Pakistan: This Is Your Wife
Invitation to an arranged marriage
BY Kim Perry
December 19, 2006
Kim Perry recently earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of California Berkeley. Perry has worked on projects for the washingtonpost.com and has reported on stories from China, South Korea and Pakistan. She works for SignOnSanDiego, the Web site of The San Diego Union-Tribune.
In the past, we've reported from Pakistan about political conflicts and natural disasters, but in this week's "Rough Cut," we travel there to celebrate a wedding.
FRONTLINE/World reporter Kim Perry first met the Asghars, a well-to-do Pakistani-American family, while she was reporting on immigrant communities in California. When family matriarch Robina Asghar told Perry that her eldest son Tabriz was about to go to Pakistan to marry a woman he barely knew, she invited Perry to film the occasion.
In Perry's affectionate portrait, we first meet Tabriz at his parents' home in Stockton, California, as he prepares to leave. Wearing a T-shirt and a baseball cap, the 27-year-old law student looks every bit the relaxed Californian and admits that he hasn't given much thought to his pending nuptials. "Right now, there's nothing running through my head about it. There should be, but there's not," he shrugs.
He just knows that it's part of his family's culture and he doesn't want to let them down.
"I'm pretty sure I'm not going to force my kids to do what I'm supposed to do," he tells Perry. "But for me, this is what I was taught to do, so I'm going to do it this way."
A deer caught in the headlights doesn't begin to describe the groom's expression of bewilderment once he and the rest of the family arrive in Islamabad for five days of hectic wedding celebrations. The festivities begin at his father's village in the northern frontier, where Tabriz gamely dances in traditional dress with a group of men from the village.
Then it's back to the city for a series of receptions, where the parade of dazzling outfits and decorations make the story such a visual delight.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, a piece of paper is signed and the bemused bride and groom are officially married.
The affable Tabriz, who teaches elementary school back in Stockton, does his best to guide us through the occasion and share how it feels to be caught between his parents' cultural expectations and his own sense of himself as a 21st century American. He admits that during the prolonged wedding ceremonies his mind was blank for much of the time. "I am thinking of Tony the Tiger, Frosted Flakes, then Lucky Charms," he says sheepishly. "My mind just drifts off."
Even when the camera settles quietly on Tabriz and his lovely bride as they are groomed and coiffed for the next event, their body language speaks volumes about their unease. Before the wedding, they had only met three times, and never alone. It's the couple's complete lack of familiarity that makes Perry's story so absorbing to watch.
"For me, the nine days I spent with the Asghar family in Pakistan," Perry says, "watching Tabriz adjust to the culture and customs was life-changing. He's just as American as I am."
When Perry asks Sumra, the bride, how she feels about the marriage, she simply replies, "It is what it is." The 22-year-old was planning to go to law school, but since the engagement, she says her parents have told her there's little point in pursuing her degree as it would be in Islamic law and take her four years to complete.
As the two were married in late 2005, we were curious to know how they are getting along now. Perry reports that once Sumra's visa was cleared in September, she arrived in the United States. She and Tabriz are currently living with his parents. Tabriz says he still questions being married, but he's OK with it. As for his wife, he says, "She's very patient with me."
Senior Interactive Producer
A Shah - Atlanta, Ga
This has definitely been one of the most insightful productions I have seen on this topic. I have been looking for something like this for quite some time. Following Tabriz and Sumra gives me a whole new insight on what my marriage may be like.
I am a Pakistani - American born in Pakistan. I have lived here in the US
since I was 5. From the opinion of family and friends, I am about as "americanized" as they get.My way of life and my outlook has been American since I got here. Now, I am faced where the two parts of my life, my Pakistani family and my American
-Pakistani individual life have come to a crossroads.
After a string of good and bad / relationships, I have given into pressure
from my family to marry a Pakistani girl. A very similiar situation to this, my family believes in joining us for hopes of making my life easier.
Unfortunately, since I have spent most of my life embracing love before marriage, now I have been told that I will be married and love will find its way. At times, I am absolutely content with the idea that I am going to bring joy to my immediate family who is oblivious to my current life style, and to my extended family whom I see every 10 years. Maybe it is because I have had this concept that this will be happening ever since I was younger.
That we as Pakistanis in America can not and should not assimilate with non-muslims in a marital sense. That a union between me and a Pakistani woman would continue generations of "good" people because of our bloodline.On the other hand, I see why I am terrified of what will happen. A person
who does not completely understand my world, this world. A language barrier which acts like a dark thick smoke between us. All attempts of small talk with my future wife leads to nothing. I am not even sure if she has access to internet or just a reluctancy to use a computer which makes chatting
or communicating online impossible. My situation is very similiar to these Tabriz and Sumra's. I am very open
to discuss or even talk to the stars of the show to potentially get a glimpse of my life may be after an arranged marriage. Although I have made a decision, I am not convinced its the right one for me. Rather than taking a
step to marry my chosen partner, and realizing it was not in my best interest, I would rather break off an engagement than a wedding. I appreciate who ever reads this and responds in a advance.
Tabriz Asghar - Waterloo, Ca
Hello all, I just thought I would send everyone an update on how Samra and my marriage is coming along. We have been happily married now for 3 and are expecting our first child, which was planed, in December. Up to now it has been a crazy experience, but well worth it. Our first year of marriage was a struggle, getting to know each other, but after that we seemed to have become best friends and soul mates. Our happiness is not credited to the style of marriage we had or who chose us to be together, but to luck and compatibility. I am really, really happy about being married to my beautiful wife, but I still ask myself the question of why I did it. At first I thought I did it for my parents, but now I think there could be other reasons that led me to making this decision. I'm still, to this day, trying to figure out why I made the decision, but hey it is easier to figure it out when you are happy then when you are miserable.link is to some pics of my wife and I from the last couple year
Somera Khan - Stockton, California
Lol He was my computer teacher at clairmont. He was a bit strict though he would never let me and my friends use the computer for fun :[ memories haha.. anyways the bride's really pretty! And it was nice seeing Anila in the video ;D
shab khan - sharon, ma
Good story but this practice is becoming rare especially in the US. All US born desi boys don't think like Tabriz, putting family first and bowing to their parents wishes. Arranged marriages are more successful than love marriages because parents look for common values, culture, traditions and similar temperament (factors that matter more in the long run). That leads to less of chance of conflict, which is the key to any successful marriage. From an Islamic perspective the bride and the groom should have met, conversed and approved of each other before saying 'yes' .
I wish them both luck and thanks for sharing your story with us.
Cat Alo - Indianapolis, Indiana
I was married at age 19.5 barely knew my husband. It was partially arranged due to the fact i got a chance to know and talk to him for four months but we are happily married after 20 years. Communication is very important.
ali khan - rahim yar khan, pakistan
What an interesting documentary. I cannot say that love vs. arranged is better or not. I suppose it depends on the couple as in most cases. I married for love but I have friends who have had marriages arranged and they seem very happy and in love.
Whether it is a love or arranged marriage it doesn't dictate whether it will be successful or not; and the matter of love marriage only arises if someone is in love. What if the person isn't in love then wha? He/she still has to get married, so why not by their parents' choice?
Prof Ramesh Manghirmalani - Danville, California
My personal congratulation to couple and the family, I saw the video and I enjoyed the ceremony. The Institution of Arranged Marriage.
A marriage in India and Pakistan are considered a marriage of families rather than the marriage of individuals. Once you understand this concept, one can even appreciate the beauty of arranged marriages. The parents try to solder the bonds with their friends by arranging marriages between their respective children. In olden times the boys and girls married in their teens so it was considered appropriate that the parents choose the spouses instead of leaving the decision to the kids.
A type of arranged marriage where the maternal cousins and sometimes maternal nephews married was/is also common in India. This was known as rightful marriage alliance in some communities, and possibly came into existence to "keep the money inside the family". The steps involved in an arranged marriage vary by communities and families. Sometimes they involve extremities such as "promise made while gambling" or "bride whom the father of the groom likes", but here are the most common scenario, and the process can break down at any step -- mostly earlier than later.
Broadcast of Availability -- This is when the guardians of the groom or bride announce that they are in market for an alliance. Securing of a stable job, engagement of an elder sibling, graduation are some of the events triggering this step.
Horoscope Matching: The interested parties trade birth horoscopes as a sign of showing interest. Those who believe in horoscopes consult with astrologers and priests to find out compatibility. The compatibility score is often used to reject an alliance.
Photo Exchange, Interview, and Background Check: Till this step the bride and the groom do not know what the other partner looks like! The pictures (and sometimes videos) are exchanged and if in agreement, one or more face to face interviews (called darshan) are arranged, during which elders are also present to help with familiarization. Background inquiries are conducted to dig past, bad habits (smoking, drinking, anger management problems) through relatives and friends.
Dowry and Contract Negotiations: The logistics of marriage are then discussed. Who pays how much for the wedding expenses, the gold, the dowry, girl's and boy's net worth, the house they'd live in etc.
Engagement: If all the parties are in arrangement, sweets are shared to announce the engagement. Sometimes called as "eating of the sugar" this marks the end of an arranging of an arranged marriage, and the gift exchanges begin.
T Shaikh - Toronto, ON
Really the best ...though nothing new for me but I agreed that dates here in West are also somehow arranged. Let me clear that in our religion it's mandatory to be bride and groom to have a conversation in private before the nuptials are tied.
imran camancho - denver, co
I m a Pakistani living in America. I don't like to be called American, but i married an American when I was 22, never again. Now I am 42 still in America, and after having slept and dated dozens, i still say, never marry an American. Stick with Pakistani.
badra bidesi - oklahoma, ok
What a great piece - non-judgemental and non-partisan - reporting in its purest form. great job! In essence this piece brings up the question - what works better for a long term relationship - knowledge prior to commitment or commitment prior to knowledge... having experienced and lived on both sides of the equation - i have my own take on this that I will like to share.
During my attempts to know someone first and then committing (love marriage) dating brought forth the best of behaviors in both of us, pretentions abound, slowly finding some aspects that did not click - first reaction was to overlook it, then "I can change that" then "she will change" and lastly - well if this does not change - I will go and find someone else -
The Escape Clause - the breakup option or if it is too late the divorce option. Even by living with a person for years it gives only a surface glimpse of their personality - because different variables of time, place and person bring forth different reactions in that person. So truly knowing a person is a dynamic process and not static variable. People who go through divorce proceedings after 20 yrs of marriage will tell you - I never knew he / she could be like that...
On the other side - going in with a resolution of commitment and then knowing a person - arranged marriages - you come from approximately the same backgrounds - socio-religio-economical - basic values/ struggles/ formative behaviors are nearly congruent - you know the person as you go along - sacrificing for each other, caring for each other - knowing becomes an active process - with you involved in it as a participant rather than an observant - love sprouts from the hard fought battles and is well earned and not merely a feeling... unless there are gross irreconcilable background differences - this strengthens the relationship with time.
I hope this couple finds their love along the way...
Congratulations Ms. Perry and FRONTLINE.
Hassan Waheed - Houston, TX
LOL. I was Tabriz 15 years ago and my wife was Sumra. Today, after 3 kids and the ups and downs that life deals out to everyone, I can't say I ever regretted having an arranged marriage. The beauty of this tradition is that even after fifteen years, my wife and I continue to discover new and charming things about one another, and the love and respect between us continues to grow.
If my marriage fails I will blame myself. If an arranged one does, as they often do, who do you blame? Your parents? Her parents? Worse, failures in such marriages are considered a "family stain" and lead some women to suffer untold abuse in the name 'of protecting' the family.
anonymous - bowie, md
arranged marriages makes no sense why should your parents choose your spouse????
muhammad sami ullah - karachi, sindh
i am 23 years old and I am finding a great wife for American national.
Santa Maria, Paraguay
Amazing site. Thanks, admin.
Hello,I would like to thank you for this report. Recently I've been experiencing something very difficult: I am in love with a Pakistani-American who cannot be with me because of the marriage traditions he is bound to. This video helped me learn more about their culture. Actually it has helped me in more ways than I can explain. Thank you very, very much.
Nice site Thanks, webmaster.
As a Pakistani-American who was born and raised in the US, I can understand how most Americans would see the concept of an arranged marriage would seem like an outdated custom and a forced situation for the individuals involved. However, these days the idea of an arranged marriage is nothing like your worst nightmares of it. In fact, nowadays the man and woman would meet one another before anything is decided on. And would continue to talk to one another and get to know each other and their families, then the final decision lies in the hands of the man and woman if this is something that they want to be joined in.In most Pakistani homes that I have seen here in the West, the families will advice their children of a good man or woman who comes from a good family and who shares the same values as them. In our religion of Islam, it is taught that when choosing a mate for marriage, one should choose someone who shares the same values as you, comes from the same type of status background as yours, and one who will make you want to be a better person in life. With that said, many families will reach out to other families similar to theirs and see if something works for their children. It is no longer a case of forced marriage, at least not that I have seen. However, for those that still have their doubts about it should know that the rate of divorce amongst "arranged" marriage couples vs. the dating-lead-to-marriage couples that we see more often in the West has a far less rate. Why? Because the concept of marriage is not to only fulfill the happiness of just one's self, but instead it's about the happiness and familial connection between both people and both families. Pakistanis and Indians alike that choose arranged marriages don't go into a marriage with the thinking that divorce is an option. They go into it with the thought process of I am entering this marriage willingly and after careful consideration; and I am going to do all I can to make it work.
As a Pakistani-American who grew up in the West, I can not understand how one can let the parents decide who you are going to spend the rest of your life with. Because of limited communication with the to-be spouse before marriage, you are almost in the dark as to what to expect from your spouse. No matter what happens after marriage, you will always have that doubt whether you would have married this person had it been a love marriage. I just feel that in an arranged marriage, it is extremely hard to have a sense of appreciation for each other while knowing deep down inside that the only reason you're with your spouse is because of your parents. In addition, if an arranged- marriage doesn't work out, you can not even hold yourself accountable for saying yes to her in the first place. After all, it was your parents who set you up with her. In contrast, in a love marriage, if things work out, there is a sense of appreciation for each other. If things don't work out, you can at least hold your self accountable. Some would point to the divorce rate among arranged and love-marriages to point out why arranged marriages are better (love marriages have a greater than 50% chance of ending up in a divorce). A fallacy in that theory is that some arranged marriages are dysfunctional from the get-go. Yet, because of social reasons and the fact may traditional families consider divorce to be a taboo, spouses would rather spend the rest of their lives unhappy with each other than get a divorce.--Asher
John Betcher - North East, PA
Great video. It's a shame that it is no longer available. It will not play from the website. Can I purchase a copy?
Excellent, being an Australian Pakistani, I can imagine how that guy would be feeling at the time of the marriage. It reflects the sub continental culture, however. There are pros and cons of these arranged marriages.
I grew up in India and arranged marriage is actually a preferred way by the society at large. Marriage is considered to be the merging of two families rather than two individuals. I dont know what good and what bad lies in arranged marriages. But to the west I pose this question, isnt dating also prearranged? For example, a friend set up with her single friend...
Mel Flu - Allen, TX
The idea of an arranged marriage seems very odd to me as an American teen, who is used to the concept of marriage for love and has already witnessed several weddings of various relatives. This was definitely a new look at marriage--to marry someone who is almost a stranger simply because it is tradition or your family tells you to. I find it rather distressing that both bride and groom reported that no one had really asked them what they thought of the proceedings, though I suppose it might be easier to get through such a marriage if you didn't think of it too much at the time. But both Tabriz and Sumra seemed hopeful about the outcome of such a marriage, even though they were very awkward with each other during the celebrations. After the marriage they seemed more relaxed sitting by each other, which seems to express successful bonding. It would take a great deal of courage to deal with your new spouse after the wedding, which I believe they both display. They display wonderful values of loyalty to family. I hope they are happy together.
I am sorry I missed this program.
FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
You did not miss it. You can watch it right here online. Just press play.
Thanks for a great little film. I loved how you captured the uncertainty this guy was feeling, how he tried to inch toward the bride when they were sitting together and she immediately inched away from him. And I love the last shot of them walking together, she carrying her heavy dress...
Amin Ali - Sugar Land, TX
I am happy that Mrs. Kim Perry chose to document a report on this subject. Even though Pakistan and India are modernizing and many citizens are letting go of past traditions such as sati (widow burning), etc. some issues remain such as marrying girls aged 15 to men who are 20-30 years older than them, women being forced to marry men that end up leaving them, and dowry laws which continue to lead many women to suicide and death by in-laws. Thanks Mrs. Perry and please continue your work!
18 Jefferson Ct, MA
I couldn't get the link to work. It's sad, I was really looking forward to seeing this.
A Jensen - New York, NY
Very, very interesting- waiting for the follow up!
Waheed Shams - Elmhurst, NY
I've been in US for last fifteen or so years. My views have changed dramatically towards arranged marriage even though it's part of our family tradition and national culture. My cousins who were born and raised in US were also married in similar fashion. I have also seen cousins back home (in Pakistan) getting married to their choice of brides as well. I guess there are all kind of possibilities and most of them depend on personal choices.
Paul Deyerle - Belgrade, MT
I understand more now than I did before. Thanks.
David Castle - Front Royal, VA
What a great production. Miss Perry should continue to produce these kinds of productions. Great job keep up the good work.