Thomas Michael Walle
University of Oslo
The ethnographic material presented is not intended to represent the unitary truth about the lahorian society; neither am I suggesting that I, in any sense, am close to giving an account of any majority's point of view. Rather, it is merely brought forward to illustrate my main arguments, which I admit do have an ideological bias.
My point of departure is that gender, as a category, is socially constructed. The male and female sex are ascribed qualities which are shaped by cultural processes (Ortner & Whitehead 1981). 'Gender' as a social category, is independent of biological sex, but draws upon sexual imagery - upon the cultural conception of masculine and feminine attributes of the 'male' and 'female' sex respectively. Following this, 'masculinity' (as well as 'femininity') may be used to describe attributes both in a man and a woman, and also in a car for that matter (Strathern 1988). Thus, although a person of the male sex is expected to possess what the society recognises as 'masculine' qualities, 'masculinity' doesn't follow naturally from being born as a male. On the contrary, 'masculinity' is something that a male must obtain, forcing him to direct his action into being regarded as masculine by others. And, something that leads to a continuous prestige-struggle between men, aimed at determining who's the best at being a 'Man'.
Of course, any society will show a great variety of actual masculinities, but there exists a 'system' of socially constructed masculinity which has a strong influence on individual action. The dominant, hegemonic form of masculinity, will guide the action of every man, although I would like to stress that I acknowledge the particularity of the individual being. In talking about 'the man' in the following, I will mainly be referring to this idealised, hegemonic model of masculinity, even though it may only correspond to the actual characters of a small number of men.
Of course, all of these above mentioned practices are morally disapproved of by society at large. Furthermore they don't fit well with the general understanding of what is considered as proper Muslim conduct (in general it is easy to get a statement on what is proper Muslim conduct, and people seem largely to agree on this. The 'excuses' for not following this behaviour, while at the same time calling oneself a true Muslim, is more varied and not so easily stated). Shabir, of course, approve of this view, and he likes to present himself as a sincere believer in Allah, The Holy Koran and the prophet Muhammad. Like Shabir, his friends consent to this view as well. However, when it comes to 'moral sins', Shabir should be placed among the more extreme ones; 'Excess of hashish, excess of liquor, excess of sex!', as he once self-ironically labelled his own behaviour.
Although not surprised, I did find it puzzling that Shabir went to such measures in being 'a man among the men', since he was married and had two kids. While not enthusiastic about it at the time, Shabir married according to his parents' wishes without objections. One might be fooled to believe that the new conditions that this led to, would impose some restrictions on Shabir's possibilities to lead a life 'in excess'. Or, at least that the apparent contradictions in what was expected of him as a family-man and as a leisure-man respectively would arise some doubt in him. This urged me to ask him if he didn't feel bad about betraying his wife the way he did, and living a life of double standards (a question which, of course, is loaded with subliminal meaning, and a clear marker of my own, Norwegian background). His reply indicated that our western, somewhat naïve belief in 'inter-contextual consistency' (i.e. being more or less the 'same' person from one context to another) was far from relevant: 'I'm as good as a man can be!', he said, thus implying that he is as good a husband as any wife could expect to get; 'I'm worried and concerned about my wife and kids, I attend to and support weddings and other events in her family. I provide for the children's education and try to meet my wife's other wishes'. How he chooses to live his life beyond that, is none of their concern.
Obviously his wife and his parents don't know about his 'other' activities, and it's in Shabir's interest that it stays that way. They may suspect things, but still choose not to make a shindy about it. Shabir's behaviour is of course directly relevant to his family's reputation, thus making the practice of concealing crucial. The concealing, of course, may apply both to Shabir, trying to keep his 'secret life' a secret, and to his family, not wanting what they know about Shabir's secret life to become publicly known.
His wish to conceal the many love-affairs from the family is understandable, but it is equally important for Shabir that his many girlfriends don't know about each other or his married status. To them he is the potential husband of their romantic dreams, something that Shabir lets them believe for as long as he finds the relationship interesting, trouble-free and status-generating.
Let us look at the man first: it lies at the core of my argument that a man's actions are led by a continuous prestige-struggle with other men. Different contexts leads to different behaviour, but still a man will act in a way that maximises his masculine attributes in other people's eyes.
This is the paradox of the whole thing: the woman will not gain any status as a woman by involving herself in an illegal relationship to a man. More so, she will neither be respected as a woman if the marriage is based on a prior love-affair. As far as the woman is concerned, she will only gain status as a woman by staying decent, passively defending herself from any moral sins. The woman doesn't have the same multitude of contexts to play out her womanliness as the man has in displaying his masculinity. Hers is the family, and only that, and she'd better stay decent, both for her own sake, and for the family's.
Men's gender-status rests on the existence of decent and indecent women; in the context of the family, a man's status depends on his ability to maintain the decency of the women around him, i.e. his sisters, wife and daughters. On the other hand, in the context of the male group of friends, a certain supply of 'indecent' women are necessary for the man to be able to display his virility and his skills at seduction.
The discrete division of women into categories of 'decent' and 'indecent', contrasts the evaluation of men as more or less masculine. The labels put on women, far from being any actual account of their character, should be seen as men's projection of their sexual desires, and thus tells us more about the men's gender-identity than the women's. The notion of men's sexual selves informs power relations between men and women, and is therefore instructive for our understanding of (their understanding of) female subordination (Melhuus and Stølen 1996:16).
Although being markers of men's masculinity, the categories 'decent' and 'indecent' are also used by women to describe the characters of other women. Herein lies men's power in the gender system. It is suggested that any form of category-creation is an act of power (Cornwall & Lindisfarne 1994), and even the categories 'men' and 'women' are such an act of power, since they are infused with normative meaning. As long as these categories are part of the unquestioned, taken for granted in society, women as well as men will take part in sustaining a hierarchical gender system that places the dominant men on top, subordinating both women and the alternative forms of masculinity.
A man's relation to his wife is a sign of male power through his legitimate restriction on her movements outside the household and requirement for her respectful and deferential demeanour (Mandelbaum 1988: 2), aimed at maintaining her decency; her so-called 'decency' being important for the evaluation of the man by others.
A man's relation to his girlfriend is a sign of male power by the discrepancy between the man and the woman's understanding of the relationship. The woman might think of herself as decent, wishing to marry the man that she loves (although she should know better, one might argue). For the man, marrying an indecent woman (which she frequently will be in his and other's eyes), is not the preferred option. And, needless to say, it's the man's understanding of the relationship that is the decisive one.
Whether she's acting out of love or there's a wish for social climbing, the woman's ultimate goal is anyway to get married to the man she's having an affair with. This doesn't change the man's intention with the relationship, however. And although both the man and the woman's behaviour is relevant to their family's reputation, it is easier for a man and his family to live with him being considered a womaniser (and in some respect it even gives him some status as a man), than for a woman and her family to live with her being called a whore (which forever places her among the indecent, less suitable for marriage).
As mentioned above, men might have status-considerations at ground, but they still use the 'language of love' in these relationships. Therefore, there must be a cultural concept of love that is common among the population, however morally disapproved of the love-affairs are. When talking about love, the more strict Muslims may choose to distinguish between a kind of gentle, respectful love that is shown from Allah and towards Allah, and in relations with your family, wife and children, which is of the good; on the other hand there is the romantic or passionate love which is of the bad, and which is seen as lustful and as a sign of weak character. And they may find support in the religious literature: Peletz (1996) has remarked that probably the best known Koranic passages bearing on 'passion' are those that emphasise its negative aspects, especially its links to 'lust' or 'shahawat' and the doing of evil. The medieval commentator 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar al-Baydawi made this comment on the concept of 'nafs'/'the self' (translated as passion, desire, lust, want, longing) as it appears in the Sura 'Yusuf': 'In truth, the nafs continually incites one to evil insofar as it is by nature inclined toward al-shahawat (the 'passions'/'lusts') and is preoccupied with them, and insofar as it employs one's limbs and bodily forces in pursuing lusts at all times. (ibid.: 221, 367-8; Origin: David Pinault) 
Of course people will agree on the negative connotations of 'lust' in even its wider sense. To some, any action driven by lust is renounced, since desire in this life will have direct and negative consequences for the life after death.  Naturally, everyone don't manage to restrain themselves from all their desires, but more importantly there is power involved in determining what actually is lustful, it being a form of category-creation. That romantic and passionate love should be equalled with what is al-shahawat, is cultural determined rather than a matter of fact. And it may come as no surprise that in general, when it comes to sexual lust, women are considered to be far more inclined to passion than men: 'Given the opportunity, 70% of all women would have sex. After all it's in their nature', as one man told me.
Thus a man is driven by his status-considerations, never intending to actually marry his girlfriend, whereas the woman is driven by passion, believing that she's found the husband of her romantic dreams. Within the love-relation, this discrepancy creates a situation which is neither favourable to the woman nor to 'love': romantic and passionate love is associated with al-shahawat; a love-struck woman is thus regarded as indecent. Still it doesn't have to be like that. In the invocation to the still highly popular 18th century (1180 AD) Punjabi love story of 'Hir & Ranjha' Waris Shah writes: 'Praise be to God who made love the foundation of the world; God Himself was the first lover for He loved the Prophet Muhammad/.../ In truth it is meet and proper to praise God and invoke the help of Saints and Prophets before essaying this story of Love'(Shah 1973: 25; my emphasises). In this traditional story of the two lovers who can't get each other and dies in despair, the Romeo and Juliet of the sub-continent and model for every love story of the Bollywood film-industry, there's no decisive difference between the romantic and passionate love that two humans feel towards each other, and the love that Allah had for the Prophet Muhammad.  Here love is something beautiful, far from inciting one to evil, but rather the foundation of the world.
The cultural tradition of romantic love is far from being a mere memory of the past. Adults accept that especially the youth may be infatuated with someone of the opposite sex which they encounter. The newspaper's youth-sections display a bundle of letters expressing this (mostly) hopeless love. The answer goes always in the direction of understanding, followed by the advise to let time work for you (the infatuation will soon vanish).
The more serious affairs among grownups may at times lead to marriage, or at least a wish for marriage. As stated earlier, the tendency is for the women to try to combine love with marriage, whereas a man more seldom is inclined to marrying out of love. He often has the ability to obtain love through his extra-marital affairs, and furthermore gain the double status of having a successful and respected marriage on the one side, and maintaining several love-affairs on the other. Of course one might object that the kind of love that a man like Shabir has for his girlfriends, is not the same kind of love as the romantic and passionate love which is written about in the story of 'Hir & Ranjha'. Shabir, however, in teasing his friend Omer, who for a period of time intended to marry his only girlfriend, claimed that he loved his eleven girlfriends as much as Omer loved his one.
As for those marriages that do occur as a consequence of a love-affair, or preferably due to some distant infatuation, there are different attitudes towards them depending on the respective families. Some marriages are renounced completely (among these, a small number is brought before the court); some are given an appearance of traditional, arranged marriage; some are accepted at last, acknowledging the changing times. However, even among the self-labelled 'modern' upper-classes, where this kind of marriage is more frequent, 'love-marriage' carries negative connotations. One mother, whose son married his girlfriend from an equally well-off family, was quick to blame the special circumstances of the marriage when the divorce was a fact a few years later.
There's a pattern here: the general hostility towards love as the foundation of marriage, may be seen in connection with the division of women into categories of decent and indecent. Although this labelling of women is more a part of the men's view of their own gender identity than any actual characteristic of the woman, the power of men to define the relevant categories in the society makes this discrete division of women a part of the unquestioned, taken-for-grantedness of society. Thus, even if a love-marriage is approved of by the family (and sometimes they are 'forced' to, due to some immoral act from the couple's side), the woman may still be indecent in many peoples eyes. In any circumstances, a new bride faces severe challenges in becoming a part of her husband's family; if there are any doubts about her stature and chastity, this becomes even more difficult. Thus the chances of a bad marriage, and even divorce, is relatively much greater.
Thus, in general, a man will not marry out of love. Either or both because he doesn't want to damage his own and the family's reputation by marrying an indecent woman, or/and because he will loose the status as a womaniser that he had before marriage.
Of course some men don't bother about this, and choose to live (and sometimes flee) with their love while they risk being regarded a lesser man. The couple will, however, face a lot of negative response from men and women alike.
As I have shown, the concept of 'romantic love' and 'love-marriage' is not, as several people argue, a western import. Interestingly, even the metaphor with the kettle of boiling water doesn't distinguish the love of the western love-marriage from the love of the Pakistani arranged marriage. It is basically when it comes to romantic and passionate love in the Pakistani context that love becomes a problem, something lustful that incites one to evil; something that must be controlled. Based on this, it is tempting to suggest that romantic love and the love-marriage is renounced because it poses a challenge to men's dominant position in society.
The love-marriage is the only safe way for a woman to experience true, romantic love, the love of the arranged marriage being a bonus, and often one based on mutual respect rather than romance and passion. Furthermore, the love-marriage is a relation between man and woman that to a large degree is based on equality between the genders, since both bride and groom enters it out of love. A man that chooses to marry out of love, rejects the importance of being valued by others as a man according to traditional opinion. He further rejects the validity of the categorisation of women as either 'decent' or 'indecent', which lies at the core of the system of masculinity (or maybe he only chooses to ignore it in this special case?). By representing a possible alternative to the dominant version of masculinity, he threatens to expose the arbitrariness of the taken for granted, the doxa in Bourdieu's writing (1977). And, to continue with Bourdieu, the dominant men (the dominant classes in Bourdieu) have an interest in defending the integrity of doxa or, short of this, of establishing in its place the necessarily imperfect substitute, orthodoxy (ibid.: 169). Different from doxa, orthodoxy is a matter of public discourse. What the dominant men struggle to do, is to keep the issue of their superior position out of public discourse. Therefore, when it comes to love-marriage as a social institution, they will try to direct the focus of the arguments against it away from the gender-system.
The conflict between arranged marriage and the love-marriage is not one between Pakistan and the west. It is neither one between the traditional and the modern. It may, however, be interpreted as a conflict between men's dominant position on the one side, and women's (and men's?) fight for their right to romantic love on the other side. More importantly, it is a fight that challenges the taken for grantedness of male superiority. That this is a feminist struggle is supported by the fact that the several cases of love-marriages that have been brought before the court in Pakistan lately, have been backed by the feminist, human rights movement led by the lawyer Asma Jehangir. And the main argument has been that, according to the Koran, women have an equal right as men to choose their spouse, with or without their wali's (guardian) consent.
Seen from the west, the process of globalization has led at least scholars to view differing cultural practices as less curios. Cultural variations should be understood and accepted on their own premises. This tolerance for the cultural specific may lead us to overlook the unjust differences in a culture, and in regard to gender relations one often needs to be from 'outside' a culture to acknowledge a power-structure that places men on top. Within the actual society, the position of men in the hierarchically structured gender-system is a part of the taken for granted.
Seen from the Muslim community, globalization is easily regarded as posing a threat to their cultural specificity; however much the west talks about tolerance or acceptance of the cultural specific, and stresses the equal worth of different cultural concepts. Globalization may imply an increasing pressure towards westernization, something which one should guard oneself against.
Globalization leads to the conflation of the concepts of 'modernization' and 'westernization' in the perception of people in non-western localities, and in our case, in Muslim societies. This 'westernization' may of course be deemed positive by some and negative by others, although it is its strength as a negative concept which is significant here. Unwanted modernization (which in my argument is cultural changes that challenges the taken for grantedness of male domination) is thus labelled 'westernization' - and is thereby a process that the whole community may stand up against, since it is no longer perceived as cultural changes from within, but rather as negative influence from outside.
By making the conflict between traditional, arranged marriage and love-marriage a conflict between the Muslim community and the (Christian) western world (which it is not), the dominant men manages to defend the integrity of the doxa. Through extended travelling and visits abroad, foreigners visiting the country, propaganda, and global broadcasters, films, books, newspapers and magazines, people have made up an image of the outside world. The use of 'The West' in the rhetoric against love-marriage, effectively associates it with something that many people have negative (albeit ambivalent) feelings towards.
Although the love-marriages is nothing of the new, as the literature shows, its increasing presence in the general discourse may be seen in connection with the overall process of modernization. Changes in the Pakistani society have brought more women out on the public stage, into education, the work-force and the political life. Firstly, this increases the contact between men and women, and may thus lead to more love-affairs. Secondly, more women become aware of their rights, and starts asking questions concerning male domination in the society. 'The new possibilities that women are facing, requires a lot of changing from the men's side', an older man said to me.
As more couples marry out of love, the strength of the arguments against love-marriage may weaken. As for the situation today, love-marriage is an issue of public discourse - the case of Saima Wahid and her husband reaching all the way from the Supreme Court in Pakistan to the front-pages of Norwegian newspapers. And, although the married couple had to flee the country, their victory in the court was a sincere blow to those who had found support against love-marriage in the religion.  This being stated, the chances of the underlying causes for the struggle against love-marriage to be exposed, namely the maintenance of male domination, becomes ever more present.
Cornwall, A. and Lindisfarne, N. 1994 (Eds.), Dislocating masculinity: Comparative ethnographies.. London: Routledge
Mandelbaum, D.G. 1988, Women's seclusion and men's honor: Sex roles in North India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press
Melhuus, M. and Stølen, K. A. 1996 (Eds.), Machos, Mistresses, Madonnas. London: Verso
Ortner, S. and Whitehead, H. 1981, Introduction: Accounting for Sexual Meanings. In Ortner and Whitehead (Eds.): Sexual Meanings. (pp. 1-27).
Peletz, M. G. 1996, Reason and Passion. Berkley: University of California Press
Shah, W. 1973, The adventures of Hir and Ranjha. London: Peter Owen
Strathern, M. 1988, The Gender of the Gift. Berkley: University of California Press
2. Probably with reference to Zulaika, Potifer's wife who tries to seduce Yusuf. [*]
3. I was told by some that at birth, a person is given a fixed amount of fortune from Allah. The amount is equal for all Muslims, and the less you desire in this life, the more of the given fortune you will enjoy in the life hereafter. [*]
4. The English translation by Usborne, has somewhat modified the text, due to what Usborne found 'unchaste' and the 'language of men'! The text has several references to the mentioned Sura 'Yusuf'. Other remarks show a derogatory view of women and their nature. [*]
5. The Supreme Court in Pakistan is using the religious literature as it's main reference in determining the validity of a given case. [*]
© The author and Nordic Society for Middle Eastern Studies. Archived 29.3.99