It is one of the most controversial subjects on the planet today--Muslim men and women forced into arranged marriage by parents who pay little heed to the wishes or desires of their children in the matter. Many people wonder if this a requirement of the religion of Islam and if young Muslims have any choice in the matter.
Marriage in Muslim culture is typically viewed as more of a mutually beneficial relationship than a love story. "In traditional Muslim families, marriages may be arranged by the bride and groom's parents, who are seen as the best judges of who will be a good partner for their son or daughter," according to the book "Marriage" by Ronne Randall. "However, children are free to reject anyone by mutual consent if they are not happy with the choice of partner." The process plays out as more of a social contract than a romance.
From a legal perspective, Islam views marriage as requiring full and complete consent of both parties. Neither the potential bride nor groom may be forced into a spousal contract against their wishes. However, such a stance does not restrict families from pressuring, persuading or arranging a marriage. In the strictest, technical sense, the free will of a prospective bride or groom is not negated if they willingly allow--or choose--to acquiesce to the wishes of their parents.
Despite the prevalence of arranged marriage, many followers of the faith insist that such a practice is contrary to the philosophy and example of Muhammad. In the book "The Complete Idiots Guide to Islam," author Yahiya Emerick writes, "This abuse goes against the teachings of Islam. In a story about the Prophet Muhammad, a woman who had been married against her will went to the Prophet and complained about it; he annulled the marriage on the spot."
Liberal Muslims and other scholars believe that arranged marriages are more of a reflection of a cultural belief system than a religious mandate. In her book, "Women's Rights and Islamic Family Law," writer Lynn Welchman notes that the Koran (the Islamic Holy book) fails to encourage or require familial involvement in the marriage process. She posits that many families have simply confused tradition with fact. "Some Muslims assume cultural practices that have been within their family for generations are actually required by Islamic law," writes Welchman.
Muslim families in western nations like the United States face a particularly difficult time in balancing the demands of their culture with the realities of American influence. Young Muslims, women in particular, often want to please and respect their parents by attempting to follow the "old ways," yet they feel increasingly enticed by the allure of freedom so prevalent in their non-Muslim acquaintances. Studies also show that United States-born Muslims are intent upon having a greater say in decisions relating to marriage, says the Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures by Suad Joseph and Afsaneh Najmabadi.
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