There are a lot of things wrong with the way some marriages happen in many Middle Eastern cultures, whether it’s forced arranged marriages, marrying off daughters when they’re still too young, or the tribalistic and racist rejection of interracial marriages that many potential couples are faced with. We live in the 21st century, and yet we are still following traditions from the stone age. Okay, maybe not that far back, but you get the point.

And I’m not only talking about Arabs living in third world countries. There are people who have lived many years in first world countries, like the U.S., and no matter how modernized or progressive they are in other areas of their lives, when it comes to things like marriage, they can be as old-school as it gets.

The problem is that people in our communities are blindly following traditions just because it’s the way it’s always been done, and it’s the way society (not even the one they are living in) expects them to do it. They don’t even question if the tradition is truly beneficial or simply, if it’s even the right thing to do.

Is a woman’s value really represented by a dollar amount?

We are allowing ourselves and others to fall victim to traditions that often have absolutely no religious basis, and are seriously problematic. And it’s all because we’re constantly confusing culture with religion.

Take for example, the money men are required to pay when they ask for a woman’s hand for marriage. This is called the mahr. It could also be a financial investment in the form of jewelry (most likely real gold), a house, a car, or anything else that the bride and groom agree upon. The bride can choose to do what she wants with her mahr, and she can even choose not to have one at all. It’s her choice. But unfortunately, that’s not really the case anymore. 

Photo by Vireshstudio photographer

The original intention and purpose of the mahr was so that the woman would have some financial support and security if her husband was to die, or in today’s case, be faced with divorce (since divorce was not commonplace at the time). Although women had the right to an education, to work, to buy and sell property, etc., they still weren’t as financially independent as women are today. In Islam, it’s the man’s role to be financially responsible for the family, whether or not the woman makes an income herself. She is not obligated to spend her income on family-related expenses as the man is.

More importantly, mahr is intended to be a gift from the man to his future wife as a way of not only showing his affection and devotion to her, but to demonstrate his sincerity and respect for the marriage contract.

Unfortunately, the meaning and significance of this religious obligation has been lost in time to cultural practices and norms. Nowadays, a father, regardless of what a bride wants, could demand anywhere from $0 to over $10,000 to be spent on his daughter in the form of gold jewelry, along with other requirements that he deems necessary. It’s all too common nowadays for a father to request a ridiculously high amount just to show off to others in the community. 

We have a voice and a choice.

But what message does this send? Is a woman’s value really represented by a dollar amount? Regardless of the intention, this makes women seem like a piece of property to be sold and purchased, just as they had wrongly been in the past, and continue to be today in the sex trafficking industry. Now, I’m not comparing this to sexual exploitation, but rather suggesting how monetizing on a woman’s marriage is objectifying and wrong.

Women are even judged for how much gold their husbands purchase for them. You’ll hear aunties be like “Oh poor girl, she only got a ring and a necklace” as if this means she’s cheaper or less worthy than another woman who received an extra set of earrings or a bracelet. Or as if she should treat her soon-to-be husband like a sugar daddy. Palease.

I’ll just leave this here:


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There’s LEVELS !

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But ladies, we are partly to blame. Either we just stay silent and let our parents take charge of our lives because “they know better,” or we’re flaunting every piece of gold jewelry we own at our cousin’s wedding, and comparing ourselves to other women.

We have a voice and a choice. Instead, of just blindly following these misogynistic traditions, let’s be on another level, level 6, where we are our own “tricks,” shall we?

Don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful cultural tradition when it’s done for the right reasons and not just because you’re feeling pressured from society to do so. It could even be beneficial and kept as backup savings if the couple intends for it to be bought for that reason, too. God demanded a mahr to be paid in order for a marriage to begin with good intentions, good faith, and good deeds. It’s actually supposed to be a moderate and reasonable amount in order to make marriage easier, rather than sunken in debt and resentment.

It’s like they bought their respect instead of earning it, and this ends up setting the tone for the rest of the marriage.

In my experience, my father didn’t ask my husband for any amount of money when he accepted my husband’s proposal. But, my husband and his family still wanted to gift me gold jewelry on my wedding day (keyword: gift). It was nice going out to the jewelry store and trying on so many beautiful pieces from rings, to bracelets and necklaces. I won’t lie, I did feel pretty special. And let’s be real, what girl doesn’t like to be a little spoiled with some glamorous accessories?

But at the same time, I didn’t feel purchased. They simply asked me to choose what I liked, no matter how much it weighed, or how many pieces I chose. So, I got to buy things I thought I would actually wear instead of over the top ones that screamed, I’m a new bride, see me shine, just so that I could hit that weight goal. I wasn’t made to feel like my jewelry represented my worth to my father or my future husband, and I appreciated that. Some people might interpret it differently, but to each their own.

And just to be clear, my problem with this tradition is not that it is done at all, but rather in the way it is done. It is a religion obligation that was created to serve a positive, beneficial purpose. But it’s man-made transformations have turned it into an over-exaggerated demand and obstacle to marriage that is tainted with superficial and selfish intentions of showing off, and competing with or taking advantage of one another. And that’s no way to start a marriage.

There have been many instances I have heard of where families get into full on feuds in the days leading up to or even the day of the wedding over this exact issue, and the tension and turmoil that results follows the couple and their families for many years, if it didn’t already break the couple up.

It’s you. It’s your life. Your future. Your story to tell. So take control of it. Lead the life you want to live. And make your own choices for the things that have the power to shape who you are and where you’re going in life.

The real issue is that some men who do pay whatever dollar amount the father asks, then have this mindset that they own their wives, like they are purchased goods and not human beings with independent needs, ambitions, and feelings. It’s like they bought their respect instead of earning it, and this ends up setting the tone for the rest of the marriage. Some men even hold it over their wives’ heads, and act like they have the right to control and treat them as they please. And while not all Muslim men think or act this way, some of them certainly do, because that’s the mentality in which they were raised. The problem is, you can’t tell early on the ones who do from the ones who don’t.

Which brings me to the next issue with Muslim marriage happenings: the rushing into the kateb ketab or the nikah ceremony.

© Olivier Poncelet

A lot of couples have the kateb ketab pretty early on so that they can continue their relationship privately the halal way and can finally say goodbye to the spying parents and third wheelers. But my advice to all you ladies and gents out there is: Don’t rush into it, and don’t let the honeymoon phase of your relationship or your excitement to just be in a relationship get the best of you. Don’t let the pressure of your age or time scare you into making quick decisions you might regret later.

At the end of the day, it’s not your mother, father, or that auntie telling you you’re going to ‘anes that’s going to live with your spouse or be affected by the impact of that life-changing decision. It’s you. It’s your life. Your future. Your story to tell. So take control of it. Lead the life you want to live. And make your own choices for the things that have the power to shape who you are and where you’re going in life. Even if all of the voices around you are telling you that you should be married and have kids by now, listen to your own voice. What do you want? Who do you want?

And this still applies even when you are interested in pursuing a relationship and getting married.

Take the time, even if it means you have to deal with a third wheel, to really get to know each other, because otherwise, you’re pretty much playing Russian roulette with your life. I mean, on the one hand, you could get really lucky and be very compatible, but on the other hand, you could end up with someone very wrong for you in more ways than one. And you won’t be able to know that in the short span of a few months, or even a year or two.

I don’t mean to be such a negative Nancy, but I’ve heard too many horror stories by not only women, but men also, who have jumped the gun and had the kateb ketab too soon.

In one case, a girl was swept off her feet by a guy that seemed to be prince charming, only to find him totally change into a crazily controlling, overly-possessive guy after they did the kateb ketab. He even prevented her from having a relationship with her own family while she was still living with them. She was stuck in that relationship for years out of fear of being labeled as divorced and not being able to get married again.

In another instance, a guy I know fell out of love with a girl a while after the kateb ketab because of some serious compatibility issues that came up after they got to know each other more, but stayed with her only because he felt bad about how it would impact her reputation since they had become pretty intimate.

Ladies, it is your reputation that’s on the line. While you should never let your fear of what other people think dictate your decisions, it is unfortunately the reality of the society and culture we live in. People talk. They twist stories, and spread rumors. So, be careful in these situations because the guy does not nearly have as much at stake as you do. If he’s pressuring you into having the kateb ketab and you’re not ready, then listen to your gut. And never ever stay in a toxic relationship because you’re afraid of what people will say or think.

And, remember, marriage and a career don’t have to be two separate dreams. So, make sure you take this step when the time is right, and with the person you feel is right for you–someone who will help you reach your goals instead of holding you back from them.

Marriage can be beautiful. But it can also be a disaster. Or more like a beautiful disaster.

We are the next generation, and with the knowledge and resources that technology has given us, there is no excuse for ignorance and blindly following outdated traditions. We need to stop feeding into this gold-digger mentality, where women solely look to their husbands for wealth and prosperity, and instead raise them to know that they can buy shiny, expensive things with their own hard work. 

Assume nothing. Question everything. And make changes as you see fit without losing the beautiful parts of your culture and traditions. After all, they are and always will be a part of our history that make us who we are.

What are some of your most and least favorite cultural traditions? Share them with us in the comments below!

Ayah Shaheen
Ayah Shaheen

Founder and editor of AM Women Magazine, Ayah Shaheen always had a passion for writing and reading magazines. She graduated with a BA in Journalism and a minor in graphic design, and it was during her time in college that her journey with AM Women began. Having had such a difficult time navigating through life as a Palestinian American Muslim, she saw the need for a resource that would provide guidance for women like her. Although she always imagined herself working for a popular editorial publication, the lack of representation and her inability to connect with the branding and content of existing magazines motivated her to create her own. By creating this online platform, Ayah is living out her dream of helping American Muslim women live their best lives one article and story at a time. When she is not busy plugging away on her laptop, you can find her either spending time with family and friends or rummaging through racks at her favorite clothing stores. She’s a lover of all things fashion, beauty, Oreo, crab rangoon, and she has a Gilmore Girls kind of obsession with coffee.

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