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Muslim Marriage By: Razi Azmi
Pakistan Daily Times | Thursday, June 23, 2005

Most young Pakistanis are unable to enjoy the bliss that a union with the opposite sex can bring and the greatest gift that nature can confer. At least not until they are past their prime. Many live out their entire lives loveless and, therefore, joyless

Those who have experienced it as young adults know the sheer ecstasy of holding the hand of a member of the opposite sex. Those who haven’t, and that means most in our part of the world, fortunately will never know what they have missed.

In traditional societies males and females enter into some kind of wedlock as soon as they attain puberty, or soon thereafter. This is necessitated, partly if not wholly, by the need to satisfy the sexual urge, which is one of the most elemental factors of human existence, indeed of the whole animal kingdom.

Different traditional societies had different ways of match making, from elopement to arrangement by family and friends. Now advertising in newspapers and the Internet and through professional matrimonial agencies plays an increasingly important role in locating marriage partners.

At the other extreme, Western society has now reached such levels of promiscuity that marriage is gradually waning as an institution. In any case, it is no longer assumed that men and women, in order to enter into a sexual relationship, be legally wedded husband and wife. Premarital and extramarital sex is common and this is wreaking havoc with the family as the basic social unit.

Typically, men and women in the West do not get married, if at all, until in their late 20s or 30s. Couples might live as de facto partners for many years prior to that, or change partners until settling down with one. Divorce rates are high, but that is more a result of women’s economic and social independence than of mismatch.

Over the last two or three decades, the age of marriage has steadily risen in Pakistan, but for a very different reason. It is now rare for a man to get married until he is in his late 20s or 30s. This means that we expect our young men (not to mention women) to abstain from any sexual activity until they are past their youth. There can be no doubt that this leads to undesirable and surreptitious sexual forays on the part of some and extreme frustration for others.

One reason for late marriages is the delayed completion of studies because of interruptions by strikes in educational institutions and political upheavals. Then there is the long and often fruitless hunt for a steady job. Typically, a young man’s mother, who has the decisive say in this matter, when asked about her son’s nuptials, will say: “pehlay larka set to ho jai (let the boy settle down first)”.

After he has found a “decent” enough job, he might be expected to contribute handsomely to the family coffers to finance his sister’s dowry and other marriage expenses, which consumes a couple of more years. Or he may be kept in reserve as the bait of last resort to find his sister a match through watta-satta, where a brother and his sister will marry another pair of siblings. The underlying principle of this ridiculous tradition is that a good product (the man, needless to say) is packaged with an inferior one (his sister). One can’t buy one without the other!

When the parents finally decide that their son is ready for his nuptial experience, the search for the “right girl” begins in earnest by telling relatives and friends to find a “achchhi larki (a good girl)” for their son, who rarely has any say in the matter. He, at least, plays an active role, but the woman who is being sought remains a passive and mute participant.

When a potential match is located, the prospective groom’s close relatives visit her house and at some point the poor woman makes an entry and seats herself in order to be “viewed” by them. They might even engage her in small talk. Many pairs of eyes make a concentrated effort to scrutinise the hapless woman in a short time. After they have left, the girl’s parents anxiously await their verdict. Typically, a girl goes through many such sessions before a suitor is found.

This is one field of activity among Pakistanis where no hypocrisy is apparent, for they remain true to their word, doing exactly what they say they do, namely, shop around for a “a good girl”. What counts is looks. Not surprisingly, a typical Pakistani woman may suffer the indignity of being exhibited many times before she lands a match (or mismatch).

Where looks are not exactly enticing, the prospect of a handsome dowry works wonders with the search party. In the absence of both, the girl might be in her mid or late 30s before she makes a hit, and she might end up with a much older man, sometimes divorced or widowed. Some are not even that lucky, and live out their lives as spinsters.

What do not figure in the match-making equation are the girl’s personality, her qualities of head and heart and her personal attributes. Similarly, there is no consideration given to the compatibility of the couple.

A match is made by the parents (of the man, to be precise) and the couple is condemned, for the rest of their lives, to live with the consequences of a decision in which they play no part. There are even instances of impotent men, who are obviously unable to admit to their condition, yielding to social and family pressure and getting married. Woe to the woman!

Pakistani matrimonial advertisements make for amusing reading. The common thread of beautiful looks runs through them. Here’s a typical one: “Daughter, 26, slim, smart, fair, 5’4’’, research scholar belonging to respectable Arain family, seeks a match from respectable, educated Arain family”. And another: “My daughter, unmarried, MBA, tall, beautiful, needs compatible match. Man should be 38 to 40 years old, highly educated, smart, well-settled and must belong to a noble family”.

Evidently, everything matters except love, personality and personal preference. Those who are destined to spend the rest of their lives together have little or no say in the most important decision of their lives. If the divorce rate in our country is much lower than in the West, it is not on account of marital satisfaction, but women’s lack of economic independence and the social stigma attached to divorced women.

Most young Pakistanis are unable to enjoy the bliss that a union with the opposite sex can bring and the greatest gift that nature can confer. At least not until they are past their prime. Many live out their entire lives loveless and, therefore, joyless.

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