Thought for the Day - Anne Atkins - 07/03/2013
Our friend was called home to Lahore. We sensed nervousness, a strong obligation to familial duty, and a feeling of being too young... and sure enough, we were soon told of the engagement to a distant cousin. Sadly we couldn’t afford flights to the wedding, but a fortnight ago our dear friend Abdul brought his bride Humna to dinner with us - and we were overjoyed to see a couple so in love, so well suited, and so obviously happy together: to the objective eye, considerably better matched than many of us manage for ourselves.
“And you never once met before your wedding?” asked our nine year old, agog. “Never,” Humna confirmed happily.
Even today, in multi-cultural Britain, unions which have been voluntarily entered into and harmoniously selected by loving families - a respectable tradition of arranged marriage going back thousands of years - can still be confused with the cruel and wicked abuse of forced marriage.
We heard this week of two hundred and fifty children, including a two year old, helped last year by the Forced Marriage Unit: all potential victims of a crime of violence that has no place in either the law of this land or the faiths embraced within it. To be valid and legal, marriage must be entered into freely by both parties. So we must fight to give young people, the disabled and everyone in our society the ability to speak out when coerced into marriage without consent.
But that doesn’t mean we must all enter into it freely in the same way. A missionary friend found new Nepalese friends asked, as soon as they knew her well enough: “Is there really is such a thing as ‘falling in love’?” They loved their husbands, as she did: they found that love through a different route. “You,” an Asian friend told me, “start hot and cool down in your marriages. We start cold and warm up.” Arranged marriage can often have other advantages: more support from the wider family; and perhaps a clearer understanding that congeniality depends on the parties themselves, not on chance or ‘chemistry.’
“Husbands, love your wives,” Paul of Tarsus teaches in the New Testament. Love is something we can choose and determine. Not the fatalistic, “I do” of Hollywood movies. But, “I will,” of the Anglican service, is the true wedding vow: from this day forth, this is what I have decided to do.
More radically still, “You are no longer your own,” is another of Paul’s marriage maxims; as shockingly egalitarian as it is demanding and self-sacrificial. The husband’s body belongs to his wife: he has has given himself away... as she has too. So submit to the person you love - whether you chose or someone chose for you - and put your partner before yourself in way you live your whole life.
Humna told us she had worn shalwar kemeez to our house instead of Western clothes, because Abdul had asked her to. “So why are you in jeans and a tee shirt?” we asked him.
He smiled. “Because Humna asked me to be.”