Courtship and Marriage

Several decades ago, when males finished education or apprenticeship, and entered into income-generating activities, their mothers and other female relatives looked for suitable mates, although fathers held formal control over offspring's marriages. After discrete inquiries of the other family as to the response, the groom's family's made a formal visit to the bride's family. Traditionally, the perspective bride came into the room to serve tea. The groom's family acceptance of offered refreshment would indicate their inclinations. Some families might make marriage arrangements and not tell the girl until the marriage date grew close. Generally fathers negotiated about the mehr, the financial arrangements for the marriage. Depending on class, the fathers and perhaps other male relatives would attempt to come to an agreement about the money and property which the groom and his family would give to the bride's father. If a large mehr was demanded by brides' families, grooms often had to wait much longer than they wished for the marriage. Families gathered information about the health of the potential spouses and their family standing. Grooms' families wish for pretty, obedient, and modest brides, and brides' families want financially well-off grooms who can provide comfortable lives for their wives. In the past, families almost always arranged marriages. Although, according to Islamic law, girls are supposed to have the right to refuse, this was not always the case. Boys might have more say in the choice of marriage partner.

Marriage ceremonies consist of two main parts. The first is the signing of the marriage contract or aqd conducted by a Muslim cleric. If the bride was present, the cleric asked her if she consented to the marriage. An affirmative answer, generally in a low modest voice, or silence meant consent. Alternatively, the girl's guardian or representative came in her stead. The second part, the wedding celebration or arusi, might take place shortly after the aqd ceremony or some time later. Although families generally kept the aqd ceremony small, they wished to have a wedding celebration that was as extravagant as possible. Some decades ago, well-off families might even have had a 7-day celebration. Brides' and grooms' families held separate wedding parties, where males and females sat in separate rooms or separate buildings. People served tea, refreshments, and meals, laying out tablecloths on the floor and setting out dishes of rice and stews and other foods at intervals for people to help themselves. Families hired musicians so people could do circle dances in alley ways or courtyards. Males and females danced in separate lines, but young people could covertly watch each other celebrating. The bride was not supposed to be part of the celebrating crowd, but sat immobile, face downturned. Ideally, she should not eat or drink or move away from her position.

On the afternoon or evening of the arusi, the groom's family went to the bride's home, singing and making noise. They brought the bride, traditionally dressed in green, head covered with a pretty cloth, back to the groom's home. Particularly in tribal and rural settings, male relatives shot rifles into the air to celebrate the taking of the bride. The bride and groom might be seated together on chairs for a while in both the male and female sections. Finally, with singing and noise making, the crowd led the couple to the bridal bower or hejleh, decorated by the groom's young male relatives with colorful cloth hangings. The groom was then expected to consummate the marriage. He felt pressured to demonstrate his virility, and the bride was expected to show her modesty and lack of sexual knowledge. The latter was usually not a problem, as girls did not receive any sex education. Indeed, girls' parents ideally would meticulously keep them from any contact whatsoever with unrelated males. A white cloth bloodied with evidence of virginity and penetration might be brought out afterwards to show to guests. In the morning, overnight guests congratulated the groom upon his exit from the bridal room. Ideally, the bride remained in the hejleh, and for several days female relatives visited her there. On the morning after the marriage, the bride's mother and other female relatives came to see her, and might bring special foods to strengthen her or even penicillin to guard against weakness or infection caused by sexual initiation. Some time after the marriage, the bride's male relatives traditionally came to escort her to her parents' home, where they would be served a meal by the groom's family. The bride stayed with her family for several days, and then the groom's family came to fetch her.

Parents saw finding suitable mates for children as a main duty in life. Very few people failed to marry, although the disabled faced challenges in finding a mate. The rare single female generally remained in her parents' home.

Husbands could divorce at will, just by declaring three times, "I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you." Further, a husband could take as many as four wives, without the permission of any of them, and he could take as many temporary wives (sigheh or muta'a; Haeri, 1989), as finances allowed, making an agreement for the length of time and the money to change hands. Divorced or widowed men generally remarried within a short period of time. Men did not like to marry divorced or widowed, and thus non-virgin, females. Females did not remarry as often, and remained dependents of fathers, brothers, or sons.

The last few decades have seen radical transformations in courtship and marriage. As the Pahlavi regime developed state education, females left the house. Although educational officials generally tried to schedule classes so that boys and girls were let out of school at different times, the greater mobility of girls sometimes allowed young people to catch sight of each other. Males and females attended university courses together. In particular, those upper-middle-class young people who attended university and then worked in government positions, businesses, or services might chose their own mates. The young people, especially the females, generally had to obtain parents' assent for such marriages.

Even since the formation of the Islamic Republic, when government clerics attempted to reinforce sexual segregation and patriarchy, they have not been able to recreate the social control over male-female interaction that used to be associated with arranged marriages. Depending on class, boys and girls might be able to talk on the telephone or see each other. Middle- and upper-class males and females are sometimes able to co-mingle at wedding celebrations and parties behind closed doors.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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