I was reading an interesting viewpoint the other day about the supposed ‘marriage crisis’ in the Arab World (and in particular Egypt). However, the article referred to a book which addressed a similar debate which took place at the turn of last century. I found it interesting because the same fears and anxieties are going on today in, not only the Muslim world, but all around the industrialized nations.
I am however going to concentrate on the issues that are relevant to the Arabo-Muslim World. Back in the last century, the debate about the ‘marriage crisis’ was framed in terms of the increasing number of bachelors, now it is framed in terms of the increasing number of ‘spinsters’. I think that this is an indication of traditional (or conservative) societies unease with modernity which in the last century manifested itself in young educated men with stable jobs and careers and now in young educated women with independent incomes and careers. Conservative societies have a problem with individuals who are too independent I think because they fear that the centrifugal force of tradition won’t be enough to hold them within the bounds of conservative lifestyles. I can understand this anxiety, because tradition thrives on conformity and inter-dependence, but is it justified to claim that independent and enlightened individuals will necessarily spin off? And assuming they do, what if their new and fresh view of how things should be done is in fact better than that of their ancestors? I think it’d probably be better adapted to the requirements of the times they live in anyway.
Certainly, it cannot be denied that the average age people are getting married at has dramatically risen. This can pose some problems, but don’t the benefits outweigh the problems though? If people are taking longer to get married, in most cases it’s because they have more things to do before they can afford to start a family. Urbanization has led to communities being driven apart, so much that nobody can now hope to rely on the support of their village community to raise their kids and feed their family. Modern societies are founded on nuclear families and this is an important change to social dynamics because a young man and a young woman now need to have stable incomes, ideally a roof over their heads before they could afford to contemplate founding a family. But to call this a crisis is a bit too extreme, because it instills an unfounded anxiety within society which pushes people to throw themselves in marriages which have little chance of being successful, it encourages girls especially to not attach as much importance as they should to getting an education and more seriously in my view, it tends to put the blame firmly on the shoulders of those who may be the ones with most chances to pull marriage/ family standards upwards. For example, wouldn’t it be better to push people to become more responsible in their choices of marriage partners by allowing them to establish themselves on a personal and professional level than to pull everyone downwards towards viewing marriage as a life or death problem without considering and being conscious of the responsibilities involved?
But, of course, things are seldom that simple. Considering that marriage is the only legitimate sexual outlet in Muslim culture, rising average age when people marry is potentially very problematic. Marriage is necessary to pacify and discipline males who are naturally prone to crime, rebellion and aggression. I don’t think it is a coincidence that delayed marriages seem to coexist with increased incidences of sexual harassment and the rise in religiosity (the latter may well be a symptom of sexual frustration among other things). Also, it cannot be overlooked that the Arabo-Muslim World suffers from very serious economic problems, in fact, I don’t think any Arab country has an economy by modern standards. Economy influences society in undeniable and very tangible ways. The economic situation has been pushing more and more of young people to leave their countries and this contributes a further complication. For many young people, getting out and obtaining legal permits to remain in Europe or Canada is a life or death matter and often, it really is that. Many of these never inject anything back into their countries of origin and so the situation is like a life-threatening hemorrhage for the countries in question. Those who remain inside are so battered psychologically by the many socio-economic burdens that even if they do get married and found families, they’d be more likely to perpetuate the vicious cycle.
But enough of my own perceptions and let me now provide you with a few alternative viewpoints on the causes of the ‘marriage crisis’ which threatens the Arabo-Muslim World today (that’s more than a century after last century’s ‘marriage crisis’ which was blamed on carefree men):
– Lack of educated women, capable of being proper mates
– Women are successes: women’s education – their new, forward, Western ways, deter men from marriage
– Men are failures: more and more avoid responsibility and are a lot more averse to commitment, even when they are quite established financially and in middle age. Bachelors squander their money at coffeehouses or on debauched lifestyles. Those who are less financially secure lack the motivation to become successful and tend to expect the girl to bring and do everything for them
– Women want to have their cake and eat it: on the one side they want the perks of a Western woman’s lifestyle (career, salary, equality, freedom) and on the other side they want the perks of a traditional marriage (dowry, jewelry, maintenance provided for by the husband etc), they and their families make exorbitant demands on the grooms.
– Moving away from Islamically-assigned roles for men and women: and to illustrate this, I am reproducing a comment somebody posted in a Facebook group (according to this blog):
Let’s look at the big picture, which is the corruption of society in its entirety. One of the links in this chain of corruption is spinsterhood.
We can summarize this corruption as comprising unemployment, the collapse of morals, wretched poverty and lack of skills, and enormous class divides.
I think women’s employment is one of the most important reasons for this corruption. Of course people will attack me now, saying this is back-wards looking. […]
But come on, let’s think about this together.
First of all, what does Islam say about women working?
Of course Islam gives women the right to work in the Koran and the Sunna, on the condition that she works “out of necessity.” […]So women are permitted to leave the home to work in case of urgent necessity, such as when there’s no other source of income, for example–as long of course as the work is halal.
But do you think that’s way things actually happen? Of course not.
OK, so what’s the connection with spinsterhood? There’s a big connection because a working woman is either:
1) married and if she works she isn’t available to take care of her husband or her kids (particularly her daughters who need their mother the most). This results in the family falling apart, the kids being lost and badly brought up, the daughters facing all sorts of moral corruption–in the best of cases they’ll be in online chat rooms day and night…
2) unmarried but devout and ambitious: she’ll be successful at work and this will make it hard for her to find an equal match in marriage[…] It will also make things hard for any respectable, religious man who isn’t at her same professional and financial level.
3) unmarried and not devout: of course she is completely lost: mixing with men in the day, going out and staying up all night. No one respectable will want her, so she’ll either marry a pimp or become a spinster.
In addition, these three types have an effect on girls staying unmarried because they take men’s jobs, and therefore young men can’t find work, and then, of course, [because men can’t afford to propose] girls become old maids.
Every girl who works = an unemployed guy = a spinster
As you can see, some of these arguments contradict each other, but most of them apply equally well to Algeria. But is there a marriage crisis in Algeria today? I think that there has definitely been a dip in marriage figures during the black decade, these black years have really brought the entire country to a halt on all levels and that is not an overstatement. But now, people are getting married to anyone practically, and many people don’t even bother with securing the bare minimum before considering marriage (consider for example the phenomenon or should I say national tradition of communal marriages which are paid for by some charitable organization). On the other hand, divorce rates are increasing as well. It’s difficult to get accurate figures on the phenomenon. However, the discourse we get from the media and the Islamist channels does spell a looming disaster. There was a time when women were so brain washed with this spinsterhood propaganda that many urged their own husbands to take multiple wives in the name of Islam!
There may be a marriage crisis in Algeria, but not in terms of increasing numbers of spinsters (which must also mean an increasing number of bachelors unless we believe the Islamist claim that the number of women by far exceeds the number of men hence the hikma in polygamy), but in terms of the role of marriage in modern society; what it means to people and why they want it. The institution of marriage has stood the test of time and even in the liberal West, people are still attached to this institution despite everything. The crisis is in the people themselves, the crisis is in the hysteria, in the ghastly economic constraints and the confused social expectations, the crisis is over the anxiety and phobia of women’s new role in society (which bring with them new demands).
It is difficult to predict how this phenomenon will evolve. But I say that marriage to an Algerian is a national duty and whoever abstains for any reason whatsoever is no less than a deserter 😛