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Matchmaking Is Big Business

JEDDAH, 28 September 2004 — Matchmaking in Saudi Arabia has become such a big business that some marriage brokers earn up to SR100,000 for finding an eligible, high class partner for a spinster.

Even ordinary marriages arranged by these go-betweens, also called marriage mediators or marriage sheikhs, could cost the bridegroom’s family an average SR4,000 in “broker money”.

Many matchmakers are known to make hundreds of thousands of riyals in brokerage every month in a business that is fast losing its humane touch.

Gone are the days when mediators brought men and women together in blissful marriage for free. Gone too are the days when everyone knew everyone else and it was easy for families to find eligible grooms and brides for their sons and daughters.

Ahmad Al-Amry, a teacher who doubles as a marriage contractor, agrees that it is the days of marriage brokers without whom women do not become brides. “Yes, they are a big social problem. Greedy brokers have brought disrepute to what once was a charitable and humane deed. I wish match-finding is better organized with monetary assistance provided by the state and supervised by religious scholars,” he said.

Describing the whole process of marriage that includes registration, Al-Amry said, “The expenses differ from SR500 to SR5,000, sometimes exceeding that.” He says that he does what he does free of charge. “I am a teacher, so I want nothing from this except God’s reward.”

But such go-betweens are fast becoming extinct in a money-driven marriage market.

Women, especially spinsters, and elderly men top the list of people who depend on professional matchmakers. A woman who seeks to get married with the help of mediators says: “Girls are forced to resort to this method especially after society has changed and become fast-paced. In the past, people used to know each other and since they often met they knew each and every girl in different families. Now the chances of marriage for girls is scarce which compels her to resort to such methods in order to get married.”

Unmarried female doctors and divorced teachers crowd the marriage market. Al-Amri says: “There are many female doctors who are past 50 and still remain unmarried. And there are many spinster teachers who are around 45. Most of them are divorced and many consent to the so-called Misyar marriage as their marriageable age has long passed.”

In Misyar marriages, housekeeping responsibilities fall on the women and the men remain nocturnal visitors.

A female doctor, married and mother of three who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “Unfortunately this is the case of many female doctors which is what possibly compels them to turn to matchmakers especially as the procedures are carried out under utmost discretion.”

She adds, “There are two reasons for the increase of spinsterhood among female doctors. The first is that they get preoccupied with their studies and getting through the medical school until they are past their prime when the chances of marriage become distant. The other reason is that a majority of men do not want to marry doctors because of the nature of her tiring occupation.”

In the consequent race in the marriage market, it is the matchmaker who laughs all the way to the bank. Al-Amry says: “The problem is compounded by matchmakers who receive up to SR100,000 to fix a high society marriage. Most of their clients are spinsters and elderly men.

“There are women who offer up to SR100,000 just to marry someone socially distinguished such as certain businessmen.”

He adds: “I myself was approached but I refused to bite the bait because the party’s true aim was far from being married.”

Misyar marriages are especially popular among men. “Over the past two months I’ve conducted 10 Misyar marriages. Most of the women involved are doctors and teachers. I get requests from men and women on a daily basis,” Al-Amry said. “I find this marriage remedies things for spinsters and divorcees.”