Islam: Day 26 – Should we practice arranged marriages?

In one of my English classes in high school, we read a story that took place in India and drew heavily on Indian culture and customs.

I don’t remember what the story was about, but I do remember that the class had a spirited discussion about arranged marriage.

When I say spirited discussion, I mean we were all appalled at how backwards the Indian culture was with regards to marriage, and couldn’t imagine how any culture would promote marriage that wasn’t based on romantic love between two people.

Our views haven’t changed since then.

Apparently, it is a common misconception that Islam requires arranged marriage. It does not. Arranged marriages are a cultural inheritance that is not unique to Muslim countries.

The Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam clarifies a few points about arranged marriage:

  • Islam does not require it.
  • A woman cannot be forced into a marriage she doesn’t want to have.
  • The arranged pair can have an extended engagement and can break it off if either party wishes to do so.

The author also raises an interesting point:

“In fact, it is really the institution of dating that is the new practice which much of the world is struggling to accept. Islam merely regulates the conduct of people who want to form a marriage, whether arranged or by themselves.”

Last week I attended a farewell party for a friend who was moving to San Francisco. A different friend of mine (the same Jewish friend that we tried to set up, Rebecca) invited a guy she was dating to the party so that she could have her friends verify if the guy was worth putting time and energy into.

In modern, western life, everyone is left to figure out this whole dating and marriage and thing on their own, which, when you think about it, is incredibly difficult!

Deciding who you will marry is probably the most important decision you are going to make in your life, so of course, you’d probably want some assistance and help from others when making that decision.

Rebecca’s instincts were correct. She wanted to make sure she wasn’t crazy for dating this guy, who I’ll call Adam, so she had her friends do the screening.

The problem is, what do her friends know? None of her friends at the party were married or have had successful life long relationships. Were they really qualified to give her advice?

The author of the Dummies book says that modern matchmaking and dating services are really looking to adapt the best parts of arranged marriages to modern life.

“The growth of online dating services, personal ads and matchmakers in the West over the last few years is merely a throwback to the best elements of the arranged marriage system which was the norm in the West up until relatively recently. The companions of the Prophet demonstrated many different ways of finding a mate. Some married for love and sealed their commitment without intermediaries, others were matched by friends, and still others agreed to arranged marriages brokered by relatives.”

This makes me wonder if us modern people are silly for trying to reinvent the wheel when finding a life partner. Should we look to the ancients for advice on finding a mate? Or should we listen to modern data gurus and try to build a compelling Match.com profile?

Note: I’m certainly not qualified to talk about successful matchmaking practices, but I’m intrigued by the idea that the ancients may have something useful to say about finding a spouse in the modern world.

  • Arisa

    I once read, that often, people in arranged marriages do come to love each other and are actually happier.
    I think it matters how and for what reasons the marriage was arranged.
    If your parents arrange a marriage and keep your best interests at heart. Your likes, dislikes etc etc. I don’t think arranging something is the worst of ideas.
    Marriage is hard work and you see how often it fails these days. People are no longer committed, divorce is super easy etc.
    I think that in countries like India there’s a lot of pressure on marriage and not getting a divorce ever. And so you somehow make it work.
    You’ll be more tolerant and work harder if there’s more pressure on it, or it’s harder to get a divorce.
    Relationships that work are often those where the couple is committed to working through any problems that may arrise and that they will get through hardship together.
    I know it’s the reason my parents are still together, because they work for it. Because they didn’t give up, even when times were rough and they didn’t really see eye to eye.
    They got through that and are now still happily married.

    I’m babbling, but I think a good relationship isn’t build on love alone. The initial “butterflies in the stomach” fade. When you’re with someone long enough you will discover that it’s not only butterflies and roses. If you’re willing to accept that and see through that and work for the relationship, you’ll have a much better relationship. Than when you’re like “well they weren’t what I thought they were”. Everyone has flaws after all.

  • Ifad

    Hi Dale,

    I find this very appealing. I just realised that today relationship mostly requires close friend approval which most of them know a little to nothing about successful marriage. Arranged marriage requires parents approval who know us (while perhaps not really understand) since we born and they know exactly what to do and what not by living their own marriage.

    • Good point. Hopefully the parents have a good marriage too.