Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Marriage in Qatar

Disclaimer: This article was published in a book entitled Qatar: Then & Now. I have decided to publish it on my blog too.


Marriage in Qatar

The acceleration and pace at which Qatar has transformed, judging just by the last decade is staggering. So staggering indeed, the word 'rapid' doesn't seem to do it justice anymore. As such, I think it is only wise to limit my opinion on how Qatar has changed to specific social areas in a Qatari citizen's life. I will concentrate on the social aspects which I think need our dire attention which, as a result, may make my opinion piece seem overly critical to the reader but I hope that the reader realizes that I am only critical because I care about my country; I care about improving it even further and making it as great as I know it could be. And also, because I am sure the other essays in this book have touched upon a lot of the positive aspects of the transformation of Qatar which I am in no way denying. I concede that there are a lot of positive aspects to the transformation that Qatar has been through (one of which, is the existence of this very book you are reading) but I want to concentrate on what has perhaps escaped through the cracks or is possibly a new phenomenon that got created as a side effect of the transformation and improvement that is still on-going here. The main purpose is, therefore, to shed some light on these issues that need to be addressed and will be the foundations upon which we can begin to formulate a remedy for them. A remedy that can negate these social problems from ever spawning bigger and more complex problems that could be even harder to deal with and would end up plaguing the society as a whole prohibiting it from ever reaching its true potential.

Qatar has generally progressed in an unprecedented rate and has achieved a lot in terms of improving education, building a stronger economy, having an exceptionally high employment rate, maintaining safety and staying true to its conservative traditional roots. Looking at these alone, one cannot help but be impressed and proud... and rightly so, these are all worthy of our pride. But dig a little bit below the surface and you will discover some deeply engraved social problems that need to be addressed. I will discuss only one of them here.

Traditional (arranged) marriage

Typical marriages between Qatari families are arranged. The mom (usually) goes scouting for 'eligible' women and decides which one suites her son best. The son can sometimes see a picture of the 'chosen girl' before-hand (depending on the girl's family views of course - some don't even allow that). He may not speak to her though, until after engagement and even then, they cannot go out to a restaurant or anywhere else unless there is a male chaperon accompanying them (usually the chosen girl's younger brother). They can talk on the phone though. So, practically speaking, they get to know each other mainly by phone and at least in theory, if they realize they are incompatible for any reason, the engagement is off. Then they go back to square one where the mom scouts for other eligible women. This is a purely traditional phenomenon and it is absurdly outdated. I understand that this was the norm back in the days of our parents generation but the difference between the world we, the new generation, live in, and the world they lived in is huge. We, the young adults in Qatar, are a testament to one of the biggest generation gaps that ever existed in this world. A generation gap that has been widened beyond belief by the unprecedented development Qatar has been through and by the interconnectedness of this globalised era which makes the whole world seem like one huge village. I understand, therefore, the importance of preserving our traditions and values; but I also understand that some of these traditions no longer make sense because they simply do not work anymore. The new generation is enlightened and has seen more, therefore expects more. Is it such a stretch to expect marriage to be, at the very least, with someone you know well enough to be able to decide whether that person is compatible with you on a mental, spiritual, and emotional level? This is a person you are going to spend the rest of your life with, for god's sake! How can you decide on whether that person is the one you want to spend your life with just by talking with him/her on the phone? Am I the only one who thinks this is preposterous and is an injustice to all of us young Qataris? Surely, I am not, but I suspect most of us settle for it as it is the only way for traditional Qatari families to marry because where else can you meet the opposite sex here? Everything else that relates with contact between the opposite sex is looked down upon; it is a taboo and we have to just accept it. For example, According to Rand-Qatar Policy Institute, 76% of Qatari women who participated in their survey, refuse to get employment in the private sector because it is a mixed gender environment (source: The Peninsula; Sat, Nov 1, 2008; p1). Why, I ask, do we have to accept this as the norm without even so much as questioning it? I am all for preserving our traditions and culture but not when those traditions no longer make sense either rationally or religiously. I have painted a picture that is perhaps guilty of generalization but I contend that it is still based on what the majority of Qatari families are like. There are exceptions nowadays to these rules and in the spirit of integrity I mention those here, but it is important to emphasize that those are nevertheless exceptions to the norm. We need to truly debate whether traditional arranged marriages merit their existence as the only ‘real’ acceptable way of getting married in Qatar, in this day and age. If not, what are the alternative ways of getting married that are considered to be still viable here (keep in mind, according to the RQPI survey 76% of women don’t even want to work in a place that allows contact with the other sex)? There needs to be a rational discussion in a public sphere between the young Qatari adults that discuss these questions. That will be the first step towards truly adapting and taking advantage of all that our ever-changing, ever-improving country is providing for us. I believe that that will be the beginning of the process of designing a remedy that fixes at least one of the aspects in our society that escaped through the cracks of improvement.