Sunday 2 May 2010

Parents: Let Your Adult Children Choose

I envy my fellow Westerners when it comes to marriage proposals. My cousin recently got engaged. Her fiance planned everything from the ring, the party, her friends and family. He proposed, and she said yes on the spot. The wedding is set for early this fall, God-Willing.

When I informed my father of the news, his first reaction was "And her parents (your aunt and uncle) approved of this proposal?"

You see, my Egyptian father has lived in the U.S. for over 30+ years and he still holds traditional views from that region. Traditionally, a potential suitor would ask his family to help him propose to a girl's family (emphasize the family). Often times in our modern times, the couples have already known each other from work, school or a social event of some kind. They've talked and decided it would be best if they made their relationship official. In some instances they might have not spoken of the topic and the man decides to approach the family of the bride-to-be. He could have seen her or she might have been recommended by friends or relatives. There are different variations of how this happens, but one thing is consistent throughout all these proceedings: the family must express approval for anything to move on to the following stage.

I will not write about marriage traditions in the Middle East or in Asia. I'm more concerned about Western Muslims and the traditions they've continued to foster in the name of culture or Islam.


The reason my father was concerned with my aunt's approval of my cousin's marriage is because her fiance is not Arab and holds no college education, albeit a successful business, and comes from a different socioeconomic background, i.e. poor. According to tradition, this man wouldn't even be considered as an appropriate suitor for my cousin.

I understand my father's reasoning and others similar to him. It's important to choose a compatible spouse to match your interests, level of education, etc. However, I must emphasize that the sole decision makers should be the people getting married: The bride and groom. Of course it's important to consult with family, friends and people you trust when taking such decision, but the final decision should be up to the people getting married.

Racism, Double standards, Ageism and Discrimination:

In reality, you find the Mullah-like fathers who pray 5-times a day, who are careful to give sadaqah, solve marital problems in the community, wake up for tahajjud (night prayer) and cite the Prophet's marriage to Khadijah (an older successful businesswoman) are the same fathers who reject suitors solely on their race, age, salary, career or prior marital status. This is mostly done in the name of culture, but these decisions are supported by religious rulings such as a woman can't be married without her guardian or the famous Hadeeth about men as Shepherds responsible for their 'flock.' One might argue that these cultural practices are an evolution from religious rulings that are in place by men to support men.

And here I speak in the name of reality. When a son informs his mother that he wishes to marry a divorcee, an older woman, a woman with children or a woman from a different culture, all hell breaks loose. The son is informed that his mother will die if he ever marries a 'used' or different product when there are a lot of unused, younger, care-free, similarly-cultured choices out there. The same mother probably prays all her Taraweeh prayers in a Mosque during Ramadan. She probably attends Islamic study circles where tolerance and equality for all are preached but never practiced.

But as we speak of double standards I must declare that men have it easier than women. A man can convince his parents eventually. And if things don't work out with this wife, he can always marry another. There is no cultural stigma attached to him. His parents treat him as an adult who will have to endure consequences to his actions.

On the other hand, a female is treated like a child, unable to make her decisions and take responsibility for those decisions. She has no opportunity to rebel and marry a man of her choosing. If he doesn't supply the grand dowry or make the 100k salary then there is no point in trying. She must pray to God directly if she wants anything to change with her life. She can't simply say "yes" and plan her wedding like Westerners do. She must beg and pray that her father, mother, uncles and the neighbors will see the man she loves fit. And if they find him unfit?

She has no right of choice. She must be a good obedient daughter and listen to her family. Her father thinks a Pakistani man is beneath her because she is Arab? Her father thinks a fully-furnished home is the best way to 'secure' her future. What can she do? Run away with him like they do in Bollywood films? Nope. She's introduced to spintsterhood or what we call a loveless marriage.

My Message to all those parents who use Islam to control their adult children (male or female) and claim to know what's best :

You have no right to reject or agree. You have the right to advise, to explain but you don't get to call this one. You are there to support your adult children with their decisions. And if you don't? You'll have a new generation of spinsters and uncommitted men preferring dating over marriage.

My response to my father was simple: "Yes, dad. They are happy for their daughter although they don't fully approve ;)"

I hear wedding bells.


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