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Customs and Culture >
Is the practice of Muslim arranged marriages changing?

Marriage is a sacred duty in Islam, an act that traditionally was not and is not only between two individuals but between the two families of the prospective bride and groom. Traditionally arranged marriages have been the norm in most Muslim societies. Parents draw on a number of sources in the family and community to find suitable spouses for their children, from relatives and close family friends to matrimonial brokers. The prospective spouse is thoroughly investigated by contacts with teachers, professors, employers, friends, neighbors, and colleagues to learn about his or her character.

While this system continues to exist, change is occurring slowly in many Muslim countries and in Muslim communities in the West. Some parents and their children in Europe and America may look to their homeland for an appropriate spouse; others engage in alternative methods for finding a spouse, including meetings at family and community social events and exploring Muslim social networks or contacts at university. Some engage in what some have termed halal (Islamically permissible) dating with chaperones. Many other young Muslim professionals advertise in the matrimonial pages of Muslim publications or on Muslim Internet sites.

It is important to note that even in the case of halal dating, observant Muslims are more accurately described as “courting,” meeting with the explicit intention of finding a suitable spouse and not merely for casual or uncommitted companionship. Some young Muslims, who are interested in more casual dating, are rethinking traditional Islamic guidelines in light of what they see as new relationship paradigms, seeking a suitable middle ground between modern relationship norms and traditional sensibilities. Of course, as in other religious communities, other young people simply assimilate to the wider society and ignore traditional as well as modern religious guidelines.

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