Thursday Dec 25, 2003

Arranged Marriages Still Popular In Malaysia

By Kazi Mahmood, IOL Southeast Asia correspondent

A file photo of a Malay wedding in Malaysia
KUALA LUMPUR, December 23 ( - The traditional Muslim society in Malaysia is still relying on arranged marriages, though many are turning to love as the new means to hook a life partner, experts told on Wednesday, December 23.
"Arranged marriages still exist in Malaysia, though it is not the norm by which the younger generation in other states than Kelantan will abide when it comes to find love and get married," said Aisya Ahmad, who hails from Kelantan, one of the states controlled by the Islamic Party of Malaysia.
Aisya, a former lawyer and lecturer, personally believes in love marriages but insists that arranged marriages were still very popular in Kelantan.
"Outside, in the other states, love marriage is the answer, but when it comes to Kelantan, Kedah, Terengganu 60% are arranged marriages," said Aisya, who is involved in a group that acts as middleman in arranged marriages.
She asserted that arranged marriages are more common in certain states with a majority of Malay-Muslims, while in other states love marriages are becoming the norm.
The 27-year-old lecturer opined that arranged marriages tend to last longer than love ones and that in her state such marriages have the blessings of the younger generations too, especially the males.
Statistics show that the recurrence in divorce cases in recent years in the country involved more young couples who had fallen in love in the first place and were married later.
The extent of the failures in love marriages is now of growing concern to Malaysian authorities, which calls it "spring marriages" due to the speed at which younger generations were getting married and divorced.
"Three months, to six months, that is what it takes for some couples to be divorced after being madly in love for sometime," a member of the enforcement division of the Islamic Development Center (JAIS) said.
"Arranged marriages can last longer though it depends on who arrange the marriage, who set up the families and the brides to be married in the first place," said Aisya.
"The middle person in the operation is important; he or she would want to know the details about the young men or women being set up for a long lasting marriage.
"Males are more keen to listen to their parents when the latter make a choice for them. They still believe that their parents' choices will bring them good since the gateway to paradise lies under the foot of the mother," she added.
Aisya recalled setting up a few marriages herself during her days at the University.
Another Malaysian young lady, to be married to a man introduced to her by her parents, asserted it took her some time to struggle with the reality of this arranged marriage.
A university graduate, working and financially independent, Amira said she met Mr. Right guy in his shining armor a few weeks after her engagement with the parents' choice.
"I was devastated, I am still not alright with this but I have no reason to reject my parents' choice and make them suffer because of me," she said.
"Love marriage would be great for me but I have decided to marry the one my parents introduced to me," Amira added with a faint heart, barely hiding her sadness.
She decided to break off from her ‘lover’ while the love she had for him was still nurturing.
"I know it is saddening, but that is the way it is in Malaysia, love marriages still do not have the say in rural societies," said another expert in the matter.
Abdul Manaf, a middleman, lives in Kuala Lumpur and finds it hard to believe that love marriage may become the norm in Malaysia.
"Kuala Lumpur is a hectic city, yet it is in this busy atmosphere that I set up girls with their prospective husbands, this with the accord of their parents indeed," he told IOL.
"You know, arranged marriage is the best, I was married by my mother who had her eyes on my wife since I was at school, and I can say that it was love at first sight when she introduced her to me," said a smiling Abdul, married for 30 years.
In the Malay belt represented by Kelantan, Kedah, Terengganu, three states where Islam is strongly represented and where the PAS is powerful, arranged marriages have a heavy political lining.
"Arranged marriages are also done to secure political allegiance in those states. For example, a PAS-related family will marry their children with PAS supporters in a bid to secure good relationship and understanding," said Aisya.
In Malaysia, politics is one of the most dangerous ‘sports’ since it can break families and even cause divorces in extreme cases.
"Thus families tend to tie their children with those who think like them, on a political line," she said.
At the university level she said, if one member gets married to someone of a different political group, "it means the girl's group is losing a member because definitely the girl would follow the husband in almost everything."
"That is how the strength of the political parties is maintained in those areas, " said the matchmaker.
"Anyhow, an arranged marriage is very much of wisdom, and the wisdom of it is that love comes after marriage in most cases," she said.
"Sometimes we believe that the aged know better than us thus we will agree with anything they say and do, but when we become older and more aware, we see that life is to be destined by ourselves," Anissa told IOL pressing her view that love marriages too would work.
Anissa, working for a university in Kuala Lumpur, said that most of the love marriages fail because of the background of those involved.
"It is true that divorce rarely happens in arranged marriages but I would not marry anyone whom I do not love in the first place, to me love comes first though in this society, love can wait," she said, based on the experiences of her own sisters.
"They are all happily married to the men they had chosen themselves, the reason of their success is that our parents supported them in the first place, thus I do not believe that only arranged marriages work," insisted Anissa, still looking for the man of her life.
Girls and boys are very independent in this country since they seldom stay with their parents after their secondary education.
A majority has to leave their hometowns to live on campuses in universities. This brings them closer to love and many of them would bring their future spouses back to their hometowns to introduce to their parents.
"Many of them are still like misguided missiles, they tend to believe in the mirage of love marriages, and many of them fail to keep the marriage after a few months, this is a trend now in Malaysia and we have to check on that, " said the JAIS member.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"