Perceptions of Arranged Marriages by Young Pakistani Muslim Women Living in a Western Society *

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INTRODUCTION

This study explores perceived attitudes of second generation female Muslim Pakistanis towards arranged marriages. It specifically attempts to assess the process of mate selection as influenced by the traditional values linked with the concept of arranged marriages, and also examines if western values have been internalized or assimilated and hence are themselves significantly influencing the type of mate selection process one adheres to. Five themes, namely, attitudes towards romantic love in marriage, preferred method of mate selection, redefining arranged marriages, reasons for engaging in an arranged marriage, and breaking the silence, are investigated from the Pakistani female's definition of the situation.

Being a Muslim immigrant in the Western hemisphere poses quite a challenge in terms of adaptation to the new environment. Language, culture, and religion, are the three main factors which are considered to contribute to such a challenge. To survive, many Muslim families, especially parents, are forced to alter their life styles to fit the model of the West. Hence, many end up compromising the old factors with that of the host society (El-Kholy, 1974; Waugh, Abu-Laban, & Qureshi, 1983).

These surroundings present a greater challenge with the rearing and socialization of Muslim immigrant's children in the context of the North American culture and institutions. Pakistani children, compared to their [foreign-born parents], tend to be more acculturated or assimilated into the westernized way of life. Exposure of Pakistani children to the different internal and external (i.e. peer groups, educational institutions, mass media) influences stemming from the host society and from their parental cultural background generates much conflict and modifications in the structure of the Pakistani Muslim immigrant family (Wakil, Siddique, & Wakil, 1981; Waugh, Abu-Laban, & Qureshi, 1983).

One such influence in particular is regarding the mate selection process. In individualistic societies of the West (i.e., Canada & United States), the mate selection process is a self-choice system based on the factor of love. Here, the decision is an individual one made by the man and woman involved. In this system, young men and women are expected to date, court, fall in love, and then decide whether to get married, in accordance with their choice of a marriage partner, with or without parental consent. It is a function of greater self-expression and personal gratification in which the individuals in question are in control. Both romantic love and companionship are perceived as critical components for marriage (Dion & Dion, 1996).

In contrast, in many traditional societies, the joint or interdependence family system is the norm. The traditional system of mate selection is characterized by a marriage arranged by the families of the individuals (Kurian, 1979). The notion of arranged marriages is not foreign to South Asian communities. The majority of marriages in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka are arranged (Kurian, 1991). This marriage is defined as contractual agreement, written or unwritten, between two families, rather than individuals. Here, the principle of familialism and interdependent social relationships are dominant, especially for females. The individual's interests, needs, and happiness are considered secondary to the interests of the family and community (Kurian, 1979; Dion & Dion, 1996). This type of marriage helps maintain social tradition, by allowing one to fulfill religious, as well as social obligations towards the family, community, and society (Kapadia, 1966; Ahmed, 1986). Because a love marriage presumes one to be engaged in a relationship prior to marriage, it may, by definition be perceived as a threat to family honor, associated with chastity, and hence may be less valued by family members, the community, and society (Fox, 1975; Dion & Dion, 1996). …