Muscat: A new generation of Omanis say that arranged marriages are less likely to survive, compared with couples who choose their own spouses. According to figures from the Department of Marriage Registration, the divorce rate rose by 12 per cent in 2012, and young people blame wedding matchmakers for the problem.
"How can you have any feelings for a woman you regard as your sister or, even worse, when you are told to marry someone you have never seen before because your parents have arranged it?" 32-year-old Mahmood Al Saifi, an electrical engineer at a power company, asked Times of Oman.
Al Saifi ended his loveless marriage to his uncle's daughter just two years after the wedding.
He then married a woman of his choice less than a year after the divorce. It was not a popular move, and three years on, his parents still refuse to acknowledge his second marriage.
Marriages between cousins or families of the same tribe are common in Oman, and tribal elders say more than half of all weddings in the Sultanate are arranged in this manner.
"It is a tradition that was started by our forefathers. We just continue it to this day. It all has to do with wealth, family ties, and tribal honour. Marrying your daughter to a complete stranger is unacceptable. It is like allowing a boy to jump over your fence and steal your fruit," Sh. Musallam Al Murshidi, a tribal elder at the village of Dhiyana in Khaboora, explained.
Rebels with a cause
But young people now question the age-old wisdom of letting their parents choose life partners for them. They say they should have the right to decide who they want to marry. "Daughters are not 'fruits,' and boys don't jump 'fences' when they fall in love. This ancient wisdom has no place in modern society. The boundaries of villages are no longer marked by a line of date trees but are expanding into big towns with plenty of places for girls and boys to meet," said 28-year-old Hajer Al Fahadi, one of several young women to refuse an arranged marriage.
Hajer is now considered one of the rebels against arranged marriage, who have been cropping up from the new generation of educated young people. These youths want to change the powerful traditions of their ancestors. They meet at universities and start relationships away from the watchful eyes of their parents—a far cry from the strict old regime of village life, which has segregated boys and girls for centuries.
Mohamed Al Shahi, a Sultan Qaboos University lecturer, stated, "The most powerful element that will eventually tear down the wall of matchmaking is online social media. Young people of both sexes increasingly use Twitter, Facebook, and online chatting to get to know each other."
Although online romances and university campus integration are becoming powerful catalysts to fostering relationships that lead to love marriages, Al Shahi warns that traditional matchmaking will not be phased out in a hurry.
"There will be always factors such as money playing a large role. A rich family will use their family wealth to force a young person to marry someone (they approve of) to avoid being cut off from the inheritance. That's why we see only well employed and independent young people charting their own marriage courses at the moment," Al Shahi pointed out.