'Til Death?

Marriage over here (in Jordan)—it’s been bothering me ever since I first started to understand it. This doesn’t happen with everyone, but it’s the way most religious or conservative families go about it.

So, you’re a girl, yes? And you’re at the “appropriate” age for marriage, meaning you’ve finished high school, or in most cases, are almost done with university. So, everyone you know—extended family, neighbors, friends—wants to relieve your parents of the burden you impose on them. Thoughtful, no? They go ahead and take the liberty to tell parents of prospective husbands that you’re available, with details like your age, your field of work, and whether or not you wear a headscarf. You, of course, are not aware of this, until the parents of said prospective husband decide that your attributes are suitable for their son. If they do, they will phone your parents, and arrange for the two families to meet.

A break-down of this meeting. The girl and her mother are present, often with another female family member. The guy’s mother is present as well, again with another family member, often a sister. Now it depends on what the two families prefer whether the guy himself is present or not. I’ve seen cases where his mother goes “bride-hunting” for him without him knowing a thing about it. Anyway, the families talk about several things, and they usually find out that they’re distantly related. Depending on the families’ decision--based on the other family’s reputation, how wealthy they are, whether the girl or guy seems suitable--will decide whether or not to move on.

Usually, the two get to know each other a bit more. But here’s the catch. Most families won’t allow them to be alone together, even in public places, until they are legally in wedlock. This is a pretty fundamentalist interpretation of Islam forbidding “kholwa”, or a male and female who are not related being alone by themselves. Now I don’t have much experience with this, but I’m guessing it’s pretty difficult to get to know your future husband/wife if you have to do it with other people (usually siblings) around.

Right. So let’s assume the guy thinks the girl is respectable, beautiful and “housewife-material”, and the girl sees the guy as respectable, wealthy, and capable of supporting a family enough to get married. The next step is a tradition called the “Tolbeh”. Both families are present, with a sort of representative from each. He’s (yes, they’re always males) usually the most well-known family member or friend, like a former minister or a writer or whatnot, and he does all the talking. Anyway, the groom’s family is offered coffee (a big deal here) but refuse, saying that they will only drink it if they are “given” the bride. Maybe it’s just me, but selling a girl over coffee isn’t doing much for her value, is it? When that show’s over, the couple moves on to engagement—bear in mind that most families will still not allow them to be alone together.

Later on comes what I like to call the legal stuff. After that’s over, the couple is, according to the law, married. They can now be alone together, and if the girl wears a headscarf, she’s now permitted to let her husband see her without it. And finally, comes the wedding.

It really depends on the family how long all of these steps take. I’ve seen them range from a month to a couple of years.

But all I’m saying is maybe, just maybe, this method of courtship isn’t working that well anymore. I appreciate the tradition in what happens after the couple wants to get married, but I don’t think this going “bride-hunting” is all too perfect. I understand that it’s a huge part of culture, and that it might have worked really well in the old days, but it’s different now. Girls go out, they study, and they live their lives. Potential husbands (if any) can be found in other ways than your acquaintances playing tag with each other. And frankly, there’s just something about this method that’s horribly demeaning to both the females and the males involved. A girl I know became horribly moody whenever she had “visitors” and told me she felt like she was in this huge catalogue, like every time the people left she just got this huge cross next to her name. A guy I know got engaged twice just to please his mother, and in the end split up with both girls.

So what do all of you think?

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Helen H
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