Addiction to Words

It falls on our shoulders to start writing and speaking truths that we have come to know and understand about our region. Even though we live miles apart, our hearts still beat the same song and our longing for peace is always present.

Words can divide. They build walls of judgment and misconceptions. They imprison our faculties to think and act. When these words confine people in boxes, they ought to be burnt by the flames of compassion. Once they are tinged with those colors, words uplift and bring human beings together. One way to fashion our words is to put them in the mold of kindness. This will create the understanding necessary to build together a society which trusts in its members to uphold it and carry on for the sake of future generations.

For what is really the goal of a society if it wasn’t to create an environment where everyone can be their true selves, gifting themselves to each other and to what surrounds them. Words make us connect, and actions allow us to sink into reality. Once the realization of things comes to mind, it is necessary to continue through with the necessary deeds to bring fruition to our beliefs.

We have become addicted to our thoughts and pious expressions. We have become interlaced with expressions and philosophical terms. The body has been disconnected from the mind. It has become a second class citizen of the soul. We have drugged our senses of what exists around us to follow ghosts of wishes.

Time is running out. It is urging us to connect, to bring thoughts into real movements. Our bodies, our warmth, our hands have the ability to heal and restore our world. Every day, with every breath, as we bring our senses back to reality, to feel again the urges of the world around us, we become aware of the call to act. With every gesture that emanates from our being, we become agents of change and engage ourselves in the struggle of life.

It is time to face our realities. How much easier will it be if we all do it together?

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The Me I Am


The Me is a mere stereotype, an ideological battleground, a fracture along party lines, an emotionally-laden symbol of the nation, a mother who needs protection against the outside enemy, a coup d’Etat.
The me is the background urging, praising and supporting.
The Me is a dichotomy, a binary system, purity-impurity, honor-dishonor, a perfect-broken vase, bda3a 7elwe-fessde.
The Me is weakness, fear, ignorance, encroachment, conquest, invasion, intrusion… An internalized oppression.
The Me is permeated by violent imagery, thought, emotion and cognition… A mangled and charred body.
The Me is a percentage, a quota, a commodity, a property… Exchanged, bought and sold in some form or another…  A territory to be conquered, claimed or marked, indelibly imprinted.
The Me is a ghasha2, a piece of flesh, a flesh in pieces, a plowed land into a gray mass, an arena of real conflicts and imagined differences.
The Me is a highly erotic entity, an exotic fantasy, a complex eulogy, an object of desire, a candle around which the lover hovers.
The Me is others’ depiction, definition, reality… A myth, a threat and an impending doom.
(…)
The Me I Am is a whole different story.

The Me I Am is the quest, the site, the integrity I Want and Choose to Be.
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I had a nice conversation with a friend of mine this morning about women’s bodies, and it inspired me to write these few words, accompanied by one of my latest artworks using oil, acrylic and ink on canvas.
The identification of women with their physical bodies and the fact that female bodies are constantly under pressure to conform and mold into prescribed social/cultural roles are part of the root causes of their oppression. The demarcation into mutually exclusive categories of mind and body results in the loss of womanhood/personhood, loss of control and autonomy, and violation of one’s integrity.

Eyes of the Future

I took a seat nonchalantly and rested the Arabic traditional instrument, the qanun, on my legs. Like every rehearsal and performance attended, I was focused, music ready, mind and spirit in reverence of the music to be created. Between the sound cables and baby Jesus in the manger, I looked up from the corner to the believers in this newly dedicated Maronite American church. The stories of tension between families still lingering in the air silently rested on their shoulders. Stories mingled with a spirit of hope to transcend what was by forgetting what has been. But we all know too well how impossible a task it is: to bury the wounded past. It will grow surely in the soil of silence to haunt the souls of their children. Their children, with those big curious pure eyes, suddenly turned to the sound of strings moving their hearts. Theirs encountered my gaze and reached deeply in my soul to the place of beauty, where no remorse or guilt survived. And joy was born at the unexpected sounds of a 20 year-old qanun, beaten up, torn and fixed up, glued, dusty in its corners. Joy filled those big curious pure eyes tracing smiles on their beautiful faces.

From the mud rises the lotus, said the Buddha and from tensions, cracked up instruments and wounded souls rise beauty, that gives hope to a new generation of beings. A hope that opens the doors wide to the infinite richness of centuries-old culture. A hope that whirls in the minds and the hearts resurrecting ideas and thoughts long forgotten in the dust of times. What has been just another performance quickly turned into an invitation. As the souls of these children reached deep into my own, I remembered my responsibility, my generation’s responsibility, to rise from the ashes and wounds of the civil war, to bring hope and beauty of a culture that never really died, but was merely put on a higher shelf.

Silenced

As a Muslim Arab girl, growing up in an Arab society, I’ve often felt like I was silenced or not welcome to be talking in my community. When I was growing up, my parents were supportive and encouraged me to always speak my mind but later on in life, the more people I met the more I realized how much it is frowned upon for a girl to speak up her mind in an Arab society. People constantly link their ignorance and their tribal mentalities to Islam, as an excuse for things they are doing. Therefore I wanted to show how Arabs use Islam as a cage for the Muslim woman and how they silence her. Women are often asked to be silenced, and their voice is considered as a sinful thing, which I personally don’t believe in, I wanted to emphasize on how we are imprisoning women with our culture and mistaking it for a religion that has nothing to do with it.
Inspiration:
I recently went to Hafeet mountain in Al Ain to watch the sunrise, and the gradient orange to yellow colors were really inspiring so I decided to use them. Furthermore, I believe that we always associate shades of brown and red with the Arab culture, due to the existence of a lot of deserts around us, so in a way these colors were all inspired from the environment around me, however each color has a specific purpose in the painting itself.
 The Painting:
1-Use of gradient sunlight colors as mentioned before, and the red is very prominent as a color of blood or suffering.
2-An Arabesque shape that presents a cage or a prison.
3-A finger that symbolizes silence.
4-Blood that is leaking from the cage.
 

My ‘Go Home!’ Movie Review

‘Go Home’ by Lebanese director Jihane Chouaib is a powerful statement about the difficulty that many members of the Lebanese diaspora face when they go back to their homeland, with a particular focus on war memory, post-traumatic syndrome disorders and identity crisis. I watched the movie two days ago at the Dubai Film Festival and I had the opportunity of attending the Q&A session that followed the screening.

‘Go home’ could refer to the Lebanese expression ‘Rja3e 3a baytik’, even if Jihane Chouaib did not choose an Arabic version for the title. This expression first came to my mind when I saw it on the walls of the main character’s house, Nada. It reminded me of the Semitic letter ‘Bet’ or ‘Beth’, the second letter of  Phoenician, Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic and Arabic alphabets. This letter’s name means ‘house’. I couldn’t not think of those who are in exile in their homeland, in their own houses, in their rooms – inspired by Mahmoud Darwish’s quote. I couldn’t not think of the millions of immigrants and refugees in and from Lebanon (and the surrounding countries) who had to leave their houses, often with nothing more than a key or a photograph in their pockets – just like Nada.
As I see it, the family house is part of our self-definition, an extension of ourselves. For better or worse, the place where we grew up usually retains an iconic status. Just like Nada, we are engaged in a continuing set of relations with this place – relations that have determinate, mutual affects upon each other because they are part of an interactive system. The attachment to our family house is not only sentimental or nostalgic.  Our house is part of our  identity, our history – individual and collective – with both its glories and dark secrets, and certainly, with our childhood memories.
In this French-Swiss-Belgian-Lebanese Production movie, Nada’s joyful and painful memories intertwine, and in her attempt at discovering her grandfather’s fate, she uncovers the missing aspect of her past and connects with the scars that still linger when people are caught in the vicious cycle of war. More than a geographical concept, her family house constitutes the starting point for her quest, the hub of a family intrigue, the needed memory channel, the ultimate lieu of catharsis, gratification coupled with frustration and adventure with satiation.

Image source: dubaifilmfest.com

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WATCH THE TRAILER 
 

Keset Hayaty El Gdeeda (My New Life Story)

I took 3 different photographs of my sister in which she resembles 3 different women. I made sure all 3 pictures are exactly the same, in terms of makeup and lighting, and focused on dark makeup on her eyes and eyebrows, for a deeper intensity. The first picture depicts my sister with her long flowy hair, dark makeup, and a black turtle neck, the second picture, I put her in traditional hijab/veil, with exactly the same setting, and the third and last picture, she was in Niqab.

My initial plan, was to paint 3 pictures of different women in the same way that are tied up with ropes, to show their distress. However, I realized, that to really express what I am trying to say, I would need to get someone in the same position I am in, and who better than my sister. So, I decided to take the pictures and paint them later on, but I faced another problem, trying to show her emotions exactly through drawing. And so finally, I decided I would use the three photograph as they are, with every detail perfectly shown, and too later sketch out and paint on the ropes, on the printed photographs.
My original influence, came from an artist I stumbled upon on Facebook, her name is Mona Ragab, and she is a university student in Egypt (fine arts). Her picture was so inspiring, and made me really think about what it’s like for women in countries like Egypt, who basically have no right at all. I complain about some of my rights here, but living in Egypt, or any of the other Middle Eastern countries, is much worse than modern Dubai. This is the original photo:
However, after much thought, especially with recent events, I was a bit annoyed, at the order of the photo. I am not veiled, so I am considered to be in the same category of the last picture on the right, but this isn’t how I view our society. Taking in consideration, that she lives in Egypt, and is veiled, I can understand what she was trying to portray. Her message, was that women in Niqab, are tied down by society, the veiled women is not as tied down, but still has major restrictions, whereas, women who are not veiled, have no restrictions whatsoever, as shown by the painting. I honestly don’t think, I would have given this painting too much thought, if I saw it 4 years ago, because it wouldn’t have dawned on me that non veiled women could be judged to a level that I have witnessed. The other picture that put most of my thoughts in perspective was this one down below.
I also stumbled upon this picture, on Facebook as well, posted along with a small Arabic poem. I have tried over, and over again, to find the reference for this picture, but sadly had no luck. I would love to meet the person behind this idea, because whoever they are, they managed to explain the story of my life, in just one picture. Looking at both the photograph, and the painting above together, changed everything for me, and allowed everything to fall in to motion. It really deconstructs a lot of stereotypes in just one photo, and moreover, shows a perfect example of “don’t judge a book by its cover”
A photographer named Sebastian Farmborough, once shot a picture of a niqabi veiled woman coming out the sea, here in Dubai. The girl was an Afghani friend of mine, and was very keen on being able to take photos like this especially because of her background. Sebastian, was born in the UK, and lived for 3 years in Saudi Arabia, and then moved to Dubai, after his short time in the Middles East, he started a theme of photos that he called “An Emerging Mystery” in which he shot niqabi veiled women in settings, they would not usually be seen in. He did this, to prove that Islam, and women in Islam, are severely understood, and he wanted to change that.
His photos, are also one of the main reason I tried to see Mona’s painting in a different way. I was mostly peeved that only niqabi veiled women are depicted as judged upon, or oppressed, or have no rights in society and media.
The statement that I tried to make, with my art project, was complicated at first, especially when I was trying to put all my ideas in one picture, but once it came together it made sense. I wanted people to understand, that yes Islam promotes, modest clothing, and a modest way of dressing but many see it through a certain lenses of veils, and covering one’s self up completely. But, that doesn’t mean, that non veiled women are bad Muslims. Yes, I am not as oppressed in society, like a woman wearing Hijab, or Niqab. Yes, I can sometimes obtain better jobs. Yes, I am allowed in more areas across the world than them. Yes, outside the Middle East, I am accepted in a way that they aren’t. And that’s where the problem starts, Egypt is my home, my country, no matter what, and the fact is, I am not accepted there as the normal deviation of a “good  modern Muslim woman”.
The sad fact is, you take one look at me, and judge me on my unveiled hair, my skinny jeans, my makeup, and the fact that I do whatever I want. You take another look at veiled woman, and think one thing, “what great faith!” This obviously changed within different societies, and different places throughout the world, but for sake of argument, I am speaking from the Middle East’s point of view. I initially wanted to create ropes, on the picture of my non veiled sister only, and leave the other two pictures plain, but when I started thinking, I realized it’s not fair either. So, for this project, I will create most of the ropes on the picture without a veil, and for the other two, I will also add ropes, but not as much as the first picture. I am basically doing the opposite of Mona Ragab’s painting.
As, I am writing this, I am sitting here listening, to Um Kalthoum, and something hit me, and so I did some research. How is it that no one ever judged Um Kalthoum, on her unveiled self? I called my grandmother and asked her what it was like around the time she was growing up in the situation of Hijab, and she said: “It was very rare to see someone in Hijab, and all the women were free to wear and do whatever they want.” She also mentioned that the Sheikhs’ wives at the Azhar were not veiled, and that was seen as the norm at the time. So forget my message and my statement. I have a question, what changed? It was okay before, why did that change? And how?
When my mother got married, she wasn’t in Hijab, but shortly after she became veiled, and 18 years later took it off … This obviously was a big problem for our family back home, and for her, because people started judging her the moment they found out she used to be veiled. But what changed? Noting … she still wears the same exact clothes, and acts the same exact way, could the fact that she exposed her hair make her a terrible Muslim?
I am recently to get engaged, and as an Egyptian woman, obviously went through the normal traditions and cultures, of getting engaged. I fell in love with a man, who has been my best friend for many years, and I thought I knew everything about him, but I was wrong. I have learned, the hard way that no matter how open minded, or culturally aware a person is, their family isn’t always the same. I was wrong to make that assumption, and I didn’t try to judge them from what I have heard.  The first thing, my significant other’s family asked about me was “does she wear Hijab?” I am not going to comment, and I won’t dare justify it, but can you explain to me what does that mean? The moment, I understood his family, I started thinking, “does his family even have his best interest?” if all they want is a veiled woman, then what does that say? About him?  What does that say about me?
Can a veil draped across my hair really justify what kind of a person I am?
Does a veil tell you if I Pray or not?
Does a veil tell you if I mean well or not?
What does a veil say?
I suffered from traction alopecia, and what that is, is a lot of hair loss everywhere, even though I was one of the lucky ones, it affected me, in immense ways. It affected my hair, my confidence, my way of thinking, and had an impact on the person I am today. Because of alopecia, I resorted to wearing wigs, and the only thing I could think of when his mother asked him about the veil, was “welllllllll, I don’t show my hair” and I laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and that’s because , that is the only way I could have possible dealt with it. As you can tell, this description, ended with a lot of question marks, and I think that is a great symbol of how I feel at the moment, total and utter confusion.
The reason, I have held off on drawing in the ropes until now, is because drawing them on an actual photograph, can mean like they aren’t actually there, it can show that maybe I am the only one that see them there. And at this moment of time, I am not 100% sure yet.
I have always strongly believed, in the spirituality of Islam, and I might not be the symbol of a good Muslim, but that’s between me, myself, and Allah.
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Sources:
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Women’s Rights should be Prioritized and Addressed

In an era where robots are sense-perceptive, mobile phones have 3D touch capabilities, and cars can drive with little human interference, it disappoints me to see how little opportunities to grow or be identified as an equal the MENA*[1] region has presented for women.

As an Arab woman, I myself have seen the struggles women go through from within the city all the way to the suburbs and villages. It goes beyond an argument with parents for a curfew as late as your brother, or having the same opportunity your brother had to obtain higher education outside of your country’s borders – this is only the beginning.

I have seen women struggle on a daily basis to get the recognition they deserve for being the fighters that they are. To ask the elder generation (as I myself have), “why can’t I study in the States?” to have “because you’re a girl” presented as valid argument should not surprise anyone.

I have countlessly demanded for a more valid argument, for a reason that makes complete sense in anyone’s mind, but have never received any further explanations. The reason for this lack of answers? There is no actual reason for you, as a woman, not to have the same opportunities a man has.

Yes, there have been improvements in the way women are treated and recognized, but this is at a pace too slow to be sustained. For many years, marriage was seen as the only way out of one’s parent’s jail cell built of hypocrisy and sexism. Sadly however, it is learned after it’s “too late” that even once married, it is highly likely to have the freedom and recognition a woman desires and deserves from her husband due to society’s “judgment.” It is infuriating to have a man be the sole reason you’re allowed to make certain decisions, and it is a sad truth that these girls who once grew up thinking they would change societal perspectives and raise their children differently, are the ones who end up at coffee mornings with their friends discussing how disappointing their neighbors’ daughter is for going against any societal norm.

I am not one whose parents have this ‘mindset’ that women are solely born to bear children and maintain a home, but seeing the arranged marriage taking place around me, seeing how women get paid less and are still trapped under the glass ceiling, how women are barely acclaimed for their creations, and mostly, how a woman will never have control over her own body will forever drive me towards the demand for an establishment of woman’s rights and equality within my region.

There are several areas within the MENA region which still do not believe in a woman’s right for education, or for leading a nation, or for making a life for her own without a man’s help. A woman will forever be expected to fulfill what her family and society’s has set for her, unless the correct mindset is understood and taught to the current generation to begin with.

There are several aspects of culture and of society that still don’t accept a woman changing her ways to meet the demand of the modern world. It is very rare to see a woman in a political position within this region, because it is believed that no one will take a woman figure as seriously as they would have if it were a man. For example, Lebanon has few women in the parliament and no women in the ministerial cabinet. Lebanese women have had it hard in adapting to the changing trends due to the several implications placed by the cultural differences that exist within the country.

For a place where people are unable to live peacefully side-by-side due to sectarian differences, the need to strongly implement equality is not prioritized.  For example, last summer a young boy the age of 12 crashed into the rental car my mother was driving while she was parked with his motorcycle. Speaking to the boy’s uncle to just inform him that he should be careful turned a full 360 degrees. He began to disrespect my mother, disregarding whatever she said believing she had no idea since it had to do with “men’s interests” – cars. However as soon as my male cousin arrived, the man shut his mouth completely accepting that it was his fault only because a man was there to identify this. This incident alone opened my eyes to how backwards the smaller areas actually are.

The pace at which the world is changing makes it near impossible to ignore, so the MENA region must make adaptations. However, it is difficult to change the mindset that some smaller areas and specific cultures have carried out throughout the years. But let it be noted, that the MENA region is not the only region suffering from inequality. Until this day, the more western regions like South America are still battling to give women the full independent rights that they deserve. There are several places which still make it illegal to abort under any circumstance, for example. Yes this is a controversial subject, however having a man decide for you doesn’t sound right. Instead, appropriate scientific (and religious depending on the region) reasoning should be used to make this decision. There are several cases of rape which result in an unwanted pregnancy which certain governments wont let go – meaning, the victim of rape is forced to carry on with this pregnancy and live with this scar for the rest of her life. One of these cases is with a 10-year old Paraguayan who was denied an abortion after being raped by her stepfather. At 11, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, but this situation is not one an 11 year old or anyone for the matter should have to deal with; and thus has ignited several debates on Paraguayan abortion laws.

Countries of the Southwest Asian and North African region differ greatly in their treatment towards women, due to the influence of culture. The following briefly explains where women empowerment stands in some of these countries found in this region:

  • Jordan – Women can travel freely without permission. They hold public posts, female pilots, police officers, and soldiers. Recently, Jordanian women married to foreigners can pass on their nationality to children. However cases of domestic violence still occur.
  • The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Late King Abdulla, may he rest in peace, has granted women to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections. Women can be found in the top advisory body (Shura council). There has been a law penalizing domestic abuse, but it is hard to win a case in the Saudi court. Women have been punished for publicizing the wrongs of their husbands under the category of “defamation”, voiding the initial reason for court. However, unlike Jordan they do not have the ability to travel as freely without the permission of a male spouse or relative. Also, they still face the daily issues such as not being able to drive and obligatory ‘modest’ clothing codes.
  • The United Arab Emirates – Out of all countries in the region, the UAE is the most advanced in establishing equality and women’s rights. Their women are known for holding high positions in political or business forms, and for saving and cultivating the economy, culture, and generations. They receive the correct salary, have all opportunities males do with growing within an organization, and have access to the benefits. For example, Emirati women are allowed to pass their nationality to their children. However, traditional mindsets still exist and though certain societal adaptations have been made to meet the expatriate demand, certain acts that conflict with Islamic teachings like cohabitation are still forbidden.
  • Kuwait – Recently, women were granted to the right to vote and hold a few positions in the parliament. They are not required to wear a veil like women are In Saudi, and are allowed to drive and travel freely. However, Kuwaiti mothers cannot give their nationality to their children yet they do receive Kuwaiti benefits such as free education until the age of 21.
  • Iraq – There were laws requiring women to members of the government, however the increasing power of the extremist groups and religious institutions have made it difficult for women to roam freely and for these laws to apply. Women are forced by these groups to adopt the veil and are encouraged to stay home, for the safety of themselves and of their families.
  • Syria – there are women in high political positions, and those who carry influences in peacemaking, however the recent turmoil has enforced certain obligations on women under extremist control, like with veil covering for example. This is very similar to the case of Palestine, where turmoil has made it very difficult for women to strongly express themselves and their needs to rights.

Countries such as Tunis for example have been recognized for empowering its women and placing them in high political and decision-making positions. However, the pace at which these changes are being made in countries along the rest of the region is unacceptable. Political turmoil in certain areas have made it difficult for women’s rights to be accounted for, since people are unable to even live next to one another without conflicting about the slightest differences in their cultural beliefs and norms. Within these areas of conflict, women are rarely put into political positions because negotiating with the opposing is not taken seriously. 90% of civilian victims are usually women and children, a statistic that is not only shocking for existing but for being continuous and not decreasing in recent years. Unfortunately, these tragedy-infected countries can only satisfy women’s rights once their own differences are put aside – another issue which must be addressed heavily.

The strength of a woman’s emotional, physical, and mental capacity is highly underrated and appreciated. Many believe that because in general a woman’s’ anatomy is weaker than that of a man’s in terms of physical strength, they are unable to take the jobs and carry out the roles that males usually do. This is highly believed in several areas within the Southwest Asian and North African region. Though there have been gradual improvements in certain aspects of women’s rights such as access to justice for women, power distribution, and female empowerment, countries within the MENA region still struggles to establish complete gender inequality. Cases of domestic violence, unequal pay, honour killing and disownment still occur, but to different degrees depending on the area, especially in comparison to the west. This further argues that the pace at which these countries are developing in giving their women rights is too slow and limited.

Women’s rights should be prioritized and addressed; because only after allowing women to lead will you see a nation flourish. Let the UAE be a prime example. Remember, women figures are usually who raise our future generations – without the leadership of our women, our cultures will be forgotten, our countries will diminish, and our history will be erased with no present to prove our existence.

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 References

 http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/1.578635

http://www.yourmiddleeast.com/culture/womens-rights-in-the-middle-east-new-data-show-both-improvement-and-impasse-iwd2015_30412

 http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/13/americas/paraguay-young-rape-victim-gives-birth/


[1] MENA: Middle East and North Africa

Fairness Creams Expose the Ugly Truth

You’re flipping through channels on TV and you find yourself watching a commercial where a woman is at a job interview. She does not get the job. Two weeks later, after using a whitening cream that made her six shades lighter, she goes back for the same interview. This time, she gets the job.

The ideology that white is better has been adopted by many societies around the world. Many are under the impression that their success in personal and professional matters is determined by their skin tone.

Joan Abdallah, Master of Social Work and expert in psychology, finds it saddening that whitening creams are in such high demand. “I think it goes back [to] the feeling that there are more opportunities for white people than there are for people with darker skin. The lighter the shade goes the more the gates of opportunities, marriage, and attractiveness open up. I definitely think there’s this huge stigma attached to it and whitening creams contribute to it completely.”

“Everyday I see patients who are having this problem,” says Dr. Fatma Mohamed Mostafa, Senior Consultant in Dermatology at University Hospital Sharjah. “They come for better glow, and in this area, better glow means whiter skin.

A walk through the beauty product aisles of Carrefour would expose the true horror: walls upon walls of whitening creams. With names such as “white radiance” and “flawless white,” companies like Pond’s and Olay are promoting the perception that whiter skin is superior.

And this doesn’t come cheap. Creams such as Vichy’s Bi-White cost 158 AED while La Roche-Posay’s Sensi White costs 235 AED. However, cheaper brands such as Olay’s White Radiance set you back about 60 AED, which is still pricey.

According to Global Industry Analysts (GIA) Report in 2013, “the global market for skin lighteners is projected to reach $19.8 billion by 2018 primarily in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. GIA says that growth in this market is forecast to be driven by strong demand in region[s] where fair skin is associated with youth, beauty, and prosperity.” According to TheGazelle.org, the sales of skin whitening creams in India totaled 258 tons in 2012. The research agency, AC Nielsen, estimates that the market will increase at nearly 18% per year.

As stated in BBC, “the World Health Organization has reported that Nigerians are the highest users of such products: 77% of Nigerian women use the products on a regular basis. They are followed by Togo with 59%; South Africa with 35%; and Mali at 25%.”

Although there are no specific statistics concerning the Middle Eastern market for whitening products, CosmeticsDesign-Asia.com reveals that “the strong economic growth, rising standards of living, expanding base of middle class population, increase per capita spend[ing] on beauty and wellness products, and growing discrimination based on color or skin tone are key factors driving [the market’s] growth.”

“Here in the gulf there are a lot of people with dark skin and they look for whitening products,” explains Hamza Bensaid, Senior DTC Manager of Procter & GAMBLE. “A good 60% to 80% of the people are asking for whitening creams. So for us it makes a lot of sense to make a campaign which is about whitening.”

“In P&G the global business units are the ones who are supposed to design these ideas. They work with creative agencies and brainstorm together to come up with these ideas. It depends on customer insight, [which] is basically market research; they bring consumers to the office, they ask them questions. ‘What makes you buy the product?’ ‘What are the needs?’ Then [P&G] produces samples, brings the consumers again, and asks which product [they] think [they] would buy. And then we get the results,” says Bensaid.

Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, Professor of Women and Gender studies at AUD, believes marketing employees capitalize on consumer insecurities. “It’s a market,”  clarifies Dr. Chrabieh. “They have enough experts to know what the weaknesses are in this region, but not only in this region, in Africa and in other places. They target these weaknesses.”

As if it wasn’t enough that companies prey on consumers by emphasizing their weaknesses, whitening creams also have an amalgam of side effects.

According to LiveStrong.com, the presence of clobetasol propionate, a strong steroid, in some over-the-counter whitening creams, causes skin thinning, which can lead to severe bruising, exposed capillaries, and stretch marks. Steroids in these creams also lead to clogged pores, which can cause increased acne. Whitening cream users can develop leucoderma, a condition in which skin stops producing melanin. When this happens, the skin turns pink and the only treatments are skin-grafts or ultraviolet light treatments. Also, frequent use can cause ochronosis, which are dark patches that are difficult to remove.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned mercury for use in whitening creams in the United States because it can cause both kidney and neurological damage. Mercury helps lighten the skin by stopping the production of melanin.  A study conducted by the Chicago Tribune sent 50 creams to be assessed at a lab; six of these creams contained mercury. According to LiveStrong.com, in 2013 the FDA issued a warning for people to be cautious when using whitening creams.

Dr. Mostafa says that skin lightening treatments can be used “under the instructions of a dermatologist, not on your own. However, It could have a negative effect if it was abused.”

Theories explaining the whitening phenomenon include the impact of colonialism, specifically the desire to look like the colonizers. Regardless of the fact that the era of colonization is over, the perception that white is synonymous with power and beauty was left behind.

Dr. Chrabieh believes that whitening cream use is a result of Eurocentric beauty standards.“Whether it’s in the United States or outside, for instance in Western [and] Eastern Asia; it’s all the same. [It’s] this never ending colonial mentality that was transmitted through the colonialist to the colonized and their descendants. So many women are using whitening creams to be closer to these ‘perfect standards.’”

Ermida Koduah, a 20-year-old student, believes we can trace the desire to be white back to slavery.“I’m from Ghana and I’ve heard that the lighter-skinned you were the more accepted you were; you got to be the house slave [or] the master’s favorite. The darker-skinned people had to work on the field.”

Many people from different backgrounds have been directly affected by the toxic ideology that they should strive to be white.

Omnia Fahim, a 20-year-old student, cites her Egyptian background as her greatest influence to use whitening creams. “ I like to look whiter. I have been using Fair and Lovely for three years and it [has] had a huge effect on my skin. [They] offer [women] the chance to feel better by being whiter if they don’t like their skin tone.”

Elaf Patel, a 21-year-old student, believes her Indian heritage values girls with whiter skin. “I am more towards fair, but I do feel like if I were darker it would be a whole other conversation. They’re so hard to get away from. If they are just laying around, my mom will be like ‘do you wanna use it’ and I would say ‘okay.’  It doesn’t bother me the way it bothers some people. If I want to go out and buy whitening creams, I want to have that option.”

The pressure to be white did not come from a vacuum; it was passed down by elders to their children.

Mohammed Zerari, a 21-year-old student, clarifies that this ideology of white supremacy is not new in our society.“It dates back to older generations, and the fact that they keep telling their kids that white is the best color. My mom grew up in Algeria and Algerians have always used creams and natural remedies to maintain their skin. I  see it in my household; my mother and sisters, my aunts, my cousins, all of them are crazy about keeping their skin as white as it can be.”

Zakiya Akbar, an 83-year-old grandmother, encourages her children and grandchildren to stay out of the sun. “I was very white when i was young, and my children are very white. But now, one of my sons has become really dark and I keep telling him to put turmeric paste on and stay out of the sun. I also keep telling my granddaughters that in Pakistan everyone finds white women more suitable because they are better looking.”

“The first question I asked after I had just given birth to my daughter was, ‘Is she white?’” admits Sara El Maghraby, a 34-year-old stay at home mother. “I know that in Egypt my daughter won’t be considered beautiful unless she’s white. I know it sounds bad but this is our life.”

Whitening creams are not only for women. Select brands, such as Nivea and Fair and Handsome, manufacture creams that promise maximum fairness to men.

“I don’t think there is any pressure on the male community in this part of the world when it comes to being white. However, for the women its a struggle, they need to constantly keep their skin as white as possible,” says Zerari.

“There is a social norm found in this region where the beauty standards and the pressures on women are much more important than the pressure on men,“ explains Dr. Chrabieh. “Men are asked to either produce knowledge, money, or take care of their families, their communities. The pressures on women are to be good wives, good mothers, and definitely good looking.”

Whitening creams are not only the byproduct of societal perceptions, but they also affect women internally. They contribute negatively to women’s self-perception and ultimately their self-esteem.

“Even if there are women who say that they feel better when they use the creams, ultimately the whitening creams don’t contribute to empower women,” explains Dr. Chrabieh. “It tells women that they are not good as they look like now so they always have to enhance this aspect.”

“Whitening creams exploit  the insecurities of people, not just women,” expresses 21-year-old Jackie Chee of whitening creams when it comes to his Chinese-Filipino heritage. “They exploit their insecurities for money and what could be false promises. They make people feel the need to change themselves to reach the standards of ‘beauty’ as taught by media.”

However, distributors of these controversial creams don’t seem to agree with this notion.

“No, it’s not asking women to change at all, it’s not makeup” assures Bensaid. “What whitening creams do is they reduce the amount of melanin in the skin, and therefore make your skin look whiter. It doesn’t really change it, it just makes your face look smoother, lighter, also more beautiful by the way. It’s just that the way we position it in the ad is different, because women here, when they go to the shops, are there for whitening creams and that’s the way that it is.

The overwhelmingly large whitening cream industry doesn’t contribute positively to society because it encourages discrimination. Our society’s pressures to look a certain way, mixed with our own self-doubt, is only fueled by advertisements and marketing campaigns urging people that white is equivalent to power and beauty. These ideals are not a recent phenomenon and this expanding market will continue to affect generations to come where companies make copious amounts of money off of individuals by exploiting their insecurities.
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This article was selected and read by the MBRSC Advisory Board members due to its level of effort and true journalistic nature. Along with other projects, this article was recognized for being one of the best projects produced by AUD students in the Spring 2015 semester.

قول فتاةٍ شمطاء

 

:القول في ما لا يقال

كلماتي كاذبة

!آهٍ كم أحبُّها

كلماتي كجسدي

تستودع من يلمسها

،فتخرج حبّاً في متاهات المعرفة

سراجاً يضيء لمن خسر الهاوية

.فسامره الكلام في زاويةٍ غاوية

يرفع كلامي عينيه نحو أرضٍ باقية

ترضخ لها السماوات الزائلة

.فتهزؤ منها نشواتي العائدة

أقوالي أفعالٌ تخشاها الأمثلة

تحملها الأحلام نحو يقظاتٍ مستعجِبة

ترضِخُ الشعوب

،فتضحى نشوة المجتمعات القادمة

لن يلفحها الغبار

.ولن تصلها القارعة

،شفتَي وسادةٌ لحارةٍ جامعة

شوقها مريبٌ لأسرارٍ واهية

تعود عليها بأعيادٍ لا تنتهي

،يخطب فيها عشّاقي

.فتُصبح أرض الأحبَّةِ السامية

،أنا ملاذٌ مستعجَبٌ

،أنا مرادٌ متأقلمٌ

.وأنا حروفٌ مترامية

My story with Arranged Marriages

I never knew that I would be able to write about my experience as a woman of this community. I’m here today because of it, I’m here because it has made me who I am today: a woman trying to embody the ideals of both the West and East, a constant struggle, a constant obstacle- one day, I will overcome them…”- Zaafira

I am a South Indian Muslim, from one of the greatest historical coastal towns, (the name of the town cannot be disclosed due to privacy reasons), found in the state of Tamilnadu, in South India. Moreover, I have had the opportunity to both study and live in different parts of the world like the UAE, UK and Malaysia, which has exposed me to various cultures. I have had the chance to live amongst unique individuals in each country and I have witnessed first hand a confusion relating to my cultural identity. Families and individuals from my town, follow Islam, which was brought to us by our ancestors who predominantly came from Yemen, Iran and Egypt. It is believed that my ancestors, especially from Yemen, were merchants and traders who arrived on boats to the coastal town, married the locals who were descendants of the then Pandyan King Raja Varma Kulasekhara, and settled in this busy port harbour around the 10th century. They had assimilated into this new flourishing town and primarily adopted coastal and agricultural trading for survival. I am a descendant of the Moors of the town (what we are known as today), the largest ethnic group from my town. My ancestors preserved and passed on their Islamic cultural heritage infused with South Asian values from one generation to the next. This was the emergence of what I would call, the Muslim community. A community that used to, and still is adhering to the hybridized, values, customs and traditions passed on from its ancestors.

Amongst one of prominent practices that we have adopted from our Yemeni heritage, is the ancient pre-Islamic tradition that is practiced in our community, ‘shegar’ or ‘swap marriages’, a variant of arranged marriages. The way we call this system is ‘badal mappillai’ (in Tamil), which literally translates to the exchange of grooms. However, we do not follow the shegar system in the exact way as Yemeni’s do. Our ‘badal mappillai’ system is mix of both Yemeni and South-Indian customs. To begin with, we must understand how shegar works and how my community has modified it to its own needs. In Yemen, according to Yemeni BBC representative, Mai Noman, the practice of shegar is an ancient marriage custom that still exists to date in few Yemeni communities (usually in rural and/or countryside).  For example, family A would approach family B, asking family B’s daughter’s hand in marriage for their son, in exchange for their own daughter’s hand. In simpler words, a brother and a sister from the same family would marry a brother or a sister from another family. Their marriages would strengthen family ties. This is when the problem arises, making these marriages complex. If suddenly, one of the couples has a fight and the marriage ends in divorce, the other couple would directly be harmed. Let us say that Sarah was married to Abed (the couple who are getting divorced) and Omar is Sarah’s brother married to Abed’s sister, Yasmine, immediately Omar will decide to divorce his wife, Yasmine, since his sister was divorced by his brother-in-law, causing two broken marriages. This practice in Yemen can be regarded to be very extreme.

On the other hand, in my community, we have a different form of shegar. Families will be willing to do the ‘exchanging of grooms’ and in the case of divorce, the community will try to ensure that none of the involved parties are harmed or get divorced. If they are unable to keep the couple united, they will go ahead and grant the divorce, however the other couple will not be affected. They are not forced into getting divorced by their families. In addition, we also follow the same way of inter-marrying within our community like few communities in Yemen. So it is a norm in our community to marry our cousins. To marry someone from outside the community is considered taboo. Individuals, who have married outside the community, become excommunicated, to an extent from their families and extended families.

I mentioned the above in order to set the stage for the upcoming paragraphs where I’ll be recounting my personal experiences and how I have overcome them. I’ll also be explaining the theories and beliefs behind arranged marriages not only in my community and India, but also in South-Western Asian countries like Egypt, the State of Israel and Turkey. Additionally, I will briefly mention my qualitative research conducted in my university, regarding the notion of arranged marriage.

When I was around the age of 3 or 4, my maternal uncle was getting married to my aunt (my father’s 1st cousin). All the memories that I have of this occasion, come from wedding pictures and videos. My uncle happily got married to my aunt and life moved on. However, I found out that somehow I had become betrothed to my second cousin (an aspect of shegar) who was the nephew of my aunt. The elders had decided my future at such a young age. I had no idea about the betrothal; I was naive and innocent. As years went by, I used to receive gifts like clothes and toys from my future in-laws. As weird it may sound, this was not something new- this was a norm, and nobody questioned it. Years went by, and my family and extended family teased me about my “supposed fiancé” and I think I pretended to be shy or I was genuinely shy when they teased me. It was vague to me at that time. Fast forward 10 years, when I was around 14, talks of me going to study in London arose- since I wanted to study there. My brother was already in London and he is 6 years older than me. He was going to be my guardian and I would be under his custody. Somehow, my parents agreed to send me to a boarding school in Kent, the following year and I told them to trust me that I would never betray them or do anything silly when I were to live there. They completely trusted me and I them. I was exhilarated and ecstatic.

 Now, it is not a norm for young girls of the age 15 to go abroad and live (almost) on their own in my community. I had broken the barriers and the status quo. To top it all off, I broke off my engagement with my second cousin. You may be wondering how it would have been possible. One, my family had agreed to this when I was very young, without my consent and on top of that I have three older siblings, 2 sisters and a brother. I made the argument of why my older sisters were not engaged to someone when I was.  Two, my mother was not too keen about the alliance. Finally, I was going to the UK, and I assumed that it was the right moment for me to break off the engagement. I, at the age 15, thought that the community would start creating rumors of me falling love with someone abroad, so I kind of made and took a ‘prevention is better than cure’ type of action. It may all seem irrational to both, someone from my community and someone from the outside.

At the mere age of 15, I had broken two strict conventions of my community. One, I had broken off my engagement of 11 years and two; I went to study in the UK. I felt a sense of freedom and my friends and cousins started saying that I had done something very rebellious and I somehow felt like a rebel. I did not feel guilty or regret my choices, actions and decisions at that time. However, they do say, all good things come to an end. My parents had accepted my choice but after couple of years, when I was 17, my mother started to panic. I had moved to Kuala Lumpur at that age and started school over there. My mother started worrying because people from my community were concerned about my future. As enraged as I was, I argued with her saying it was none of their business.

I started to embrace the western ideals of freedom and choosing my soul mate. My parents sat down with me when I came back to Dubai and started to give me pieces of advice about life. They also said they had found an alliance. I had no intention of pursuing this, but I was forced into it. So, when I was in India, I was asked to go to the new and possible candidate’s house to visit his family. I was not comfortable with that idea. All I wanted to do at that age was to focus on my studies; I was in year 13, doing my IB. It was important for me to focus, but somehow my parents kept insisting that I agree to that proposal. They told me that they had their best intentions and interests for me- I was skeptical (a side effect of being a teenager). I put my feet on the ground, and told them it was not going to happen. My mother became highly emotional and said things you would usually hear in Bollywood movies like:  “all the good men would be married and you will have to settle down with someone who’s good for nothing!”, “you have dishonored our family”, “how can I show my face to the community?”, these statements had affected me. I used to live on my own in Kuala Lumpur, and I used to cry and cry and cry, wanting this phase of my life to end. I had become depressed, but my studies kept me going.

Simultaneously, another proposal came up, this time it was someone (a cousin) who I genuinely liked and I knew him from a young age. I had somehow decided if I was to marry someone from this community, it would be him- I had accepted the fact that there was no way out for me at that time, so I settled for the best. However, the proposal did not work out because his family already had plans for him- he was a ‘badal mappillai’ for his sister. So, as you can see, my community wanted me to marry someone from my own kind in order to keep the lineage pure, but me liking someone from my own kind and putting forth my proposition, I had obstacles, i.e. the groom’s family was not willing to accept the alliance because they were committed to a form of shegar.

My parents, during that period, were diverted for a while, they thought that I had at last given into the community (for that period of time, I had given in) but once they knew that it was not going to happen, they carried on with the previous alliance. My amazing siblings acted as my pillar of support during this time. They fought on my behalf and made my parents move on from the proposal. They consoled my parents, and myself and said we will get a better proposal. I was happy and I continued studying. Despite of saying no to the proposal, my IB results reflected how I was affected by it. I was very upset, but life has to move on, that is what I told myself. I was content with the fact that I was not going to get married to every Ahmed, Abdullah and Amer. Things seemed to be calm and months went by without my parents mentioning a new proposal.

After 5 months, talks of another alliance surfaced. I thought to myself- no, not again. It felt like déjà vu- it was back to square one. I would probably say, my experience that came with this alliance was one of the worst- the one followed by this would be the worst one of them all; a living nightmare (it affected me both, physically and mentally). I had graduated and I was 18. I had decided to take a gap year to travel and get some work experience at a law firm (I was planning to get a degree in law). It was sometime in August, when I was on a holiday with my family in Sri Lanka. My father received a phone call and I thought it was regarding work. Couple of days went by, and there were recurring phone calls. My father said, there was a family, which was interested in ours, and they wanted to ask my hand in marriage. For a moment, my heart stopped. It was happening all over again. Somehow, I had a feeling it was going to end badly- and it did. My father said that this supposed groom, was tall, fair and handsome (he thought I was superficial- there was a time when I told my parents about my ideal kind of spouse) but it did not matter to me, I had transcended my superficiality phase. The age, for starters was the biggest problem of all. He was 9 years older than me. I was 18 and he was 27. In my community, if a groom were around the age of 27, he would have to get married soon. For a woman, the age between 18-20 is an ideal age. This thought of his age and imminent marriage made my heart beat even faster, I felt disoriented and started to panic. I told my siblings that it could not happen. Nonetheless, the same routine happened: I heard about a new proposal and my parents wanted me to meet him and his family. I told them I needed time to contemplate and assess the situation. I asked for 3 months (trust me, that is definitely not enough!) to give them my answer.

I went back to Dubai and spent Ramadan over there. Things got very heated between my parents and myself. My mother decided to go to Chennai and stayed there until I gave her an answer. I said I needed time and started doing some Islamic research on the whole concept of marriage. I told my parents about my findings and they did not bother and they said it is important that a daughter respects her parent’s choice- after all; only they know the best for their child. I tried to talk to my mother and asked her to come to Dubai so I could sit down and talk with both, my father and her about my choice. She was immensely upset with me that she actually refused to not only come to Dubai but also to talk to me for 2 months! I was upset and disheartened. The start of the proposal itself seemed ominous to me. It had ruined my relationship with my mother; I did not know what could possibly happen in the future. In order to settle this once and for all, my parents asked me to come to Chennai and asked me to visit the alliance and his family. So just like previous occasions, I went to Chennai.

When I went to their house, I felt a strong negative vibe and my feelings were reaffirmed. I knew that this would not happen and I fought with my parents verbally (with my mother physically- yes it had reached that point). My older sister was always on my side and she too, was involved. At last, I had victoriously broken off the proposal! I somehow became like a phoenix. Each event killed me and I died, but at the end of the day I woke up new and alive. I rose from the ashes- a resilient woman. I was fighting my own battle with my own parents. The ones who gave me life, they were my enemies. But I sympathized with them as well; it was not their fault, it was the community’s fault. It had made them like that. There were times when I used to vicariously feel their pain, but I could not do anything since I knew that it was not the right time for me to give in.

The accumulation of proposals and alliances made me very depressed. I had to force myself to start university.  I was around 19 and I decided to start from scratch and enrolled into Paris Sorbonne Abu Dhabi to pursue a degree in Philosophy and Sociology. My parents had vowed not to speak to me about marriage proposals again. During the years 2009-2013, I had gone through enough drama and stress. I was glad that they promised to not to speak about marriage until I finished my degree. However, one thing that life has taught me is that in a community like mine or similar to mine, the talks of marriage were unavoidable and inevitable. So there was always a part of me, dreading the moment these talks would resurface again. Like I had suspected, it did.

During the spring of 2013, I was in Kuala Lumpur for my spring break. My grandmother was with me and started saying something like “oh there’s a new proposal, a boy from a good family, he’s very family oriented…’ and the potential groom’s résumé continued. I tried to stay calm and composed, but I could not tolerate the hypothetical ‘new elephant in the room’! I asked my mother what was going on. She said yes we have received a prospective alliance and he definitely trumps the rest. I thought to myself, no he definitely would not. I started to feel the invisible pressure from the elders. My life somehow turned into a nightmare. I started to get affected both mentally and physically. To top it all of, I had met someone (who was not from my community)- it was definitely not the right moment, but fate works in mysterious ways.

My parents started talking about the proposal and started planning ahead. The new individual was 7 years older than me (better than 9 years-probably). I told my parents that I would try and make an effort, in order to avoid all issues and drama that I have mentioned above. I tried talking to the potential groom just to satisfy my parents, who wanted to satisfy the community, but somehow I felt I was forcing myself. Moreover, my relationship with the man I met was growing and I did not know what to do.  I was in a moral dilemma. I knew that I would not pursue my parents’ new proposition. In June 2013, they asked me to fly to Bombay to visit the potential groom and his family. I had no intention at all, but my father reassured me and said things will be fine; he tried to convince me. I had not told him about the man I was in a relationship with; if he had found out at that time, he would have been shocked. I thought it was not the right moment.

I went to Bombay for just 4 days (and oh were they long) and I kept constantly arguing with my parents. On top of that, I had to make an effort and talk to this new man, with someone else in my heart. In addition, I fell sick with food poisoning on the 3rd day, hence I had to postpone my trip, I honestly thought to myself I’d rather leave this city sick, than stay and get better over here. I felt tortured mentally and I had no energy to fight with my parents. At last, the potential in-laws agreed to give me a month for me to decide. The thing with my parents or any of these potential in-laws was that there actually was no option of saying ‘no’. It was either, yes I will marry their son or yes, I WILL marry their son. For the person I was, I knew this was going to be a long battle. I was happy with the fact that I left Bombay and went to London for the rest of the summer. My parents left me at peace for few weeks.

The fact that I was in love with someone was bothering me; I felt I was being dishonest with my parents (for not telling them the truth). So one day, when my father came to London, I told him “no father, it will not happen” and he kept saying how I went to Bombay and I seemed fine there (according to them) and etc. I told him I just went there to satisfy their wishes. He got upset but I could not do anything about it. The next thing that happened, I told my father I had fallen in love with someone. Everything stopped for a moment. I do not know where I had gathered my courage. He was shocked and he reprimanded me. For the first time in a long time, I saw him break into tears. He said, “You will not get married to anyone outside our community. That will only happen after my death!” I felt destroyed. I did not know what to do. On one side, I was in love and wanted to marry the man and on the other, I had to satisfy my parents. My forever supportive siblings, fought by my side and told my parents it was no the right time; the proposal was broken off shortly.  My emotional and physical well being diminished over the next couple of months due to the events of 2013. I dropped out of Paris Sorbonne and went back to Dubai. I had drastically lost weight and there was a point when I started to look pale and fragile. My relatives started asking me what was wrong with me, I said “oh it’s nothing aunty/uncle”. Obviously, I could not tell them and they will never find out. My heart felt heavy for upsetting and breaking my parents’ trust.

To someone from outside my community, it may seem inconceivable to do things like the above, like getting engaged at the age of 3, or marriage talks at the age of 15 and above, etc. For some, between the age of 3-15 they would be concentrating on growing up, having fun and studying etc. They might regard our community to be backwards, and to be honest; I had felt that way too. I felt that even if people from my community were living outside India, in countries like the UK, the UAE, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and the USA, we had resorted to old values and customs that seemed very backwards to me. Also, some might think that what my parents did to me was inhumane and unimaginable. The answer is no. I still love them and they have done so much for me. I can tell you that there are reasons for why my community was and still is like this- we are a collectivist community.

In order to put things into perspective, we should understand that there are two forms of cultures, one, collectivist and two, individualistic. The former is usually present in the East whilst the latter in the West. Collectivism correlates with family integrity, loyalty and unity. There is a sense of harmony and interdependence in collectivistic cultures, while individualism is linked to personal initiative, personal autonomy, self-reliance and personal freedom. Individuals from individualistic societies feel the need for independence and somehow there is lack of concern for others. In her work in ‘Mate Selection Across Cultures: Mate selection in contemporary India’, Nilufer P. Medora, claims that collectivism manifests itself in the beliefs and practice that reflects individuals ‘embeddedness’ in his or her family. Also, Medora, believes that there is a great influence of the family and extended family that takes interest in an individuals well-being like, choosing the right spouse. They safeguard the individual’s interests in exchange for his or her permanent loyalty to the community.

This theory clearly reiterates how my community functions. Members of the community believe in integrity of the group. There is some form an identity that strengthens family stability. Also, moral dignity and family reputation are highly valued and placed on a pedestal. It explains why it means so much for my parents to get me married to someone within the community. They have a good reputation and if I went on to marry the man I love; they would be affected by my actions. These are key things that I still have on mind (to figure out whether I should carry on…). It is believed that love comes after marriage, so it is a norm in my community to get an arranged marriage and then fall in love.

The reasons above are not sufficient enough to make one understand why my community functions like this. In my town, arranged marriages have existed for centuries. However, in recent times, divorce rates have been high. I would say one of the main reasons is that some individuals solely enter the marriage in order to satisfy their parent’s wishes. In my opinion, I feel that any form of marriage (be it love or arranged), an individual always takes a risk. There is a 50-50 chance of the marriage working out. The power of making the marriage work only lies in the hands of the husband or wife. It is also considered a taboo if anyone was to marry outside, as aforementioned. This does not mean we do not have people in our community who have married outside. In fact, one of my aunts is actually married to a Pakistani. She had her own battle for sure. Parents and elders believe that marrying within the community provides socio-economic security, especially for their daughters. Furthermore, arranged marriages take place in my town in order to retain the family name and ensure our blood is ‘pure’. But I would definitely say it is not pure, since we have Yemeni heritage.

It is not only in my community or in South-Asian communities’ do we find arranged marriages. This form of marriage is prevalent in Southwest Asian communities as well. For instance, in Egypt, Turkey, and the State of Israel, marriages continue to be arranged by parents and relatives. In Egypt for example, marriages bring together two families (like it does in my community) and it remains to be a central building block for both religious and social aspects (Hamon 135). In South-Asian communities, family is considered to be strong, well knit, resilient and enduring. This is also the case in few Southwest Asian communities.In the State of Israel, some families practice arranged marriages, which are carried out by matchmakers (shadchan) and sometimes by relatives. It is believed that during the later Talmudic period, the arrangement of marriage was made when either the bride or the groom was a minor (Hamon 140). This takes me back to my first account, possibly we could have adopted Yemeni Jewish customs as well, and hence I might have been engaged when I was 3. Turkey is another country where arranged marriages exist as well. It is believed that couples who are involved in this practice, have “lower levels of reciprocal self-revelation, lower emotional involvement with their spouses, and being closer to their families of origin” (Hamon 162). In my town, few marriages are like this as well. It is probably a by-product of arranged marriages.

In order to understand more about arranged marriages, I conducted a qualitative research. I spoke to few International Relations students and Dr. Deniz Gokalp of Social Sciences. I came to understand that marriage is a form of institution that ensures relationships are carried out legally, according to Dr. Gokalp. Sometimes, few individuals feel the need to go against this institution (like I did) since it breaches their sense of freedom. Also, I believe that when religion and culture is mixed, it ends in a disaster. One of the respondents from Syria made an interesting statement and said that men are more vulnerable to arranged marriages. I would say that it has become true over the years; families of the bride would probably be looking for hardworking men who are financially stable and rich. Another respondent from Sudan said, that the general definition of arranged marriage has changed over the years. Next, it can be argued that one of the common misconceptions in the West is that arranged marriages are practices related to religion- NO! It definitely is not. It is principally related to cultures, customs and traditions. Cultural practices in collectivistic communities transcend religion.

So, what is the future of arranged marriages? The world is getting more and more globalized. I am personally impacted by this phenomenon. I feel like the increase in technology and mobility has made the world more multicultural. We are becoming more open and exposed to Western ideals. I would say that my struggles and hardships that I faced and still facing in my community, has made me resilient. I have become a stronger woman and I feel like I can stand up for myself. My love for my parents has not changed and I feel that I can convince them one day. I know there will be great repercussions, but it will only prepare me for the future. My father once said, “You are a cat on the wall, you do not know which side of the wall is good for you to jump off to”. I think I know which side of the wall I would choose. I intend to show my parents that marrying someone outside my community does not mean my life is going to end badly. I want to show them that I can be happy and marriages outside the community could actually one day, be better than inter-community marriages. I will make it a reality.

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Woks Cited
Hamon, Raeann R., Bron B. Ingoldsby, and Nilufer P. Medora. Mate Selection across Cultures. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. Print.
Noman, Mai. “The Pre-nuptial Agreement That Can End a Happy Marriage – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC Arabic Service, 29 July 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.