October 17, 2008

Arranged marriages Vs Personal Choice

are both okay in Islam?

Question: Are only arranged marriages permissible in Islam? What does Islam say about prospective couples falling in love before they agree to marry?

Any man or woman caught in the Western running wheel known as 'the dating scene' no doubt has asked him or herself why can't arranged marriages come back in vogue? Dating is tough and as the saying goes, you must kiss a lot of frogs before one turns into a prince. Arranged marriages take the guess work out and they're still popular among Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, Traditional Muslims, within some Asian countries and more traditional Catholic families overseas. By in large, within Western nations, arranged marriages occur within closed communities of these groups, usually first generation. But most Westerners of all faiths find love the new fashion way...dating, relating, through shared interests, their faith, at work and at school.

But your question is goes more to what is allowed within a faith, and is the way you meet before marriage religiously sanctioned, or simply a tradition.

The short answer is: arranged marriages are a tradition, a ritual often followed in Islam. Arrange marriages are not a requirement in Islam.

Rituals. Religious Law and Scripture

Arranged marriage versus love match, what you're dealing with here is a doctrinal interpretation of scripture, what man has decided God's intentions are rather than what is said in Qu'ran, Bible or Torah. Whether we're speaking of Islam, Christianity or Judaism, the differences you see between Sunni and Shiite, Catholic and Protestant, Orthodox and Conservative or Reform are doctrine--basically how men have decided to interpret and practice the faith based upon various understandings of it. Many of the rituals written into each faith were created by men, not mandated by God. Rituals create a sense of unity, religious culture, instill purpose and eliminate the need for decision. The decision is provided. Likewise, rituals are used to maintain control over a population, their loyalty and subservience usually by the clergy creating them. This is aptly demonstrated in the Old and New Testament passages pertaining to the Pharisees and Sanhedrin and through the iron fist visited upon Europe during the Middle Ages by the Catholic Church.

You've also seen this in the modern day American South where literal interpretations, often out of context and outside of the inspired intention of biblical analogies are used to force laws and control society through men's interpretation of what should be, rather than what the Bible actually says.

You've seen this in Taliban ruled areas where ritual is used to prevent dissention, control all aspects of society and eliminate any opportunity for revolt. You've seen this in Iraq where honor killings occur or in Iran where violators of the Ramadan fast are threatened and beaten.

And you've seen this in Israel through the invocation of remastered Halaka (Jewish Law) which often contradicts the Torah to support political objectives by assuaging guilt and wrong doing through exceptions, while enforcing segregation and racial supremacy.

Go to the Source

In all three cases, men's interpretations are used to 'force or uphold God's will'. In reality, the inspired writings of the Qu'ran, Torah and Bible rarely support the distortions promoted. In reality, man is trying to out-God, God and this occurs, with great regularity, in all three faiths. The majority of animosity seen between the faiths, and within different factions, finds origin in doctrine and man's interpretation of meaning and purpose, rather than God's words. When the rituals, laws and customs become the faith, and this applies to all three, God is lost. Rather than worshipping and keeping His will central, God, and faith become a system. The system becomes God, in essence replacing Him. 'Thou shall have no other God's before me' becomes mute.

The first question you should always ask is, "Does my conduct or action honor God or not?"

Instinctively, we know, regardless of faith which actions honor Him and which do not. No amount of rationalization, excuses, invocations that 'the times have changed', but's or advocacies of intent can disguise basic truths. Whenever you are in doubt about God's intention, go to the source. In Islam this is the Qu'ran. In Judaism, this is the Torah, (rather than the Talmud which is man's interpretations of God's will). In Christianity, this is the Gospel's, Christ's words. Not the Old Testament, which is the old covenant with man and pre-Christ, much of which is no longer pertinent given Christ's teachings. Likewise avoid taking advice from the footnotes, subheaders and section headers added to the Bible in the twentieth century. These footnotes function like the Talmud, representing man's interpretations of God's words. Within these additions, much mischief awaits. (For example, dispensationalism finds origin here as do rationalizations for slavery, war, hate, segregation, racism...everything Christ admonishes).

All three faiths believe God is infallible, that He is truth. Man is neither infallible nor truth. In fact some would say we're a complete mess! All three faiths in their pure form, before doctrine begins to divide and separate, before footnotes and Talmudic exceptions, prior to Jihadists invocation, represent good, justice, love, caring, charity and stewardship. Trust God and go to the source. Read any passage in context; read the paragraphs before and after any key scripture and, crucially, read each scripture from the point of view when it was written, not through the lens of modern day events, with our conditioned prejudices, knowledge of science, philosophy, mathematics and technology. Therein, you'll find the truth.

What is Permitted in Islam?

What sort of marriage is permitted in Islam? How you get to the alter is basically not addressed in Islam, meaning whether a love match, arranged marriage or 'shot gun wedding', the faith kicks in with the agreement, better known as the vows or covenant and protects the marriage rather than the path to it. In Islam, for a couple to be married an agreement must exist. Without an agreement, no one may force the couple to marry. The bride's commitment may be granted by the bride herself, or a guardian acting on her behalf. If a guardian is accepting for the bride, the agreement goes something like this:

"I am marrying you my daughter (or other woman) whose name is so and so with the addition of a dowry, (explicitly articulated), etc."

The bridegroom must accept for himself, generally indicating his acceptance like this:

"I agree to marry your daughter, accepting the terms of the dowry...etc."

The technical aspects required have nothing to do with how the original relationship was formed, or what existed prior to the agreement.

Arranged marriage in Islam actually refers to the full involvement of both families in discussion prior to the actual marriage. Both perspective partners are fully involved, as are the relatives of each. This is they type of 'arranged' marriage encouraged by Islam because it sets aside emotional considerations and focuses on the foundations necessary for a successful union, thus enhancing that union's long-term prospects for success. This is not unique to Islam. Christianity and Judaism both include similar components for the faithful, generally under the heading of 'pre-marital counseling'. The difference is with Judaism and Christianity, often it is clergy and the couple engaged in these discussions, rather than the whole family. Most religious based pre-marital counseling occurs during the two to six months leading up to the wedding.

Eastern Societies

Falling in love, finding your soul mate, the fairytale of relationships...in reality isn't quite so glamorous. How does this differ if love occurs before or after the vows?

If a relationship exists prior to marriage, how it is handled differs according to traditions and customs prevailing in a particular society. In Eastern societies, the love relationship generally remains confined to an idealistic and romantic exchange of expressions of love. The bride to be is keenly aware that she must maintain her virginity and her lover will, in most cases, considers himself responsible to preserve the honor of the girl he loves. Not having sex or engaging in heated affection prior to marriage is considered the ultimate sign of respect and love between a man and a woman. This is also why in Eastern countries, the protecting of a woman's chastity is taken so seriously. Preventing that loss also falls to the responsibility of the family, brothers, fathers, and uncles. However, Western secularism has inverted this idea of love shown through abstinence, (If you love me you will have pre-marital relations, sex, etc...) casting it as repressive, old fashion and unenlightened. This atmosphere can make it very difficult for a young Muslim, Christian or Jew to stay true to faith expectations in any Western culture. Of course, no one ever said this would be easy!

Ironically, both Christianity and Judaism share this belief about no sex before marriage, thou neither the Bible or Torah specifically state this. It's more of a tradition created by clergy to prevent unwanted pregnancies and channel people into marriage. An idea pieced together through several scriptures condemning sex once married with anyone not your marriage partner. Of course the ancient Hebrews get the prize for the most exact manner of dealing with pre-marital sex. Hebrew traditions had the act of sex with a woman equal to marriage. If you had a one night stand in days of old...you were now married until death do you part! That way, no one ever had sex outside of marriage).

Even though many of the temptations found in Western societies have yet to permeate many Eastern societies, that's not to say that Eastern Muslims aren't human! Nor is it to say that some affection is never expressed. Often young lovers will steal away in private and exchange non-intrusive touches or words of longing in anticipation of the moment they are united in marriage and may finally be joined as one. What Islam states is that even if the couple is not involved in anything sinful, they still maybe violating the faith. For example, Eastern Society traditions state that it is not permissible for a man and a woman to be alone in a closed room together if they are not related. Yet sneaking away together because of a yearning for each other violates this tenant. The yearning doesn't, nor the verbal or non-sexual expressions of affection violate Islam...the being alone together when not related in a closed room is the sin in Islam.

Western Societies

Secularism combined with a me-centered global world view versus a faith-based community centered global view prominent in Eastern societies, not just Islamic, has replaced the faith based ideas of chastity, family, honor, discretion and community responsibility still prevalent in Eastern societies. These re-tooled values contend that everything and anything is okay prior to marriage and between men and women. This is not true with Islam, even in the West. Likewise, Christianity and Judaism share similar base values but popular culture has watered these down. That is to your advantage thou. People respect those whom stay true to their faith and it is quite easy in most Western societies for a devote Muslim, Christian or Jew to state, "I'm sorry I'm not comfortable with that. It goes against my faith."

You may get teased, (usually by someone trying to take advantage of you and now realizes this is impossible), but overall, most people will respect that. Those that don't, aren't your concern. This is actually the real cultural war, aka The clash of civilizations, between East and West. This isn't about Christian v Muslim v Jew. It is about secularism or a me-me-me-centered society based upon self-gratification, acquisition and power, versus faith based or we-God-us-centered society based upon humility, community and minimalism.

Morality and honor are serious subjects in Islam. Most traditions, rituals and codes of conduct are designed to protect honor and morality be eliminating many of the temptations that draw other's away.

What about love matches?

It is a fact of life that when two people are in love, they tend to overlook each other's faults. Once they are married and they have to face life together, they begin to see each other's faults. It is not unusual for either partner at this point to be so distressed with the other that each is ready to 'vote the other off the Island'...permanently. Hold off on that thought! This too shall pass...seriously. But the shock of it often hits love match's deeper than arranged marriages. Love matches expect happily ever-after. Arranged matches know they're in for some work. In this sense arranged matches hold the upper hand. Even more than parenting, marriage is the hardest job you'll ever love!

Everyone of us possesses weaknesses and strengths. When we approach marriage in a careful, objective manner, we enter with open eyes and open hearts. When our approach based solely upon limeracy, (blind love, infatuation etc), we set ourselves up for regret. Within Western societies, 'love' unites most marriages, yet as many as 50% end in divorce with many lasting less than two years. Why two years? Because two years is the amount of time it takes to successfully re-navigate the first four stages of a relationship --infatuation, disillusion, negotiation, acceptance. When a dynamic in the relationship changes, such as marriage, a death or child, the couple re-enters this cycle. The amount of time it takes to get through it depends upon the level of communication, trust and emotional maturity of both.

In Islamic societies, as well as other biblically based societies, when the ideas of marriage, that it is between the couple, the man and woman, and God. As a covenant with God, it is forever and divorce is not an option. When these foundations are agreed to and respected by both parties, how the couple became married, whether via arrangement or a love match is irrelevant. When the faith is central and the commitment to that covenant central, divorce rarely follows. That marriage is based upon a union before God and its survival is a tribute to Him. This is the wisdom of the Islamic approach and it is shared by all faiths of The Book. In the end, how you meet is irrelevant. How you treat each other once wed, this is how you show honor to both your faith and God.


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