As a Qatari woman, I find that the structure of our conservative society is simple yet complex on many different levels because of its tribal nature. A tribal society is small and people are very much aware of their cultural and ethnic identity that separates them from others. I find it wonderful that in Qatar, despite the rapid change of modernity, people still hold on to traditional values and remain connected to their roots. However, I believe that some norms are not very convenient for our current modern generation because they might cause some unwanted complications.

      Unchanged marriage customs is one of the things I find that are not so much  adapting for our time; specifically arranged marriages.  Socially speaking, women, as being the care takers,  are more expected to sacrifice and alter their expectations if necessary to be able to hold the family together. In our time, there are more women holding university degrees than men. Women are more aware of their rights and life opportunities and started building their own identities, hopes, dreams and expectations.  Modernization have raised women’s expectations and consequently, it is very difficult for a woman to change herself and desires to be convenient for someone she did not have enough time to get to know before she spends the rest of her life with. There are a lot of cases where both men and women have to go along the plan of their parents where they have to live with someone they do not know and do not have feelings for but are forced to adjust to each other to please their families.

 

    Arranged marriages might have been suitable for the times of my grandmother and maybe my mother but not so much now. And that it is because not only life has changed but women themselves have changed too. Let me elaborate more on this. In old times, people used to have almost identical life styles and values; life was simple and people had different expectations and predictable roles in the society. The tribal community was even smaller in number and family ties was much stronger than today. I discussed this issue with my grandmother and she explained to me that the girl was raised and taught how to take care of household and please her husband so that when she gets married she would be fully aware of what is expected from her, and prepared with the skills to raise a good family; which is something I am not criticizing. But nowadays, many girls are not raised this way.  Taking care of the family was a huge responsibility for my grandmother because it was not shared. My grandmother said about women’s life:

The day used to start very early, we would wake up before dawn and start grinding different grains and get water from the well. We spend the morning baking bread and preparing lunch. After lunch we do other chores; some would start netting, others would collect wood or take care of the animals. During the day we would read Quran, and pray. By night, if men are not away hunting or diving they would come home after work; we get together, chat and have dinner which was usually rice and “lebban” and some date. We used to move a lot because we had to take care of everything while men were gone for months”.

 

Of course, this social behavior was not strictly unique to the Qatari society; this life style was common all over the region in previous times. The simple life style has transformed with my mother’s generation where women were educated and started being part of the work force in the country. But still arranged marriages was the most common way to get married. My generation has changed even more; with more education comes higher expectations. An engineer or a doctor would not expect for herself to stay at home for example! Unless she wants to of course.

 

      There are many women in their thirties and forties who are not married and some were divorced in an early age. The divorce rate in Qatar has reached over 38%  and 35% of women are considered spinsters. Three of my friends, for example, got engaged, which means in Qatari norms that she signed her marriage contract which means she was legally married. But for some reason this is called the engagement period. During this time the couple starts to get to know each other. However, even though they are legally married they still do not have the freedom to go out and be by themselves. Their meetings are always accompanied and usually in the girl’s family house. The only possible way of free communication is the phone and internet which is of course not sufficient to get to know your life partner. They all got divorced after few months of the engagement; both parties of each couple realized that they are not a good match and didn’t feel compatible. This problem is one of the contributors to the increased divorce rate in the country and left both men and women emotionally disturbed. I am not saying that arranged marriages is the only cause for divorce problem but it is defiantly a factor. The problem with unchanged marriage customs nowadays is that women have to challenge their expectation to be more accommodated to their family and their future husband. Before women used to have more social expectation from the family for her to marry someone her parents would agree on. Thus, it was easy for her to adapt to her new life for that is what she expected.

 

     I am not saying that arranged marriages  are the reason for increase divorce rate because in many instances they resulted in successful happy marriages in our modern time. I also don’t mean that knowing the person before signing the marriage contract will never lead to divorce. What I am saying is that there should be a balance so that the new generation have an opportunity to know each other as they might be committed. and perhaps during the engagement there shouldn’t  be a rush towards a marriage contract or a legal commitment by the couple so it would prevent the false divorce. A fair chance to know the life time partner is necessary for a successful relationship. I believe that each man and woman would like to live their lives with someone who they choose and is compatible and share the same interest, background and life values. I don’t think I am asking for much when I want to know the person I might spend the rest of my life with to make that kind of life bonding decision.

But at the end; it is a personal choice and depend on what both parties expect and desire. and its all destined by God. This is just my point of view and I am not trying to force it on anyone.

8 Comments

  1. Homme du Qatar said,

    First, thank you dear Maryam for your insights. On the other hand, what are the appropriate means for having a platform that will still respect the “culture” and provide the opportunity to know your life partner? There is little or no positive interaction that takes place between Qataris from both genders, as the ones evident lack mutual respect but rather posses another intent of an external marriage relationship, i.e. flirting in Qatar! Then, the issue of arranged marriage and the balance, don’t you think it should be up to the woman to chose and it is time for such practice to seize from existence, hence, girls today are smarter and hold more qualification than the men in our society, so they shouldn’t be given a list of choices or candidates? Shouldn’t it be a natural process, outside of familial influence? There is a lot of successful marriages like you mentioned, but a good part are successful but still, I know several guys ( not friends, and I don’t like befriending them ) who cheat on their wives, and forget their kids and wives when they go to Thailand or Lebanon!
    Moreover, I would like turn around the divorce issue, to the marriage stats. What do you think of the ratio of marriage age increasing among Qataris, as more and more Qataris tend to get married later in life, what do you think are the factors behind such a phenomena? And what are the challenges presented for both sides, the females and males, also some insights to overcome them? Also, I would like to hear more about the controversial taboo of arranged marriages within the same family or tribal circle, as a pattern, some families will only “accept” guys or “take” girls within the same familial circle? Scientifically speaking, it has been advised not to marry within the same DNA pool as it might result in a fable or obtuse offspring.

  2. Dany said,

    Assalamu ‘Alaikum

    Technically speaking, the custom of getting to know your future spouse or “dating” if you will, comes from the modern western world. When we think of the modern western world, I think we all would think of the Europeans and the Americans (US citizens).

    But if you search it in the Internet they have a very high divorce rate. Especially for the Americans, it is said that more than 50% of married couples have divorced there. I think that all of those couples have “dated” their spouse before they got married. So I don’t think there’s any connection of arranged marriage can make couples getting divorced in the future. In fact, if we considered those statistics reports, I think we all should conclude that dating may led you to divorce or dating before marriage might increase the rate of couples getting divorced in the future. Am I right….😀

    Wassalam

  3. mimizwords said,

    Homme Du Qatar …. unfortunately there is no real platform that allows that, thats another problem. Other than work or study places i cannot think of anywhere else that might be considered “safe”. And yes the interaction is very limited and vague. Actually, you know at the time of the prophet, it was considered common for girls to propose for guys, Saida Khadija was the one who asked prophet mohammad for marriage for example. Fathers used to look for suitable men for their daughters. I dont know why its inappropriate these days. and about why Qataris tend to get married in older age than before, i really dont know and i cant just say my opinion. There should be a study about that to give correct information. It could be that people want to experience life more before marriage because marriage is seen as “the golden cage”! who knows.

    Dany … wow Dany hold on, i didnt say anything about dating thats a big “no no” subject to talk about LOL. what i am aiming for is a middle ground between dating and rushing into signing marriage contract without having a fair chance to know your partner. Many families sees that its against custom, and that the man has no right to talk to their daughter unless they were legally married just to stop people gossiping and spreading rumors or for other reasons that i am not aware of. Maybe, couples could meet each other “any where they see fit” with their parents approval. once they feel comfortable, they could then go to the next step which is signing the wedding contract. Many of my divorced friends regret not doing this. The all said that they wish they had a little more time to know their partner before rushing to marriage (engagement).

    The west has a different society structure and their reasons to get divorced are not as the same as here. I will have to read more about that to compare. but of course as i said in the blog, getting to know your partner does not necessarily mean that it will prevent divorce.

  4. Tuga said,

    Dany, I disagree with a lot of what you said. I think it is a weak argument to suggest that because the West has a higher divorce rate that means they have more unsuccessful marriages than the East. A lower divorce rate in the Muslim world does not automatically imply successful and happy marriages, we all know how much of a stigma is attached to divorcees in these regions – although I appreciate this is slowly changing.

    So, could it not be that these women are very unhappy but sticking it through in order to avoid dishonoring themselves or their families? Could it not also be that in the West we see such a high rate of divorce because there is less social pressure, women are more financially independent and so able to walk out of unhappy marriages?

    I should be clear, it is my personal belief that there is a lot wrong with the social structure of the West, and this has an impact on the breakdown of relationships. I am not defending the West blindly.

    I do however like the fact that women are stepping away from abusive, cheating husbands more. What is the point of living an unhappy life, and what sort of environment do we bring up our children in when they see in the worst cases domestic violence and in the best cases in these unhappy marriages, they will see a cold relationship, with isolated and bitter parents.

    Returning to the topic of discussion, I think Mimi your absolutely right, it is so important that women get to know their partners before committing to them, they can make a better informed decision. This doesn’t necessarily mean turning our back on the coservaive traditions; the relationship can be that of courting rather than dating, where the man and woman get to know each other without having a physical relationship.

    It is my beleif that the reason there is now increased discontent in marriages in the Middle-East is because as you mentioned things have changed, life was very simple before – women were quite simple in their expectations in marriage. Now that women are more educated, they have a variety of dreams and aspirations that differ from one person to the other and this will be reflected in their choice of spouse. It certainly is not a decision to be rushed.

  5. Comment said,

    I have a point to make:

    – you never select your brothers/sisters but you love them and live with them, and u will never imagining living without them. (cant this apply to your wife?)
    ever thought about it this way?

    does this make anything clear? i hope it does.

  6. Dany said,

    Assalamu ‘Alaikum

    Dear Tuga, your the one to talk about weak argument. There might be a chance that couples who are still married are not happy of their marriage, I acknowledge that. But I think it is safe to say that people who have divorced thinks that their marriage are a disaster.

    Why talking about dating is a big ‘no no’ (funny how you said NO twice and with quotes LOL). Is it that taboo? When I say dating that doesn’t meant to be exactly like what the westerners do. I think it is okay to date, but with boundaries offcourse. You can do it by doing regular lunch with your date, sometimes an occasional dinner, or watch a movie, just make sure that your always meet in a public spaces. Which means never spent your time together alone with your date in a private places, Because we men have urges, believe me…and I think it is not wise to think that those urges are easy to control LOL

    Wassalam

  7. alma wad said,

    Hi Tuga !
    I am agreed with you . We tend to see divorce as the main evil – when in fact the main evil is the abusive partner – and being forced to live with is the hell itself .

  8. Mashael K. said,

    like you said in the end everything is god’s will …if it’s arranged marriage or not
    you made good points of view
    i feel the problem is not with the arranged marriage only it’s with the diffeculties you face as a woman who is not married with all the question marks on people’s faces around you and the silly questions like (are you engaged?)(did some one proposed to you?) (why didn’t you get married) and the list of questions goes on …
    may allah give the happiness to all and help them to achieve their desires and dreams and all of them marry’s their prince charming ;p
    i wish the percentage of divorce rate goes low to 1% only🙂
    thank you

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