Saturday, September 21, 2019

Till death do us part…

Success! Submitted photos

Success! Submitted photos

It was August 1975. I had just completed my compulsory military service in the Turkish Army. My wife and I were spending the remaining days of the summer in Istanbul making our plans to return back to America, when my cousin and his family arrived for a one week visit. Although regular weekly or longer family visits were common in Turkey at the time, the purpose of this visit was very special. My aunt and uncle had found a suitable candidate for my cousin, who had just turned thirty years old, to marry. The rules of an arranged marriage in the Turkish culture varied from area to area but for our family, it was set in stone for hundreds of years. This entire process was totally foreign to my American wife whom I married while attending College at Maryland. We met, dated and decided to get married within a period of thirty days or less. Both families were unhappy because they were not consulted and their permission was neither asked nor granted. As far as everyone was concerned, we had broken tradition and that was not good!

Tradition dictated that a delegation from the groom’s family pay a visit to the prospective bride’s family and ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage. My father, being the leader of the extended family by virtue of his age, was to lead the family delegation on this occasion. The delegation consisted

Arranged marriage in India.

Arranged marriage in India.

of my mother and my aunt and uncle. Bearing gifts for the prospective bride’s family, the delegation left the house at mid-afternoon. My cousin was anxious beyond any words can adequately describe; pacing the floors since early hours of the morning. After driving for an hour, the delegation reached their destination and was duly welcomed into the house of the family of the prospective bride. Pleasantries were exchanged and gifts were delivered. Then my father turned to the father of the young lady, who was not present in the room, and said, “With your permission we are here to ask for the hand of your daughter for our son in matrimony.” After a momentary pause, the young lady’s father responded, “You have my permission, but we should also ask my daughter for her agreement.” The young lady who was preparing strong Turkish coffee in the kitchen for the guests was asked to come out and deliver the coffee. The tradition dictated that she would not communicate with the prospective in-laws but indicate her acceptance or rejection by the manner in which she delivered the coffee on a silver tray specifically chosen for this occasion. If she disagreed or rejected the marriage proposal, she would serve the coffee perfectly correctly; if she agreed to the proposal, she would show her consent by spilling coffee into the saucers indicating that her hands were trembling in excitement. On that particular
Arranged marriage in Japan.

Arranged marriage in Japan.

day, my cousin was very lucky; the coffee was spilled into the saucers and, with this sign, the prospective bride’s positive response was received. My cousin kept on pacing the floors until the delegation returned home around dinner time and gave him the thumbs up! It was quite a relief, and the whole family sat down to a delicious dinner to celebrate the occasion.

This tradition, although not as commonplace as it once was, continues in the Middle East, India, Africa, and in most Islamic countries and cultures around the world where dating is not as prevalent as it is in Western societies. Arranged marriages bring people together who might otherwise not have met. Even where dating is becoming fashionable or accepted; young adults prefer arranged marriages because they may be unwilling, or unable, to spend the time and effort to find a spouse on their own. In some cultures, this tradition is handed down through many generations.

When my uncle and aunt decided that it was time for their son to get married, they contacted a family “matchmaker” to find the most suitable bride for their son.  The matchmaker who had been performing this duty in the family for decades had a set of factors to consider before choosing the prospective bride. Although these may seem politically incorrect, or even outright sexist, in modern societies, in the year 1975 in Turkey, they were perfectly acceptable. In consideration were:

Arranged Islamic marriage.

Arranged Islamic marriage.

the reputation of the family, the vocation of the groom, the wealth of the families involved, the religion, age, and health of the prospective spouse, height, and even weight! In the case of my cousin, the matchmaker had taken all these factors into consideration, and had even paid a visit to the prospective in-laws’ home to check out their daily lives and habits.

There are arguments for and against arranged marriages; especially in modern societies where the practice is prevalent. One of the strongest arguments for arranged marriages is the longevity of such marriages. My own parents’ marriage was arranged sixty-two years ago and still going strong. Those who argue against arranged marriages claim that such a marriage is as good or as bad as the people arranging it. Coercion to marry is commonly considered a violation of fundamental human rights in most Western societies. It is also a known fact that couples who defy arranged marriages in certain (especially rural) places, are sometimes separated or even killed.

In the case of my cousin, his marriage was a great success. They had a wonderful wedding attended by two large families and friends. They moved away to another country where my cousin works and the marriage continues on in its thirty-fifth year.

In an ever-changing world and values, it is difficult for one to say which is better; an arranged marriage that lasts a life time or a love marriage which fails due to a variety of reasons.

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