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Intercultural marriages in Kuwait: The challenges and benefits

November 17th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Kuwait: The decision for many people to get married and start a family is usually driven by personal choice that can lead to unbound happiness and contentment. But, some individuals are often compelled to marry as a result of societal norms and family pressure. Kuwaiti society encourages citizens to marry someone from their own cultural, and often religious, backgrounds & marriages are often dictated by traditional norms.

Nevertheless, while traditional marriages are popular in Kuwait, there are many Kuwaitis who select a partner from another culture. A person who marries someone who comes from a different culture does so for various reasons but one of the main motivations is love rather than the desire to preserve tradition. There is scope for love in traditional marriages but families also get to participate.

Al Watan Daily spoke to a number of Kuwaitis who have tied the knot with someone from another culture. They shared what they thought were the pros and cons of intercultural marriages. The opinions seemed to be similar, with most respondents stating that intercultural marriages can be challenging due to cultural differences.
Blending of Cultures

Ahmad is one of those individuals who chose not to conform to family traditions and married someone whose culture was very different from his.Ahmad was studying to become a doctor in Ireland and married an Irish fellow student. Ahmad spoke of his marital experience and highlighted some of the obstacles he has had to endure after marrying someone who came from an entirely different culture to his.
“Marrying someone from a different culture to mine in many ways has been challenging. There are a few factors that one should look into before marrying someone who is of a dissimilar cultureـ language, religion, arts, sports and so forth ـ these can sometimes negatively impact a marriage,” he explained.

Ahmad further noted that while marrying someone from a different culture has been challenging, it can also have tremendous benefits.”My wife taught our children various things about her culture while they have also learnt many Kuwaiti cultural beliefs. Therefore, the blend of the two cultures my children have grown up with has helped them to become wellـrounded, cultivated individuals,” Ahmad remarked.

He further pointed out that it is not always that easy for everyone; “While my wife and I found a way to respect each other”s way of life ـ cultural and traditional differences can also strain a relationship, especially when a certain individual does not show flexibility or openness to his/her partner”s beliefs,” Ahmad concluded.
Challenges of Barriers

Another Kuwaiti, Fahad was not that lucky with his marriage and his decision to marry someone from a different culture and religion ended in divorce. Fahad married an American woman after he met her while pursuing his bachelor”s degree in the United States. He noted that while mixed marriages are becoming more acceptable in society today, they can also be a recipe for heartache and disaster.

“Family alienation is one of the many hurdles interracial couples may have to endure, especially when you come from a closeـknit family like mine, who place traditional and religious values first,” Fahad explained.

He further emphasized that intercultural marriages can be risky when one considers societal discrimination. “Cultural differences and language barriers also pose challenges that people often do not consider while making impulsive decisions. For example, my wife was never able to earn the trust or love of my family because they cannot speak English and she could not speak Arabic,” Fahad said.

Fahad further added that his family detested his marriage and the language barrier did not make things any easier.

“And believe me, speaking the same language can have tremendous benefits and can go a long way, especially when an individual is trying to impress. Good looks, good manners and love are not a good enough reason to get someone to like you. My parents and wife were never able to get along for a number of reasons which hurt my wife, my children and my parents,” he lamented.

“My father always tells me that protecting one”s cultural identity can enrich a community”s tastes and values. So, he would have liked to see me marry a Kuwaiti girl but that was not my choice, for better or worse,” Fahad concluded.

Seif is another Kuwaiti who married a nonـKuwaiti; he too, has had to bear the consequences of societal and his parents” disapproval, which continues till today.Seif did not marry someone from a western or European background; he married someone from an Asian background, which disappointed his family a great deal, mostly because of the social stereotypes. Seif noted that Kuwaitis, in particular, have a history of frowning upon intercultural marriages, especially if the bride/groom comes from a poorer economic background. Stereotyping amongst some Kuwaiti families, unfortunately, exists and Kuwaitis often do not like to see their children marry someone that they are not culturally in tune with. Seif further noted that as a Kuwaiti, marrying from an Asian background has evoked powerful emotions in his family because of traditional beliefs.

Seif further explained Kuwaitis consider a family to be sacred and in order to preserve family values, one needs to conform to the predictable and sometimes unfavorable societal and family expectations. “Gender roles, for example, differ from culture to culture: How to raise the children, what language to speak at home, should the children go to church or the mosque, etc. are just some of the issues that get in the way of a smooth married life,” he added. “I honestly believe that people often underestimate the damage that can be inflicted on individuals who marry someone from another culture. I am personally struggling to remain married to someone who does not totally appreciate where I am coming from, and love is not a strong enough ingredient to keep things going smoothly,” Seif concluded.

The Taboo of Difference

The last and final voice is of a Kuwaiti woman whose identity has been kept anonymous since she is married to a prominent western European.The woman said that her husband converted to Islam before they got married.”I was very impressed with his adoption of Islam, I am a relatively moderate Muslim but because he started to look at Islam with a fresh eye, it encouraged me to do the same,” she noted.

She further explained that even though she managed to get her parent”s approval, the road was not that easy.

“I was determined not to get married until I got my immediate family”s approval. So, I actually waited for them to come around, which took around four years; this period was very painful for everyone. Eventually, everyone found out that I married a foreigner and of course they were shocked,” she noted. She said that some people were appalled after hearing of her marriage.

“I was the topic of gossip for a long time, which made life difficult for my parents. It drove them to plead to me to get over him and get married to any Kuwaiti man,” she said.

“The irony that is associated with my marriage is that the individuals who actually supported me were the most traditional. I was shocked that what some may call open, westernized people were the most challenging,” she noted.

“When we first married, people would stare at us with contempt. Some women would actually stop me and whisper into my ear: ”how did you manage to do it?” (clandestinely seeking advice),” the Kuwaiti woman said.

She further emphasized that she has taken her husband”s culture with a positive attitude but believes that they have fared quite well.

“I come from a religious family and my husband”s family is obviously quite different from mine. I have taught my children to simply accept that people have different cultures and beliefs and to respect people”s beliefs and cultures,” she remarked.

She further elaborated that she wants her children to be proud of having Kuwaiti blood but it would be unfair not to allow them to have the same pride for their father”s culture. She spoke of the legal challenges she faces in Kuwait.

“In terms of getting my children their full rights at the young age they are at (nine, seven and three year), namely, their residency permits and public health insurance etc, is a lengthy process. Because of the current laws, children who are born to foreign fathers have few attractive options in Kuwait. So, in the future I see them eventually leaving to live elsewhere,” she lamented.

“The only way my children can get full rights is if I divorce my husband. I find that shocking,” she bewailed.

“I also find it frustrating that they have taken away the right to give my husband a family permit, which I was allowed to do ten years ago but now this right has taken away from Kuwaiti womenـ I am allowed to bring any man in to the country and give them permit to live and work in Kuwait as my driver, or chef or anything for as long as I choose, but I am not allowed to bring my husband to live with me!!” she concluded.

By Ghenwah Jabouri – Al Watan Daily

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