Monday, July 04, 2005

Arranged marriages

I never quite got how that works. I'm going to write this from a non-personal perspective because I feel very awkward talking about my own experiences with this. My impression of this whole arranged marriage scene, is prostituting yourself for marriage. I really want to write about it though, so I'll draw from the numerous people I know who've been through this.

The term arranged marriage is not accurate at all actually. Its called here what, Salon Marriage, which is not as bad as arranged marriages actually. This marriage setup to me is like Blind Dates with a goal. A goal of getting married (which is a bigger goal I presume than just getting laid). Can you imagine meeting a total stranger for the first time, and thinking, is she or he the right person for me to marry? Insane, if you ask me.

I think I might do this in installments. So maybe more to come later.
May 6, 2005.

Installment 2 (July 4, 2005):

I have to start by mentioning an incident where a girl was offended about the first part of this post once before and asked me why I call arranged marriage a form of prostitution? Well, I don't mean the traditional meaning of prostitution, and I don't mean it just about the girls. But I suppose that most of the time, both parties try to sell themselves, sell the good qualities in themselves that is. If not to be more appealing to the other party, then atleast not to be rejected, even if they will reject the other party later.

I cannot generalize as to how arranged marriages are being done today in Egypt. Lots of different ways were people get to meet and end up married. A friend of mine who lives in Kuwait brought a Lebanese friend of his once on a visit to Egypt. The main goal of the trip was to witness the non-conservative life in Egypt (read belly dancers, hookers, night clubs, etc.). Among their endeavors was a trip to a near by town where they met a family (among many families there) that was selling their daughter for a marriage --for as long as they wanted, a day, a week, a month, whatever, all for its price! (I gotta remember the name of that town). But that's not the kind of marriage I'm talking about, neither am I talking about 'urfi marriage. Which with all due respect to the Sheikhs and Muftis I find it blatantly haram, and I can't believe that they can be so rigid in calling it an acceptable form of marriage just because they're measuring the validity of the marriage with the historical measures of a thousand years ago.

I'll disregard all those weird forms of marriages, and the other form of two meeting each other naturally, falling in love, and deciding that they want to spend the rest of their lives together, and hence get married.

In the non-traditional social circles in Egypt, arranged marriage is as simple as an arranged date with marriage as a goal in mind. Somehow, it works for girls and guys who don't meet enough new people to accidently bump into a future spouse, or who meet enough people but in social circles that don't make suitable for marriage companionship. Like a belly dancer who meets guys every day, but doesn't want to marry from her work place for example.

When it comes to that, people are getting pretty practical. Too practical if you ask me. Which is strange, considering how unpractical our culture is. Yes, some people do eventually fall in love with his/her arranged date, and so their marriage does make some sense. But those who don't, why do they get married?! because they have to! What a life, sharing my life with someone who is 'suitable', and hoping that emotions will develop through our companionship, or not, who cares --as long as they're suitable!

Talk about practicality. I've seen a news piece once on TV about some group in New York that sets up this group singles events. Tens of singles come in, and each one moves around, sits and talks with each one in the event for 10 minutes. Each person has a name tag, and at the end of the event, people drop the names of the people they liked in a box, and if its mutual, they get to meet again. How about that, eh? Every culture does it in its own way I guess.

And as Loulou puts it down in the comments section: "
At the end of the day what is important is that he's the right guy - not how I met him. Through my mother, through a friend, walking on the street, whatever."


Al Sharief said...

Oh No What a coincidence!G>
I 've just attended one of those "Saloon Marriage" introduction in a totally unplanned affair from my part...
I did not plan to be a part of that at all. I was the substitute driver at the last minute & I've found myself in the midth of it all as an idiotic witness. It was not so bad (till the time I fled the seen). I've known the bride candiate family. I did not know the candiate groom to be...
It did not apear to be that they never saw each other before, Iwas not sure & I did not care...
Women were naturally dominating the conversation...
Soon It turned out as a proof of the world is small and they known distant parts of their mutual famlies some of them already married.
Suddenly one of the elder ladies, looked & talked like the "Khatibaa" stood up and isolated the candita couple into the balackony, just like that...
She new exactly what she was doing. there was no formal inroduction or any thing & I sort of did not like that.but I did not say any thing...There were few heavy moments of silence and casual remarks every once in a while...
It was a Women Show ..&this reaffirms that...

Marriage is an institution made by women for women.

I gave the couple about half an hour, I stood up & walked across the hall, opened the Balackony,
shook hands with the Man to be, smiled at the women to be and wished them both good luck. I excused myself & I collected the only other older man (& his wife) from the women crowd & left. I was the driver.

PS: the groom to be was far mor anxious than the bride to be who apeared a bit more comfortable among her felow women crowd. This may reflect one of the modern times
"Saloon Marriage"

Mohamed said...

Oh, I think this Salon Marriage has become very modern in many aspects. You'll hear all kinds of stories. Its amazing what people will do to get married!

egyptiansally said...

i love this: "marriage is an institution made by women for women." excellent point.

and mohamed, i was actually thinking about blogging about this a while back. i've been in egypt for seven months and i've been "set up" like 4 times. always someone invites me over for tea/hanging out and i get there like in jeans and a sweatshirt and there's a guy there, sometimes alone, sometimes with family (all dressed up, lol). it's really quite funny. and i never know what people think when they do this sorta thing-- like, oh, i know so-so and so-so and he's 25 and oh!!! i know so-so and so-so and she's 24!!! PERFECT!

and all those guys knew what was up beforehand (whereas i didn't) and i couldn't help but feel sorry for them.... i always wanted to be nice to them, in a sympathetic sorta way, but not be too nice so they wouldn't think they were on to something. 3 of them asked the middle man for my number later and i had to be like, are you freaking kidding me?!

coming from the states, i think the whole thing is really awkward and bizarre.

Mohamed said...

Amazing how everyone tries to setup everyone together here, eh! Even I tried to setup my ex with a guy I know whom I thought was very suitable for her. Setting up people together is a common hobby here apparently.

But really, its like one of the main goals of our society. To ensure that every man and woman are married (never mind happy and in love). I believe it is a human need (if not sooner than later), but I'm not sure why we have to push for it so hard.

Sallinette, I think they set you up without telling so that they don't hurt your feelings if the guy doesn't like you, or they know how absurd you think of it so they wanna trap you.. hehe.

egyptiansally said...

yeah, marriage is on everyone's mind here. when i say my long term plans and they don't include marriage, people always freak out. lol.

yeah, i'm very vocal about how ridiculous the whole setup thing is. don't blame people for not wanting to tell me in advance. but you're right, it does make sense not to tell me in case the guy isn't into me. but i feel bad for the guys who are in on it because i'm never gonna like them... not for anything, but simply the whole notion is laughable to me.

Hellme said...

Mo, what do you think of boys who date women, go out with them, have relatively 'relaxed' notions of social constructs, and then insist to get married through 'salonat' arrangements?

There's plenty of them.

Anonymous said...

I used to hate that kind of arranged marriage, I’ve always thought that I can’t marry a guy who thinks in that way, who is willing to marry someone he doesn’t know.

That idea I had changed a little bit.

And I guess that the way people perceive that kind of arranged marriage depends on what is the reason for them to get married in the first place.

Reasons for getting married differs from a person to the other, some might sound logical, other might not.

Some would say we will get married only if we loved someone and we need to spend the rest of our lives together. In that case, love should come first, then marriage comes second. And arranged marriage won’t work in that case.

Other people would think of marriage as a legal way of having sex. In that case, they don’t care much about love, since they view it from a materialistic point of view.

It can’t be denied that humans need both emotions and physical interaction. But as it was once said before in that blog, still physical interaction should be preceded by emotions.

In conclusion, people might reach a point of emotional starvation. It’s at that point when they go for arranged marriage, saving themselves from other things. Arranged marriage could be good at times, when a person fails to find a suitable partner for him/her. It could be thought of as a start for a relationship, it either fails or succeeds. I’ve always believed that there is a match for every person. But they just meet by coincidence. May be the only way for meeting your other part is through arranged marriage. Who knows!!

Roba said...

It certainly is insane, and I will NEVER agree to lower myself as to be put into a position that you have so properly coined as "Marriage prostitution". It's too equivalent to being a "lady toy". Yet, it is ironic that this very traditional form of marriage actually works. Maybe its just the fact that the women who agree to succumb to such a degrading form of marriage are too tethered by tradition to stand up to problems that ultimately lead to divorce.

Mohamed said...

Hellme, why do you refer to them as 'boys' and 'women' (as opposed to boys and girls, or men and women)? Just wondering if that's part of the question.

I think you're right, and there are plenty of such men. Alot would accept for themselves what they don't accept from others. Many men would be dating other women, and possibly sleeping around, and when it comes to marriage, they want a conservative girl who has never even dated before. I've been in debates before with friends about this, with me asking "how come its okay for you to date and sleep around, but you wouldn't want to marry a woman who did the same?!".

I think many Egyptian men have a certain image for their wives, which involves them being conservative and somewhat traditional. Remember Naguib Mahfouz's Bein ElKasrein I believe it was. See ElSayed AbdelTawwab marrying Ameena, and hanging with the dancer for his pleasure in the Awwama. Typical of what many Egyptians want; a secure, stable, conservative home, and a playful life elsewhere.

Anonymous: I agree with you. I think you're looking at it in a balanced way, and that's the way I plan to finish writing that post in. You're right, it was suggested here before that love comes before sex (but not all the time :)).

Roba: When it is degrading, its not just degrading to women, but to men as well.

haal said...

It is a serious topic, then.

Would you just write the rest of your thoughts on this?

I had one arranged marriage planned for me, of course without me knowing. Once I sensed it, I was pissed and just told them that I don't like these things. It was my mom arranging it with her friend's son.

It was so embarressing to everyone that this act was never dared done again.

Hellme said...

The male species never grow up enough to be 'men.' :)

Mohamed said...

Haal, a number of things holding me back from finishing this topic! Maybe I'll dump some more thoughts in a few days.

JD said...

egyptiansally wrote: "coming from the states, i think the whole thing is really awkward and bizarre."

Ethnocentrism strikes again. :P

Me,Myself and I said...

Wonder if anyone (CAPMUS??? that would be something) has any kind of statistics on divorce rate in arranged marriages versus "make you own" marriage kinda thing. Have not tried the arranged ones, was just exposed to actually a couple of those settings..but was never told, my mother knew me better..she confessed later..and then upon moving back from the states some friends tried to set me up with a guy--resisted ad nauseam then yielded from the zaan. I suppose i was sort of challenged (and miffed) by the fact that even though a hip guy..his requirement was a woman who prayed and did not drink..lemme tell you he was a sort of a "sayee" guy...though an accomplished lawyer, good bearing, handsome..and the works but really one who sleeps around- so the idea that he just asks for these two "requirements" pissed me off..what if i did both but yet i was a piece of S...went to the setting, the min he walked in i ordered a drink (was drinking then) and the bugger asked to see me again..hummmm ..anyway..i did not see him, met my ex, feel madly in love with him, then madly out of love with i am not sure what to make out of this, if something should be made out..but after all what has been said and five gotta marry some one who you not only love and have passion for but also and most important i suppose someone you LIKE...

programmer craig said...

I don't think it's "awkward and bizarre" and I come from the states too! You know what bizarre? The mail order bride fad that was going around in the US in the 80s. Girl wants to come to the US so bad she'll marry some random fat bald guy twice her age, and that's a good marrriage!

Now, it's the internet, and not mail order. So many singles sights wouldn't exist if people weren't desperate to hook up. Obviously, in today's world people (all over) are having trouble finding appropriate matches for themselves. I don't really understand what's going on, but there's no denying it happens a lot, and all over the world not just the ME.

Personally, this "Salon Marriage" thing sounds a lot better than some of the other methods. The only problem I have with it, is it seems like it puts a lot of pressure on people to perform socially, and to be on their best behavior. I'd be very nervous - especially in a room full of women!

And, guys, be honest here... when you go to the nightclubs or the beaches to meet women, you aren't looking for a mate. I met a lot of women that way and never considered marriage until I started dating a woman I worked with. A guy in a nightclub is chasing the best looking woman he thinks he can get, regardless of personality, suitability or even whether he gets along with her. And I know a few things about nightclubs, bars and dives. I never once heard a guy say he thought he'd meet the girl of his dreams at a club :p

doshar said...

if you are desparately looking for a wife, and everywhere you go you look at every girl you see and think if this could be the one? and one day in an outing you really see a girl that you like. you don't know her from before, so it is just the most superficial things you know, like what you can know from a salon meeting. and you tell her after the outing/meeting whatever, that you are interested to see if the both of you can be together, and you get to know each other with that goal in mind. (this scenario happens alot by the way)and very shortly you get engaged even though you are not in love yet,but think she has a lot of qualities you want , wouldn't that be the same as a salon marriage minus the first awkward meeting?

basically there are two types of marriage i think;
the unplanned
people who get married because they are in love. (spontaneous)
and the planned or arranged
peole who love each other because they want to get married , whatever it is the way they meet the first time.

and considering the statistics; no rules!!
except that when in the arranged types you have your wits about you to avoid disaster, and you can fall in love but know your rights and obligations
and in the love stories; you are not thinking clearly, the risk is great. if it turns out good though, it is the best

roora said...

sally come on , my cousins are in the sates and one of them get married in saloon way , by the way it is more common in the states bec arabs get to know each other over there bec their chance to meet people of the same culture is less and i know actually some there did that ,

ok regarding the traditional marriage well in the past i used to hate this way bec i eas looking for a more romantic way but actually , i belive that we as adults we can tell whether the person we meet whether we like or not, sometimes we meet people and we feel as good and as ease as we never did before and sometimes people leave footprints in our lives quicker than we can think , i belive it is something from God, who makes people like each other and they become friends and aquaintances and same goes for marriage , you can never tell how or when you will feel so good and so happy with ,

mohamed you wrote "But I suppose that most of the time, both parties try to sell themselves, sell the good qualities in themselves that is. If not to be more appealing to the other party, then atleast not to be rejected, even if they will reject the other party later"
i think all the people do that , even those who are not in saloon but yet you cant pretend for long

the only thing that I REALLY recommend that in case of saloon dont rush into any procedures , bec you may think that you like the person or bec you spontaneously act in pretended way that it is not yours and when the other partned finds out by time hisor her real emotions and that they are uncompatible they freek out , so time is the best test at the end

the fact the married people from saloon are not usually happy , well i dont know why , but i know so many example of married couple from long love story that stayed for years and they were in many divorce states ,

it is not a gurantee then , nothing is takes as a gurantee except to pray God to match you with some one fine

Twosret said...

I always say you never know where you will find your soul mate. Fate plays a big role.

7 years ago in Boca Raton, Florida, USA I went to school with a Jewish, Italian, Moroccan and Irish girlfriends and they have set me up pretty much.

I don't think it was bizzare, I took it lightly and joked around. Sometimes I will hide in the powder room and totally refuse to go back to the table because I couldn't stop laughing and sometimes I will see the person again.

I would say to any single man or woman take it easy and check out your options and enjoy every stage in your life.

LouLou said...

I think of arranged marriage as marrying someone I met through my family. At the end of the day what is important is that he's the right guy - not how I met him. Through my mother, through a friend, walking on the street, whatever.

Having said that I will agree with Mohamed that in a sense it is prostituting yourself. I mean a few days back my mother freaked out because I walked in from the mall & I was carrying a lot of shopping bags & she had some ladies over for lunch.Apparently some of these women have eligible sons that she hopes to set me up with & she was upset that I gave them the impression that I was too expensive!!She said it intimidates people if they think a girl is used to a very high standard of life etc...

It's not just that. My mother & my aunts get upset if I tell people that am not a good cook or if women are talking about pregnancy & childbirth & I get bored & go & sit with the men.

Even my friends do it. Some of them would ask me not to smoke infront of someone they hope to set me up with.

It seems I can't take a breath of my own accord. Everything I think, say or do must have the objective of showing how 'suitable' I am.If I give in to that - which am not planning to - it WOULD feel like prostituting myself.

Of course because everyone tries so hard to 'market' me as something other than what I am all of her candidates are usually completely wrong for me because they've been given the impression am someone else other than myself.This is the main reason am opposed to arranged marriages.Just don't see how this kind of fake set up can lead to anything but a disasterous marriage.

Twosret said...

"Prostituting" WOT?! a genius expression that is....yeah right lol last time I heard of a 3aris visiting a 3arousa's house he opened his zipper and she sat there moaning and the parents were watching.

I think we need to be very careful judging a meduim that our parents have chosen to themselves that brought us to this world.

programmer craig said...

Yeah, Twosret, that term gets used way too much. There are still a lot of militant feminists in the US who claim all marriage is prostitution. They make a seemingly logical case, but it's completetly contrary to human nature.

Twosret said...


I don't mean to be out of topic here but that is what I call prostitution ;)

I'm doing some research for my new article on Jewish-Americans vs. Arab-Americans and I came across the above....Now if we look at how the Jackson football mal-function mania crap and this event we will see the hypocrisy right there.

Will and Grace famous T.V. series and Grace's lesbian friend in real life is actually caressing Grace's boobs on public TV , the American audience that raised hell of Janet Jackson found this event funny!!!!

As Jay Leno says "I hate our culture people looking at our T.V. so why wouldn't they hate us"

End of venting :)

LouLou said...


When we talk about a political or intellectual prostitute we don't mean he/she is sleeping with anyone. We mean that he/she sells his/her personal convictions to the highest bidder i.e. in exchange for the best political position & the most power.Political prostitutes serve any regime even if its moral standards or political beliefs are opposed to theirs.

Similarly if I sell my personal habits/beliefs/lifestyle for the best marriage offer with someone who is doing the same then we are both prostituting ourselves. Because we are being mercenary & not honest with ourselves - just like the political prostitute.Yes I'm aware that married people do have sex with each other but that's besides the point here.


The reason the word prostitution is used a lot is that it's a very useful word that has a lot of meanings - not all of them literal or physical.

Mohamed said...

Well put Loulou. Also, what you said earlier sums up what I think of this thing: "At the end of the day what is important is that he's the right guy - not how I met him. Through my mother, through a friend, walking on the street, whatever."

Twosret said...


Thanks for the explanation. I can totally understand your first post and relate to how you feel. I lived in Egypt for three years and I could see how the whole world revolve around the marriage topic.

This is the first time I hear this term applied to arranged marriages or relationships in general. Would it apply to other kinds of marriages also? Is this term used a lot in Egypt?

Just wondering. Thanks.

Willow said...

"By women for women"? Whoo. That doesn't put men in a particularly good light, does it? Interesting, since--I know a lot of people who post here are Muslim--'marriage is half of religion'. Is this your actual opinion, Mohamed and Sharief, or are you just frustrated with the nerve-wracking state of marriage in Egypt?

What worries me is not the return of the saloon marriage, but the return of big dowries. I think this more than anything else points toward a dangerously mercantile attitude toward marriage. I hope they go back out of style again, in short order.

Mohamed said...

No Willow, ofcourse its not my opinion. At certain times, this statement could sound right though. Regarding the huge dowries, I used to think of marriage as an investment with no return.

I've seen lately that the most thing that makes many men here happy about their marriages and make them 'surrender', is their kids (not their wives)! I think that sucks.

programmer craig said...

LouLou, I really don't agree with you about being prostitues becaues they endeaver to please their spouse - in fact, I think a marriage between two people who are unwilling to change their behavior is doomed. However, I don't disagree enough to argue with you about it :)

I still don't like the word "prostitute" being applied to politics... I think it muddies the waters. If somebody is a liar, call them a liar. If they are immoral and unethical, say so. If they completely lack any political philosophy and support whatever cause is popular that day (This is John Kerry!) the call em a flip-flopper :p

This way, people understand what you find objectionable about the person. Just calling them a prostitute doesn't really say much about what's going on.

LouLou said...

"I really don't agree with you about being prostitues becaues they endeaver to please their spouse."

Who said anything about pleasing your spouse?We were talking about pretending to be someone you're not in order to get someone who would not otherwise be interested in you to marry you because the surrounding culture thinks you suit each other in social class or position or educational level or whatever.

How long can you keep up a pretence?And what happens when they do marry you & find out they did it under false pretences?A lifetime of being disappointed with each other & feeling cheated?Believe me. I've seen it happen.

I don't think people should get married unless there is some sort of compatability.Or at least if there is an area where they're not compatible they should be aware of it & willing to live with it.

"If they completely lack any political philosophy and support whatever cause is popular that day (This is John Kerry!) the call em a flip-flopper :p

In the Middle East, the term political prostitute is used to mean exactly that. A flip-flopper.

programmer craig said...

Well, I can agree with what you said here, dishonesty destroys trust, and what marriage can succeed without trust? That's the most imporatnt ingredient in my opinion, besides love :)

Twosret said...


I still believe the three of us are talking different language :)

LouLou said...

"That's the most imporatnt ingredient in my opinion, besides love :)

Thank you for saying that. So you do believe in love. I was starting to think you were one of those people who keep telling me love has nothing to with marriage.

Twosret said...


I still disagree with the term being used on arranged marriages. Prostitution is not a favorable word used here in the US, England or Canada. When you actually use it people give you the dirty look if you know what I mean.

I think it can be used as marketing in return for money in general but it always impact a negative effect or opinion.

May be it is used more often in the middle east to reflect negativity. Every region and country use different english terminology.

I actually live in the heart of the United States and I would have noticed the use of the word wouldn't I?

I think this should conclude my comments on the arranged marriage prostitution dilemma.

LouLou said...


Yes I think am done with this topic too. I think everyone's position is now clear. Let's not get into an argument about terminology.

Al Sharief said...

Willow & Mo
Please note that The statement: "Marriage is an institution made by women for women" indeed has roots in the very old history of human development. Men were Hunters, Women on the other hand were gatherers of Plants, Flowers & seasonal foods. Eventually Women invented "Agriculture", and "Settled" every bodies in the "Agrarian" societies. Women, were in the lead then ( and very Powerful) at the early days of agrarian societies. That significantly contributed to the "Marriage Institution".

Some researchers take this to another interesting dimension that is : Women Invented Speech & language. Again, Men were Hunters, Hush...Hush all the time any sound would alert the animal/prey would result in running away (No Food),
or Attack hunter (Kill Man).Life & Death situation.

On the other hand women were gatherers, of plants, fruits, and seasonal foods, some of these plants were poisonous. Women had to be descriptive of these plant’s parts, colors , size, What to eat, When to eat, what is good, What Kill, any wrong pick could kill & wipe out the entire tribe. Life & Death matters. Women had to share the knowledge among themselves and passing it to the next generations of women. So women Invented speech ( among themselves first ) some researchers claim that speech in the era just pre-agrarian societies ( Speech and a primitive language) were kept secret among women. Eventually the Agrarian societies settled. Then, Women ruled.
Now, Think about that statment again.

Mohamed said...

I am thinking about the statement again now, hehe.. Very interesting interpretation. I like it!

Troy Worman said...

More than 50% of U.S. marriages end in divorce. I would imagine arranged marriages could do no worse.

Duluoz said...

"marriage is an institution made by women for women."

Actually the opposite is true, not surprisingly, seeing as how society has been typically dominated by male interests.

Men benefit from (good)marriage more than the woman does, in terms of health, sanity etc.

A good book explaining the mechanisms behind this is The Moral Animal (too much to explain here, but basically, imagine a society without monogomous marriage, imagine all the guys in the middle and the bottom who would always be without partners, and then imagine how this would effect society, to have more than half of the men single, desparate and lonely)

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Laila said...

There is one thing you are all missing. The effect of the economy on the Egyptian society. Young men in Egypt are shying away from marriage commitment for lack of work, and the extravagant demands of young girls seeking marriage. Also, let's not forget the ratio of men to women. In Egypt there are 4 women to every man available for marriage. Long time ago the meaning of arranged marriage was completely different. Young girls were forced by their parents to marry someone they did not chose nor knew anything about him. Now, we see girls aggressively searching for a husband whether through "Salon Marriage" or through networking by friends and families. The problem in Egypt is not about marriage it is more about the social laws in general. Women, still don't have choice or rights when they decide to get a separation from their spouse. Even with the Khul` law,a woman has to relinquish all her rights to get a divorce.

Maria Islam said...

Halo people..Now this is interesting..
Wish we had this 'Saloon Marriage ' thng in India too...
I must agree..The whole task of meetng guys in order to decide whether he can b the one is quite taxing :)