Vickroy: At 28, she’s too old for arranged marriage but she still longs to find love
Is it foolish to want to fall in love? To crave romance? To long for your heart to skip a beat when a certain someone approaches?
Love may be a many-splendored thing, but in some circles it is hardly a prerequisite for marriage.
Just ask Faiza Rammuny, or the legions of young American Arabs, Indians and Africans who are heralding her as a hero.
Last summer, Rammuny, a former South Sider who attended school in Bridgeview, put up a website called “Expired-N-Fabulous.” It is devoted to opening the long-closed doors of discussion on the topic of arranged marriage. And, boy, has it caused a stir.
In November, conservative Muslim students rallied to have ads promoting the site taken down from bus stops on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus.
Now some fear Rammuny will be pressured to take her site down as well.
Rammuny longs to be a writer. She also longs to meet the man of her dreams, fall in love and get married.
She is beautiful, expressive, brave and, by her own description, “fabulous.” But at the age of 28, she is three years beyond her “expiration” date and is too old to be married off in her Arab culture, she says.
Nevertheless, she holds out hope for something many of her elders would consider inconsequential or even ridiculous: love.
“I want to meet a Muslim Arab man who will respect me, support me and be romantic,” Rammuny said. “And, for the love of God, I want him to open the car door for me.”
Her wish challenges a longstanding tradition among many cultures in which a young person’s parents find and secure a mate for them.
“Parents tend to value things like family, money and how nearby the person lives,” Rammuny said.
In her case, her father figured she needed a man who could rein his outspoken daughter in.
“Love was never a consideration,” she said.
In many cultures, parents seek out potential partners and bring them home to meet their son or daughter. Open-minded parents allow their child to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the candidate. Sometimes, prospective couples can “halal date,” spend time together without kissing or touching.
But parents always select the candidates and oversee the subsequent contract. In the absence of a parent, an uncle may assume the role of marriage broker.
Sometimes the pairings work. But often they do not, Rammuny said. She’s heard from young people who are trapped in miserable marriages, and divorce is not allowed.
A woman who identifies herself simply as “Team Faiza” said, “As a Muslim woman who settled for what her parents chose for her, I find myself rooting for Faiza to find true love, not just for herself, but for that 20-year-old girl in me that used to dream about finding Mr. Right.”
Rammuny said she launched the site to openly explain her position and to encourage conversation.
She admits that in many other ways she is a traditional Arab woman. She loves and respects her family, as well as her religion. She simply wants to have a say in who she dates and eventually marries.
Many others feel the same way.
This past week, I received a flurry of emails from both men and women, praising Rammuny’s courage and supporting her views.
“I, too, want to meet Mr. Right and feel the spark. I think every girl wants that, especially Muslim girls,” wrote one writer. “We were raised on Cinderella, too, you know.”
A young man added, “Faiza made me realize the truth — we love our parents to death, we do, but they have to sit us down and ask what we’re looking for in a marriage partner. I want to be with someone I care about.”
One young man talked about how, after his secret marriage to a woman of another faith was revealed, he was forced to leave her or be banished from the rest of his family.
Rammuny’s views are not without critics. Last fall, ads she posted at bus stops on the UIC campus raised such an uproar that they were taken down within days.
A woman who was among those who railed against the ads later changed her mind.
“I started out as a hater but ended up a loyal fan,” she wrote. Though she contacted the Muslim Student Association and the vice chancellor of student affairs to complain about the ads, when someone suggested she reread the passages on Rammuny’s website, she did an about-face.
“I realized she wasn’t promoting us to run off and do as we please, to disrespect our parents and throw away our values, she was telling us to understand where our parents are coming from, while trying to make them understand that we actually may know what we want and are looking for when it comes to love,” she wrote.
The custom of arranging marriages is centuries old and crosses many cultures, said Aymen Abdel Halim, a spokesman for CAIR-Chicago, an organization that promotes and protects civil rights for and among Arab-Americans.
He admits it is a sensitive topic for many.
“As our population grows, we’re going to have to start talking about this,” he said. “Clearly, no one should be forced into any marriage or any other legally binding contract. But there is little we can do about it other than encourage people to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
Betrothed at birth to a cousin, Rammuny grew up knowing her destiny.
“Can you imagine knowing at the age of 10 who you are going to marry?” she said.
Fortunately, she said, her intended ran off when she was 15 and married someone else. But then the process of finding a new mate began. Rammuny resisted. After her father passed away, her uncle stepped in, determined to marry her off.
She resisted again. Her mother has supported her through that resistance.
Now she longs to meet a man who will respect her dreams to become a writer and who understands how simple gestures can make a woman feel special.
“My aunt and uncle have been married for 40 years. He’s in his late 60s and has cancer, yet he won’t allow my aunt to open her own car door. He still runs around the car and does it for her,” she said. “I love that. It’s so romantic. I want that.”
For more on Faiza Rammuny’s thoughts, visit expirednfabulous.com