Matched By Mom: Arranged Marriage In America Sana and Shad Imam, a young Muslim-American couple, let their parents choose their partner. Shad says he thinks people just looking for love are missing out. Compatibility is much more important. The rest is just hard work.
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Matched By Mom: Arranged Marriage In America

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Matched By Mom: Arranged Marriage In America

Matched By Mom: Arranged Marriage In America

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We've been hearing this week from young Muslim Americans about their concerns about arranged marriages. Today, we'll meet a young couple chosen for each other by their parents, and they say they wouldn't have it any other way. NPR's Jamie Tarabay concludes our series on arranged marriages.

JAMIE TARABAY: It's a question Shad Imam has heard over and over again, most recently from a woman sitting next to him on a plane.

SHAD IMAM: She was floored. She was like, how do you marry somebody you haven't lived with?

TARABAY: He knows its sounds weird. But after nearly six years of marriage, what he has works. And he can't imagine being with anyone other than the woman his mother picked out for him.

IMAM: I mean, it depends on your expectations. And our expectation - my expectation from growing up, I mean, was that I would love my wife regardless of who she was.

TARABAY: He admits it's an idealistic way of looking at things, but a traditional marriage where the parents agree before the children do is something he says has worked for hundred of years in his culture, and it worked for him too. His parents were always going to be involved.

IMAM: If you - in our culture, if you don't want your parents to be involved, that's a disaster waiting to happen at some point. For parents, this is really their time to shine.

TARABAY: It's more than that. It's their duty says his wife, Sana. To see this husband and wife move about their Virginia home in total sync, finish each other's sentences, tend to their 2-year-old daughter, you'd never think they hadn't lived together before they were married. You'd never think this educated professional and Americanized couple would have stuck with an old tradition and married someone they barely knew. Today they're practically poster children for arranged marriages. In the beginning, though, it was a different story.

SANA IMAM: You know, we were pretty young, and then I had certain expectations of marriage. I had dropped everything. I'd put aside this whole year that we were going to get to know each other. And you know, it's going to be la la land. And for him, life went on. And that was just so devastating for me.

TARABAY: Was there ever a moment when you just thought, oh, my God, I really don't know this person, I can't believe I've just done this?

IMAM: Oh, yeah, definitely yes.

IMAM: Oh, yeah.


IMAM: Absolutely. I think I still have moments like that. I'm sure he still has moments like that.

TARABAY: When their parents looked to bring them together, they considered several issues, what the couple calls big-ticket items.

IMAM: Religiousness, growing with one another in terms of our, you know, just our religion.

IMAM: I think for me, respecting me as a woman.

IMAM: And then, you know, some of the practical things, money issues. I mean, how are we going to spend our money? I mean, I know for my parents, education was a big thing.

IMAM: And the family's education is a big thing.

IMAM: Yeah.

TARABAY: So the parents started digging around for information. Imam calls it the auntie network.

IMAM: And I think in our culture, almost around the board, you'll see that it's usually the mothers that are kind of the networking queens. They've got their hands kind of everywhere. They've always, you know...

IMAM: They know which girls have done what, who's ready to get married.

IMAM: And it's always second nature for them that they're thinking about it.

TARABAY: Theirs was a match with an American twist. They got to meet each other first and see if they liked each other. Imam says parents are starting to realize traditional marriages don't work here as well as they would in, say, India or Pakistan.

IMAM: They're hearing a lot of these cases about people in our generation that it's not working out. They're getting divorced and they're having a hard time getting married again. I feel like there's a trend amongst parents now to really at least allow for an opportunity...

IMAM: Not to force as much.

IMAM: And not to force as much in terms of you're going to marry this person or you're not going to marry this person.

TARABAY: Ultimately, as much as you might have liked each other, it did come down to what your parents had to say.

IMAM: We have friends that met in college, fell in love, and you know, they fought for that. But I think our personalities were the type that we would -probably wouldn't have fought for it, because we didn't know each other that well either.

TARABAY: They had their own cultural barriers to contend with too. She was born in Pakistan and raised abroad. He was born and grew up here.

IMAM: I don't understand the American culture as well.


IMAM: You might as well say it.

IMAM: You know, it's just, you know, he was a lot more friendly with the ladies than I would have liked him to be.

IMAM: That's - this is been recorded.


IMAM: No, no, he's a good guy, very respectful, but he just had a lot of lady friends.

TARABAY: And hanging out at night with them wasn't cool with Sana, but they got through that and now say they're best friends. It sounds ideal, but the biggest question I had was were they in love?

IMAM: Are we in love? When we first got married, I don't think we were.

IMAM: I don't think we were.


IMAM: We would have said we were, but...

IMAM: Yeah, we might have felt like we were. Where we are today in our marriage, we would never want to go back from it.

IMAM: Yeah.

TARABAY: They say they have something much deeper than love. Imam says he's watched a lot of his American friends search for the one, whereas his philosophy was to work with his parent's choice to make Sana, the one. He thinks people just looking for love are missing out. Compatibility, he thinks, is much more important. The rest is just hard work. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you can hear all three stories in this week's series on arranged marriages at our Web site,

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