Islam, Love and Marriage: New Choices for a New World. Workshop at Cardiff University, 23 March 2011

Santi Rozario 'Islamic Marriage: A Haven in an Uncertain World.': Part One

Santi Rozario

Good evening and Assalamu alaykum everyone. We are most grateful that you could come despite the death of Sheikh Said, which we know meant a lot for many people in the Cardiff Muslim Community. Also, like Geoffrey, I would like to thank Saleem Kidwai and the Muslim Council of Wales, as well as the ESRC, the School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Muslim Youth Wales, Cardiff University Islamic Society, and ISLAM-UK for their support, for all of which we are very grateful.

Geoffrey has already given you a brief overview of our research as well as our findings. What I would like to do is take up one of the most important components of our research findings, which is to do with Islamic marriage as a form of security that young people are finding in this very chaotic, uncertain modern world that we are all having to live in today. So I will focus on this, but hopefully there will be a whole lot of other interesting issues that come up with that too.

As Geoffrey was saying before, the situation young people find themselves in, both in Bangladesh and in the UK, vary a lot both between and within the two countries. I won't say more about this here, you can find more detail in the report. However, despite these differences between the two groups our feeling is that both these groups are exposed to what we call the international culture of modernity which is very much common to them both. You can start with the films, the Bollywood and Hollywood products, figures such as Shahrukh Khan or Angelina Jolie, these figures, these images, these idols are almost worshipped equally in both parts of the world. So people share all of these, movies, film, music, internet, the secular values which comes in packages of both good and bad, they are all party to it, they are all sharing it, they are all exposed to the same sort of ideas and values all around. So to that extent they are all taking part in the international culture of modernity.

With my interviewees, when I asked them about their hobbies and activities, Bollywood and Hollywood movies often came up. The kind of romance and love portrayed by these actors and actresses is something young people identify with. Not so much identify with perhaps as aspire to. But they were also aware of the unreality of this world of stars and movies and impossibly perfect romance. And it is these kind of images, often, that young people were trying to move away from.

Certainly, while this exposure to the international culture of modernity offers young people many opportunities and choices which their parents never had, these choices and opportunities also come with many problems. One could perhaps ask, are there too many choices? Maybe. But it is here that I would argue that the new Islamic movements seem to offer solutions and a structure which young people can use to make sense of their lives.

So young people are dealing with a lot of possibilities, but also a lot of change, and a lot of uncertainty. The older generation both in Bangladesh and in the UK is still very much attached to the traditional extended family and its values, especially the value of honour of the family, which includes control of young women's behaviour. How women are treated and controlled by the family varies from Bangladesh to the UK, quite understandably. However, when the time comes for marriage, in both places women as potential brides are judged as 'good' or 'bad' - bhalo or kharap meye, we hear all the time, good girl or bad girl. This is just in terms of how they have been behaving in relation to traditional values, of how one should behave in relation to the opposite sex and all of that. There is lots I could say about this, but let's keep going.

Now looking at Bangladeshi people in the UK in particular, these values, especially the control of women, are highly problematic. Young people tend to see these values as directly linked to Bangladeshi culture, and certainly not as Islamic. Many of my interviewees would tell us how they hate 'culture' - they hate Bangladeshi culture, they hate Pakistani culture - and this rejection of 'culture' is something that for them is linked to their move to Islam.

For young women especially, marriage is when you come face to face with Bangladeshi 'culture' in a particularly direct way. It was very clear that the young people we have interviewed were under a lot of pressure to marry by a certain age. Even though they are living in the UK, and they are British-born, marriage is a must - of course marriage is regarded as essential both in Islam and in Bangladeshi culture. Women in particular have to get married, they have to find a husband. So there is a lot of anxiety about how to find a husband. You may not simply go along with your parents' wishes any more, but then how do you go about finding a reliable, dependable husband in today's context? Everything is messy, uncertain. People are worried about British Bangladeshis having been corrupted by Western values and sexual mores. So if you are British born and you are looking for somebody suitable, how do you go about finding somebody, if you can't rely on another British-born person of the opposite sex that you meet out in the street or in a club or whatever?

Geoffrey mentioned the Islamic Circles organization in his presentation. I've been to a number of the 'marriage events' as they were termed associated with Islamic Circles, and at them I was very surprised to see how popular they were, and that so many people turned up, more women than men. And what I found actually, even though they called themselves Islamic Circles, and the meetings were supposed to be, and were, carried out in an Islamic way, the people who came there were not necessarily that serious about religion. What they were looking for was an Islamic context which they hoped could more or less guarantee them finding a person whom they could rely on. Often p[eople would try Islamic Circles when they had tried lots of other things, they had tried the internet, they had tried through friends, and so on. I am not necessarily saying that these marriage events were working out either. But even though these people were not necessarily very religious, the religious context was the place they looked to in order to find a reliable partner.


Page revised 23 August 2011
by Geoffrey Samuel.