JEDDAH, 10 September 2005 — The marriage proposal styles are changing in Saudi Arabia. No longer are spouse seekers restricted to traditional ways; they are making use — of matchmakers.
Traditionally, reputation was the key to making a good marriage. A -network of families and friends would transmit snippets of information about a young woman’s character, and this would attract a suitable suitor. A good reputation was, therefore, the most important attribute a young maiden could possess.
Nowadays, some young people refuse to take the traditional route and opt instead for a trip to a matchmaking office or perhaps a website. Sociologist Wafaa Al-Saadi said the trend is a result of girls’ parents setting too high a standard for the young men who wish to marry their daughters. “Girls’ parents ask for large dowries, high salaries and fancy houses as a way to guarantee pleasant lives for their daughters,” she said, noting that through marriage-facilitating offices young men often fill their requests with lower financial costs than proposing in the usual way.
At the Charity Project for Helping Youth Get Married, a Jeddah matchmaking office that has been operating for three years, marriage applications are received from both sexes giving details about themselves and the specifications of the spouse they wish to marry.
“Our job is to match men and women who have similar specifications and requirements together in cooperation with the men’s department,” a woman employee told Arab News. “Girls, divorced women or widows from 18 to 35 and sometimes above, apply to our office. Most of them don’t care much about the financial status of the groom.”
It’s an operation that maintains a low profile. “People married through our office prefer not to talk about the way they got married since it’s still unusual in our traditions. Some people wouldn’t accept it.”
Almost 85 percent of the marriage applicants are men; some are as young as 21. Many women seeking a partner on these websites don’t mind a misyar marriage, an often secret arrangement that doesn’t offer full rights to the woman.
Oddly, some men find it preferable. A 42-year-old Saudi man with six children placed an application in www.alzawaj.com that he wanted to marry a conservative woman in the “misyar” way. On www.zojah.com, a girl calling herself “the girl of Jeddah” wrote, “I’m 18, from Jeddah and I want a romantic man for ‘misyar’ marriage.”
People hold different opinions regarding these matchmaking methods. Some wouldn’t mind using it to find a spouse, other than cultural objections. “I think if I was living abroad, I would have no shame in finding a wife through matchmaking offices or websites since it’s legal in our religion,” said Rami Hassan, a 30-year-old Saudi bachelor. “However, in our society, people wouldn’t accept such a thing that is not in our traditions especially as we live in a conservative environment — and we are so tied to our traditions.”
Some, such as Sulfa Ahmed who works in a marketing company, dismis the idea altogether. “Finding a husband through the Internet does not seem safe to me,” Sulfa said. “The details provided about the person are not enough to determine if he is suitable and serious or not.”
It’s likely that traditional matrimonial methods will continue to be the most popular in the Kingdom for some time to come. But for some singles, it will be a hit — or a missus.