149. What is an arranged marriage?

Marriages have been categorised into four groups for the purpose of understanding the differences in the approach to marriage:

a) parents or guardians select the marriage partners and neither party is consulted before the wedding day. This is called a forced arranged marriage.

b) Parents or guardians select the partners and then the partners are consulted, who will then consider and consent knowing they had the right of refusal but may not want to exercise that right to avoid shaming the family. The individuals may meet for a short time in a family setting before the wedding day.

c) Individuals select their proposed partners and then the parents are consulted, who consider and consent, but have the power to refuse. Once again parents may avoid refusing, even though they would wish too, for the sake of loss of face.

d) Autonomous marriage is where the individuals select and the parents or guardians are neither consulted or have any right to refuse the marriage proposal.

Christians in India and the Middle East still practice b) and c) above. Muslims in some parts of the Middle East and North Africa practice a), b) and c). The practice of d) is usually confined to Western nations where the young people have a strong sense of individualism and independence. The Bible teaches the 4th Commandment: ‘Honour your father and mother that your days might be prolonged in the land where the Lord has placed you.’ (NASB). Western Christian young people would seriously consider the wise advice of their godly parents when it comes to choosing a marriage partner.

Muslims practice arranged marriages described in a) b) because according to the strict rules about socialising between males and females it is not possible for Muslim young people to meet each other. Consequently they need to rely on their parents to initiate the introduction, if not arrange the whole marriage process. This protects the modesty of the woman and avoids any shameful rumours that could have devastating consequences for the young woman. The rumour of the loss of virginity could require an elder brother to take her life to restore the family’s honour. Consequently young women are very careful to snare that they are never alone in the presence of a young man. India has a history of arranged marriages according to the Vedic traditions of Hinduism. In this context a father would arranged a meeting of several prospective suitors who would undertake several strength tests to see who the champion was and he would be selected by the groom.

‘Dowry’ is often paid in arranged marriages. This is otherwise called the ‘bride price.’ In some contexts the process is reversed and the bride’s parents have to pay for the groom, because he is seen as a future son-in-law and provider in old age. The Qur’an states in Surah (Al Nisa) 4 ayat 4: ’ Give to women their dower as a free gift, but if they of their own good pleasure remit any part of it back to you, take it and enjoy it with right good cheer.’ In Surah 4 ayat 20 it states that ‘If you decide to take one wife in place of another, even if you paid the latter a whole treasure for dower, take not the least bit back; would you take it by slander or manifest wrong?’ This indicates that they are not arranged marriages?

In Surah 4 ayat 3 it states: ‘Marry women of your choice two, three or four. But if you feel you will not be able to deal justly with them then only one or a captive.’

The match-making criteria is usually made on the basis of family relationships in the case of Iran, religion in almost all Islâmic countries, and tribe or ethnic affinity. Profession and physical appliances can also be a criteria. In more recent times the internet has become a popular way of finding a match, even in countries that have solely relied on traditional ways of arranged marriages.

Child marriages are common in Sub-Saharan countries such as Chad, Niger, Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan. In most cases property is a driver of arranged marriages of children. Usually the child is under 12 years of age and they are implicitly arranged marriages and the parents or guardians arrange the marriage without any opportunity for the child to consent.