I wanted companionship. So I got married. And it’s arranged.

Strange, right?

“Why would a nice, Muslim, Pakistani girl want a man’s companionship? She can go to school and make some friends. All girls. Or she can go to work and make some friends. All girls. Or there are her girl cousins! Why is she looking for companionship with a man? How audacious of her to ask to be married? It’s not even like she’s in a relationship. She just wants to get married and set up house and be in an emotional and physical relationship with a man. Wow! So forward and frankly, a little perverse. I didn’t raise her like that. Where did she learn all this from? That she should get married? Or that romance is a thing? Where did I go wrong?”

May be most people can’t relate to it but I know many Muslim Pakistani girls can. A girl’s own desire to get married is considered a sinful thought and is rampant in Pakistani communities. We accept love marriages with a judgment of character and think that love marriages happen between lustful people who crave a physical relationship. We have a moral distaste for love marriages. But we love arranged marriages. That’s our type of set up. That’s how all nice girls get married . But how dare a nice 25 year old daughter ask us to wed her off to any reasonable guy because she would like to spend the rest of her life building a relationship with a man, having his kids, being his partner and finding love in their union. Or even worse, how does she look to be set up herself to start her own marriage process?

I will preface the following discussion by saying that the South East Asian culture is unfortunately not a true depiction of the Islamic culture. Islam promotes choice and wants us to partner up as married people as soon as we feel we are ready or as soon as we think that we’ve found the one .

The conflicting views, perceptions and feels with marriage are a huge part of every culture but particularly South East Asian culture.

We want it but can’t ask for it. We like it but can’t say it out loud. We crave for a sexual union but think sex is for morally corrupt people. The confusion is real, people!

And I think I have decoded a little piece of this attitude. Here goes!

We don’t think marriage is for the body or the mind or the soul or the person. We don’t think that marriage is a journey of discovery, love and the unexpected. We don’t consider marriage important for personal growth.

Marriage is frankly another check box. Like how education is. It is just something that people do as the next logical step. It has got no bearings on a woman’s mind, body or soul. It has no perceived benefit for her in terms of personal development.

And this is why I think women have been shortchanged again. You see, men are accepted as sexual beings. When their marriage is discussed they’re asked what they would like or not. They’re asked if their wife should look a certain way, talk a certain way or walk a certain way. Arranged marriages make a lot of consideration for men. Men again win at being acknowledged.

But a girl isn’t considered that important. First of all, it is considered very lucky for her to be accepted by a man at all. The joy that parents of super accomplished girls show when these girls are accepted by mediocre men is testimony enough to how behind we are in our application of feminism and basic human rights of dignity and self-respect. A girl’s opinion is simply not important. It’s irrelevant.

And I think a lot of women might be okay with that. Honestly I think there are women out there who would just like a fulfilling relationship. They don’t want a stereotypical “match”. They’d be happy with a mismatching guy. Their focus really is to create something powerful out of an arranged marriage. They want to get married but don’t have a man of their own. So they go with their parents’ choice. Absolutely no fault with that. That’s totally legitimate and a choice.

But she can’t express the desire to be married. No! That can’t happen. That is unfathomable to parents of the 21st century. To think that our kids may have emotional and sexual needs that make them crave for a partner is abominable to even imagine. That’s not happening on these parents’ watch!

But why? Why are we not facilitating marriage? Why are we not removing the stigma from kids asking their parents to look for someone for them so they can set up a life with them? Why can’t a girl find a man in her life attractive enough for people to facilitate her getting to know him with the intention of a relationship? It’s not easy for everyone to fall in love. Not everyone dates and finds eligible men. But many folks do find love and camaraderie in an arranged marriage. Arranged marriages are still common and very much a part of matrimonial processes.

And what about widows and divorced women? Are we open-minded enough to let them date or ask to be set up? No! And why not? Just cuz!

Marriage isn’t fair play for both genders in our society. A man can openly express his need for a partner but a woman can’t. A man can find a woman from a dating site and propose but this woman can’t ever disclose that she found her husband on the internet. A man can openly take phone calls from his female colleagues and classmates and it’s seen as a sign of a virile and heterosexual man but a girl will be crucified for the same thing. A widowed man can look for another wife under many pretenses, particularly that he can’t live alone. But a widowed woman can’t say that she can’t live alone and needs another partner in a patriarchal society. A divorced man will find many women empathizing with him over his broken marriage but a divorced woman will always be eyed with suspicion. She won’t find another man because of the age-old adage that a divorced woman can’t have a successful marriage.

The disparity in marriage choices is mind boggling and saddening. This disparity is keeping girls from openly expressing their desire to get married. This disparity is also giving men an unfair advantage over woman. Choice is choice. Everyone’s choice is important. If I choose to date, I should be able to date. If I choose to be celibate, that’s me. But if I choose to have a relationship, I should be able to have the opportunity to ask my parents to help me out if I’m already not in a relationship. I should also not be considered someone of questionable moral behavior if I tell my parents that I like a guy and that I’d like them to approach him for me. I should also be able to discuss the same scenario with my parents and get their counsel on it and whether they think it would be prudent to approach the guy on my own. Is it happening yet? Sadly, no!

Now for people who are getting confused about a woman’s integrity and morality if she openly voices her desire to be matched up, I have a few quick references.

Khadija and Muhammad (May Allah always be pleased with him) got married through Khadija initiating the proposal. Muhammad accepted and didn’t raise any questions about Khadija’s integrity.

Islam advocates for marriages and healthy relationships. A big reason why Islam advocates for marriage is to validate biological and emotional needs. Allah likes marriage and facilitates its occurrence. For this reason, none of the pomp and ceremony that we engage in is required for a marriage. Marriage is simple and easily doable in Islam. There is no concept of dowry. Frankly, there is no concept of any expenditure on a wedding in Islam.

Muhammad, through his life and his relationships with his wives, established an example and tradition of marriage. His relationships were romantic and loving. He encouraged Muslims to marry to maintain Sunnah.

Then who created this stigma against initiation of the marriage process in Islam? And then created marriage not a woman’s business? Patriarchy did a lot of damage to women’s rights but the biggest damage was usurping their right to be asked to be matched or set up with an eligible man.

I hope more Muslim men and women keep rosters of eligible men and women and recommend them to each other without seeing any fault in it. I wish more of us did it pro bono. And I wish more parents facilitated their daughters in initiating their looking for an eligible partner.

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