“Inna akramakum inda-Allahi anqakum (Verily the most honourable among you with Allah is that believer who is pious).”―Al Quran, Al Hujaraat (49:13)
A few days back, a dear friend expressed anxiety over a very serious issue—deciding on the most suitable life partner for daughters and sisters—confronted by many families in general but the so-called traditional and conservative ones in particular. There are a number of factors that are deliberated upon when a proposal is received from a male’s family or even the male himself in his individual capacity. Among these are religion, caste, clan, ethnicity, looks, level and source of income, property in his ownership, family background, references etc. of course not necessarily in the same priority.
Some families are merely interested in proposals from within their own kindred while others prefer outsiders, some look for a secure future for their daughters and sisters while some are extremely sentimental about their caste, creed and sect. While a few pay little attention to the outward appearance, some are more concerned about the financial disposition of an aspiring suitor. At times a clerk in government service is preferred over a college lecturer for reasons commonly known. Similarly, some are inclined towards larger families whereas some are very happy to find lone men. Whatever maybe the conditions, one thing is certain that this is a very difficult decision to make as it involves the happiness of not just the couple but two families as well.
It has also been observed that in many Muslim families where there is a large female population there can either be a lot of spinsters because of high demands of the women’s relatives; or a variety of in-laws, in that the only thing taken into account is that the would-be suitor is a believer and has a steady income to take care of his family. Perhaps the most arduous challenge is for those who claim to be descendants of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Not that they may be very orthodox in their approach towards life or their honesty is unquestionable but when it comes to settling marriage for their daughters, there is a sudden realization of their ‘elevated’ stature and the need to have someone equally placed. They usually prefer their women remain unmarried rather than having a non-Syed as a husband. The same holds true for many creeds as Shia, Sunni, Berelvi, and castes, such as Jat, Gujjar and Rajput families.
The moment an ‘undesirable’ proposal is received or a girl from an orthodox family expresses her desire to marry a person of her choice, the situation goes completely haywire. In the first place, there is a total confrontation, dares are exchanged, and there is little or no listening to each other’s points of view. This type of a union is unimaginable, despicable, against all norms and in some cases, declared forbidden. Girls are either house arrested or married off against their will to the first available suitor from the clan, whosoever he may be—young, old, already married, widower, divorcee etc; or are condemned to lead the life of a spinster. The aspiring male and his family is either decently asked to leave and in some cases of aggression, incidents have occurred where they have been subjected to humiliation and sometimes even physically manhandled.
At other times, persistence on the male side results in melting the anger of the girl’s family who surrender to the wishes of their female relative but then another level of hypocrisy and so-called adherence to traditions zealously guarded by their champions—in this case the bride’s parents, are exposed. While granting permission to the girl for marrying her choice life partner either ban is imposed on her visits to the paternal home in the future, and/or the bride’s side decide to also implement some alien traditions (not indigenous to their side of course) regarding dower money and a host of other customary conditions to be fulfilled by the groom. All this arrogance is just meant to show their indignation and simultaneously enjoy the best sides of both worlds.
The million dollar question at this stage and specifically with due respect to our conventional Pakistani milieu is that why is there, in many cases, so much strict and unreasonable scrutiny while selecting a suitable husband for one’s females? Are the yardsticks of caste, creed, clan, so vital that they take precedents over even the divine teachings of the Holy Quran? Don’t the words uttered by our Holy Prophet (PBUH) when delivering his last sermon during Hajjat-ul-Wida have any meaning for those who lay significance on man-made divisions when he says: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white- except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood”?
A combined reading of the Quranic verse and the extract from the last sermon leaves no doubt as to the best criterion for judging a human being. With the exception of piety and good deeds, nothing else has been even slightly mentioned, let alone family, traditions, financial status, appearances, ethnicity, race etc. There was no claim of superiority in terms of birth—something over which no human being has any control. There was no recognition of wealth, high status or position of power. The Prophet’s (PBUH) own practice proved that while choosing his son-in-law, he gave preference to Hazrat Ali-ibn-i-Abu Talib (AS) whose ‘worldly wealth’
standing was nothing compared to the many aspirants who were rich, powerful and belonged to the upper echelons of society.
Today, when the world has achieved remarkable progress in almost all fields of knowledge and wisdom, we are still grappling with petty issues especially when it comes to allowing our women the freedom to choose their husbands. As against earlier decades when females did not enjoy access to the outer world, the woman of the twenty first century is much wiser, well-read and capable of forming her own opinion. In the presence of so many social websites, a person’s reputation is hardly a secret any more. From the big shots to humble members of the society, all stand unveiled as to their activities, repute, views and no matter how hard they try to put on a false mask, something occurs to rip it off in the glaring spotlight of the public.
In these circumstances, to say that women are foolish and unaware about their good or bad is like turning a blind eye to something that is as clear as the day. In fact, the younger generation is better informed/aware about its self-interest in contrast to the older one and has the requisite ability to take better decisions. In any case, marriage is always a gamble and whether arranged or a love-match, could go wrong, then why hurl obstacles in the path of the women-folk making simple matters complicated and difficult?
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)