Very interesting question, Zainab. My initial questions to you or anyone would be:
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1) How do you define the so-called typical rishta process?
2) Who asks for rishtas from whom and for whom?
3) Who introduces the families to each other? / How did they 'get to know' each other - the source, person?
4) Who accepts/rejects rishtas and on what basis?
If families were introduced by family members, relatives or friends, I feel things could be quite different than if the source of introduction is a match-maker service, an ad in newspaper, matrimonial websites or any other third unknown party (eg. unexpected encounter of two strangers in a café, hotel, airport, shopping mall etc.). If you know someone somehow, you feel somewhat obliged to act in a particular way and cannot easily allow yourself certain acts, which might be common if one is introduced to each other by a match-maker institution. People also often take it for granted that if they know the families are known to be nice that they actually are so and that their children too are 'naik and shareef'.
As for the traditional procedure the girls and guys need to go through:
- They come to see each other or should I say they come to first see where and how the family lives and then how the family members look like, how well educated they are (and even their relatives), where they work, how much they earn, what kind of contacts they have (to trace some mutual friends) and what do they expect from each other (mostly in terms of dowry, place of living, oh and even nationality, etc.).
- For girls: They are supposed to act like dolls (easily controlled by others) and outwardly look like no less than a princess. They need to be well educated as this will show if they have potential to earn money with their degree. Nowadays many families expect the girls to actually earn something and bring lots of dowry with her (many don't utter it directly, but often in ways that you somehow still get their message). Girls should also be able to run a house. A beautiful combo of doll-princess-superwoman-like daughter-in-law.
- For boys: They are supposed to look decent, have a good education as well and earn a lot. So that they can fulfill their needs and bear all kind of 'nachray' from their potential wife (though: the well-known 'bossy nature' of men, their short temperament and the possibility of them turning out 'kanjoos and greedy' are somewhat left ignored).
I am not going to mention how critically girls are observed. However, I do feel that guys are looked at critically as well. See, I think it always depends on what exactly you are looking for. You have this one meeting and you need to more or less figure out in those few minutes if someone is good enough for you or not. Thus, you end up 'staring'. Is this good or is this bad? What other option is there? Pictures can be deceiving as much as looks can in real. What you get to know about those complete new families in those few minutes could be so different than what kind of people they actually are (since here too it is all about how honest you are). Girls are taught to serve drinks to their guests from a very young age. In order to feel less awkward, they could simply see those families as their guests and treat them like their guests. This way, they know that they are only doing their duty - which is given so much emphasis in Islam. I do not necessarily think that guys enjoy been taken to one house after another, also been observed by the family and obliged to behave in a particular manner as well. They might feel as uncomfortable as girls do. Thus, I do not wish to evaluate who 'suffers' more: girls or guys? In the end, it is also all about how you perceive these processes, how much you value them and how sensitive you are.
Sadly, the things Islam puts emphasis on are somewhat becoming less and less important. All these things: money, wealth, looks are temporary. Someone once said to picture a situation where you choose your partner based on these three things and that a certain event takes all of these things away from you. What will you do? Most of us want companions with whom we could share our feelings and thoughts, who somewhat value the same things and who help us become a better person. Hardly anyone asks the potential partners if they pray five times a day (though, I assume praying five times a day does not actually mean that you are a good human being or even a good Muslim), etc. But one thing is for sure, if someone rejects you it does not mean that you are not good enough, it only means that they are looking for a different profile. This is something which is also common when it comes to university and job applications/selections.
Geesh, this reply ended up being too long and I don't have the time to proof-read it and see if I answered your questions properly, Zainab. And one last thing, I do not wish to defend either side or generalize things (even though, I am aware of the fact that my reply may sound one sided at times).
Answered by: Sumi | 51 months ago