Marriage in the Middle East with its traditions, laws and cultural practices is historically different from the institution as we know it here in the West. Several months ago, we celebrated Tunisia’s lifting of a marriage restriction that had been on the books since 1973! Under the old law, a man who is not of the state religion must convert if he wants to marry a Tunisian woman who does practice the state religion. Ending the ban was a great victory for women, allowing them greater freedom of choice!
Another reality of marriage in the Middle East has more to do with economics than religion. Many couples there can never save enough money to set up a home on their own; so the majority of couples, regardless of their social or economic rank, rely on their families to help them arrange the wedding ceremony and reception and set up their homes. Parents feel entitled to participate in the choice of wedding venue, choice of apartment or home for the couple to live in, expenditure on home items and other things. Most families have large circles of friends in church, work, and social activities, and the opinions of those friends matter.
SAT-7 ARABIC’s program Needle and New Thread recently devoted an episode to the topic of parental interference in marriage proposals. Two married couples joined the show’s presenters in discussing the topic with viewers who were invited to call the live program. One young woman from Cairo called in and said, “Someone’s proposed to me. I don’t like him, but my parents are forcing me to marry him.”
Much pressure is traditionally brought to bear on couples and their families with regard to the choice of partners; therefore, it was interesting and somewhat surprising that most other callers were parents who supported their children’s ability and freedom to make their own choice of a spouse:
- “Parents can give their opinion but must not [force] it upon their children in their choices of partners in marriage.”
- “Parents’ opinions are important because in many cases the couples are too young to understand or have experience in marriage. Parents should say their opinion but without enforcing it because pressure causes the children to be obstinate.”
- “Parents’ opinions are important in their children’s marriages but when they have confidence in their children then they must give them the space to make their own decisions. They must support their children’s decisions.”
This kind of open forum gives SAT-7 ARABIC viewers the opportunity to think through their preferences in light of tradition—and then make choices that are truly their own. It’s a safe place where ideas—even those that depart from convention—are respected and given due consideration. It’s healthy and it’s freeing!