Islam 5.4: Arranged Marriages, Love Marriages and Forced Marriages
Objectives: To consider and explain the practice of arranged marriages, love marriages and forced marriages. In traditional Muslim societies, men and women do not mix freely, so how do they marry?
An arranged marriage is a marriage in which parents will take a leading role in choosing a marriage partner for their son or daughter. The children still have the final decision.
In traditional Muslim societies, men and women do not mix freely. When the time comes for them to marry, their parents will help them to find or introduce to them a suitable partner. This is known as an arranged marriage. The families of the couple may have known each other for a long time, they may be related or they may not know each other but were introduced through friends. In some cases, the son and daughter will have grown up knowing that their parents planned for them to marry. But arranged marriages are not forced marriages. The young people do not have to marry the person their parents have introduced them to. Arranged marriages are sometimes called ‘introduction marriages’ or ‘assisted marriages’ because the parents only help their children find the right partner. They do not make the decision for them. In fact, in many cases, the children themselves will suggest a potential partner to their parents; or another family member or relative may suggest someone. All of this is normal in practising Muslim families and in many traditional Jewish and Christian homes too. So, arranged marriages are not unique to Islam; they happen in communities where men and women do not mix freely. Note that Islam forbids forced marriages as we have discussed elsewhere, and it sees forced marriages as being oppressive and can be annulled.
CASE STUDY: Ubaidah’s Wedding:
“Ubaidah was 18. She didn’t understand the words her uncle was saying because they weren’t in English and she didn’t really speak Urdu, but she did what she was told as there was so much pressure on her to marry this man who she didn’t want at all. She was told she had no choice and that her family would leave her, and she would have no one – and she would shame the family if she refused. She was so afraid. Afterwards, her aunt told her that she was now married and would be leaving her home to live with her husband. It was a sad day for Ubaidah. It was months later that Ubaidah learned her rights as a Muslim woman.”
Islam forbids this kind of marriage, as Ubaidah was later to understand. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “A previously married woman cannot be married off until she is consulted, and a virgin cannot be married off until she gives her consent.” He was asked: “And how does she (a shy virgin) give consent?” He replied: “By her silence.”(Bukhari and Muslim) The Scholar and Jurist, Shaikh Sālih Al-Fawzān stated: “This narration is a proof that a woman is not compelled or forced into marriage, regardless of whether she is a virgin or previously married.” She can simply say “yes” or “no”.
In another narration, it is stated: “A young woman came to the Prophet and said that her father had married her off against her will. So, Allah’s Messenger allowed her to choose [to either stay with him or to leave him].” (Ahmad, Abu Dawood, Ibn Mājah) Islam does not allow forced marriages. But Ubaidah didn’t know till it was too late. Knowledge and knowing the God-given rights of people is very important is Islam.
Other ways of finding a partner:
Most non-Muslims do not have arranged or assisted marriages – young Muslims are also beginning to adopt this approach when seeking a partner. They try to look for a suitable partner for themselves resulting in many young people making the wrong choice because there is no involvement from older, mature and wise people (such as parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc). Overwhelmingly, the initial attraction is based on desire and longing for a relationship, so that quite often distorts one’s assessment of the character of a potential partner.
Failure rates are quite high because there are no real moral or religious criterion involved in seeking a partner and almost no vetting by the family. The involvement of parents (in these times) is quite often seen as unwelcome interference in the lives of their grown-up children. Parents naturally want to ask questions, involve themselves and make sure their son, and more importantly, their daughter, is entering a safe, stable and loving relationship – but questioning and vetting rarely take place in modern Western societies.
Family fragmentation is all too common in these societies. The facts are easy to state: about 40 per cent of babies born in America in our time are born outside of marriage. Divorce and single parenthood have become a way of life. The figures show that children raised by their two biological (or adoptive) parents do substantially better in every respect in life than those who are not. They do better in school and in higher education, they do better at jobs and economically, they develop more stable and lasting relationships personally.  So choosing the right partner from the outset is extremely important for the couple and for society as a whole – and assisted or arranged marriages go a long way to ensure long-lasting, committed and loving relationships.
Most parents [of all religious backgrounds] do not want their children sleeping around with several partners before finding “the right one”! This is not a virtuous, morally upright or healthy way of seeking a life-long partner. Many marriages that take place in Britain each year end in divorce and even more “boyfriend-girlfriend” relationships break down. This is not good for families, communities or for society as a whole – and the situation is made worse when children are involved. According to the Office for National Statistics in the UK, there were 247,372 marriages in 2015 and 111,169 divorces. 62% of petitions for divorce were lodged by women – the common reason for divorce was “unreasonable behaviour” which was previously called “cruelty” under British law. In 1958, the divorce rate was 2 per 1,000 marriages. By 2004, it had risen to 13 divorces per 1,000 marriages!  That is a huge increase in family-breakdown. Imagine the hurt and sorrow all of this entails, and the lasting effect on future generations.
In our times, young people look for partners at school, college, university or work. They meet people in pubs, clubs and discos. They use chat rooms or online dating agencies – all without parental or family involvement. These methods are often dangerous, especially for females; and are simply not realistic options for practising Muslim families.
So, the views of grown-up children (who are ready for marriage) along with their parents and family are very important in helping to find the right marriage partner.
Arranged marriage or a love marriage?
A love-match (or love-marriage) is when a couple meet each other, fall in love (usually followed by sexual intimacy), and decide to marry as a result. This is usually a choice made by the man and woman independently of the family and often after some time spent ‘living together’, which kind of defeats the purpose of marriage, which is meant to legalise sexual relations between a couple because sex before marriage is completely forbidden in all the major religions.
In an arranged marriage, love between the two usually comes after the wedding rather than before it. They do not marry until they are fully informed about the person they are about to marry, they meet and see each other in the presence of their parents and ask each other important questions to test compatibility. In other words, if the couple are well-matched in terms of religious views, interests, physical appearance, background and education, then the love naturally grows as the marriage progresses. So-much-so that years into a marriage, their affection, love and commitment to each other is far greater than it was when they first married.
Some people have very clear views about love matches and arranged marriages. Religious Muslims believe that an arranged marriage has a better chance of success than one based on falling in love, not least because after an arranged marriage both families will do everything they can to make the relationship work. And statistics seem to prove this to be true.
What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of the different ways of finding a husband or wife?
Read the following statements:
- ‘My parents don’t understand me; they would not make a good choice.’
- ‘If you don’t love someone you should not marry them.’
- ‘I thought he loved me. My mum told me to get to know him better before I marry him. She was right.’
- ‘I want to marry Anne. It’s my life and my choice.’
- ‘My parents love me and they understand me best. They will find someone really suitable for me and I can decide in the end.’
- ‘My parents will not choose my partner, but they will help me find someone suitable. Then I’ll meet him. If he’s not suited, we’ll carry on looking. We work to together to find someone.’
Which of the above comments would be made by someone who supports arranged or assisted marriages? Explain your choices. What is the common thread? Which comments would be made by someone opposed to arranged or assisted marriages? Explain your choices? What is the common thread?
You should now be able to explain that in an arranged or assisted marriage, the parents play an important role in choosing a partner for their son or daughter, but they will not force them to marry against their will. Practising Muslims believe that these are more successful than love matches.
‘You get married, then you fall in love.’
‘You fall in love, then get married.’
‘It possible to love someone from afar due to the good you’ve heard, then marriage just strengthens that bond.’
‘Is not marriage about commitment, responsibility, respect and building a family together? Surely all of that makes a loving marriage, and you grow to love and respect one another.’
Think about each of these statements. In each case, think about what you would base your marriage and happiness on? Write a list.
Muslims believe that character and piety are very important when choosing a partner. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “If a man comes for your daughter’s hand in marriage, and you see nothing wrong with his character and religion, marry your daughter to him.”He also said: “A woman is married for four reasons: her beauty, her lineage, her wealth or her good religious character. So, marry the one with good religious character and you will be successful.”
 See “Family fragmentation: Can anything be done?” Washington Examiner, January 05, 2015