From Pakistan with Love: Islam, Intimacy and Transnational Marriages

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Social & Cultural Anthropology

Abstract

The majority of marriages in Pakistan and amongst British Pakistanis are arranged, including a high proportion of between 38 to 49 percent with first cousins. These figures tend to support the popular assumption that Muslim marriage structures, and Muslim life more broadly, leave little room for personal choice and agency. This project will problematise such popular beliefs through a focus on individual desires and motivations in marriages. In particular, the research will shed new light on the ways in which recent transformations in urban Pakistan, such as religious change and the rise of a private media industry, have affected marriage expectations and ideas on romantic love and intimacy. Linked to these debates, the project is also concerned with the impact of such changes on transnational cousin marriages between Pakistanis and British Pakistanis. In sum, this project will break new intellectual ground by unravelling the linkages between intimate desires, personal agency and contemporary Islamic discourses.

In urban Pakistan, as in other parts of the Muslim world, there is a growing presence of a form of religiosity that emphasises the personal study of the Quran and other Islamic texts. Increasingly, young urban Pakistanis believe that they can acquire and cultivate Islamic ethics in their everyday life by understanding the meaning of Quranic verses and listening to the sermons of religious scholars. This phenomenon may appear as inhibitive of personal freedoms but, in fact, has opened spaces for individual agency. A growing number of men and women use their piety and knowledge of the Quran and Islamic laws to challenge conventional marriage norms and practices. For example, according to my research, sons and daughters argue that they have a right to contest an arranged marriage to a cousin if they felt that he/she was not equally pious and suitable. Similarly, while divorce is typically considered as taboo, pious women increasingly consider that under Islamic law it is their right to divorce if expectations for a happy marital life are not met. These transformations raises questions about the forms of intimacy that exist in spaces opened by Islamic discourses and how such modes of thinking differ from secular discourses on marriage and desire.

At the same time, this project considers other influences that exist alongside Islamic discourses. Here, it concentrates on the avid consumption in urban Pakistan of romantic television dramas, Bollywood films, and (dubbed) Turkish soap operas. I am interested in analysing the discourses of romantic love and intimacy in these productions, and the ways in which they influence individual aspirations and desires, and inform marriage expectations. The analysis will draw attention to the ways in which these discourses co-exist, or cause tensions with, religious ideas. The aim of this approach is to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the various forms and sources of information that inform individual motivations and marriage expectations. Finally, the project will consider the implications of changes in marriage expectations on transnational cousin marriages between Pakistanis and British Pakistanis. An estimated 48% of British Pakistani men and 57% of British Pakistani women are married to Pakistani nationals. Thus, changes in expectations in Pakistan have important implications for the emerging trends in transnational marriages in Britain.

The project will require long term ethnographic fieldwork, including participant observation and semi-structured interviews, in Pakistani cities; and textual analysis of sermons, religious texts, and drama and film scripts. In addition, it will entail collaborative comparative work with leading experts on British Pakistani transnational marriages in Britain.

Planned Impact

The project will benefit a number of stakeholders in both the UK and Pakistan. This section explains who these actors are and how they will benefit from my research.

In the UK, the following users will be targeted:
- National-level policymakers: agencies focused on marriage-related migration, specifically, the Migration Advisory Committee, and the Forced Marriage Unit, both within the Home Office.
- Third sector groups: voluntary actors in the British Pakistani community, such as the British Pakistan Foundation; civil society organisations concerned with gender equality, such as Pathways of Women's Empowerment; public health-related initiatives related to genetic diseases in children of consanguineous marriages, such as the Born in Bradford Project; and the Southall Black Sisters, a collective concerned with domestic abuse.
- Media outlets that give coverage to Pakistan, including The Guardian.
- Interested members of the general public.

In Pakistan, the following actors will be targeted:
- Third sector groups: feminist civil society actors such Shirkat Gah and Simorgh.
- Media outlets that are interested in social change, such as The Express Tribune.
- Interested members of the general public.

These identified stakeholders will benefit from the research in the following ways:

In the UK, as mentioned elsewhere, there are extensive networks of connections between Pakistanis and British Pakistanis, many of which are maintained through transnational cousin marriages. The majority of marriage migrants in Britain come from South Asia and, within this category, from Pakistan. According to the Migration Advisory Committee, spouses constitute the single largest category of migrant settlement in the UK, but marriage-related migration is an under-researched topic. Policymakers and migration expert groups will benefit from understanding the reasons for 'homeland' marriages and the motivations in Pakistan for marrying cousins abroad. Such knowledge will help inform a more nuanced and socially valuable understanding of marriage-related migration, the results of which could inform how policies are formulated. Research findings on the changing motivations in cousin marriages can also guide public health-related initiatives responding to the high rates of infant mortality and morbidity in areas with high concentrations of British Pakistanis. Government agencies and civil society groups working on forced marriages and domestic abuse in ethnic minority communities will find my focus on marriage ideals very helpful for acquiring cultural sensitivity that could, in turn, aid policies and outreach activities. The research can also assist in refining policies and defining research for third-sector groups focusing on gender empowerment. Finally, the wider purpose of the project - to see Pakistan through an alternative lens which is not fixated on security questions - will attract media and public actors who desire to better understand this critical, but often misunderstood, country.

In Pakistan, feminist civil society groups will be concerned with the relationship between Islam and marriage expectations. As detailed in the Case for Support and in Pathways to Impact, my research runs in parallel with the broader agendas of such organisations, which includes understanding the changes in individual expectations in marriages, prevailing attitudes towards companionship, and the influence of Islam. My research in this area will help refine their agendas and the knowledge of such linkages will aid their staff in campaigns. Media outlets, including The Express Tribune and its associated blog, have printed several reports on the changing trends in marriage and divorce rates, and will be keen to publish stories on connected topics of romance and intimacy. Details on co-production of knowledge with these stakeholders and the ways in which this research will be disseminated to relevant users are outlined in the Pathways to Impact.
 
Description The project aimed at understanding prevailing ideas about romance, intimacy and marriage amongst young upwardly mobile men and women in urban Pakistan. In particular, the research focused on the tensions that intimate desires may cause with familial obligation and religious aspirations. Fieldwork was carried out in Lahore and Karachi. The findings of the research have importance for civil society feminist organizations, and for government and non-government bodies interested in marriage-related legislation and migration. The key findings are summarized into four thematic areas, listed below:

Economic security and joint family life
One of the main findings of the research relates to family structures and, in particular, joint family life. Within upwardly mobile groups in Pakistan, ideas around romantic love and an idealized future with a life-partner pivot around the consumption of activities associated with a modern, westernized lifestyle and nuclear family life. As much as fantasies surrounding intimate relations centre on nuclear living, in early married life, the associated desires of consumption can only be fulfilled by living in joint family arrangements, where pooling of resources reduces risk and everyday costs, facilitating luxury spending. My research, thus, highlights how economic pressures, induced by capitalist ideologies, influence intimate life and family structures.

Cousin marriages and love marriages
My findings also offer a new perspective on current debates on structure and agency in relation to marriage practices in South Asia. In much of the literature in the area, marriage is viewed as a way of maintaining caste and religious boundaries - love marriages (in contrast to the dominant arranged marriages) are thus often viewed as transgressed. In this sense, they represent individual agency and often seen as working in opposition to structure. My research challenges this way of thinking, for my fieldwork findings reveal that the majority of love marriages were between first cousins (the preferred marriage arrangement amongst Muslims) or close kin. The reason for this was that, given the prevalence of joint family living (see above), women preferred to marry into families that they knew and were familiar with. In addition, in upwardly-mobile circles, female mobility outside the homes is limited and strongly limited. The only members of the opposite sex that they came in contact were at family weddings and events, and those tended to be related.

Islamic piety and marriage
The research also highlighted that, for women who were actively cultivating Islamic ethics - through attending Quran schools - or were otherwise pious, finding the right marriage partner was a process fraught with tensions. Many found that it was difficult to find a partner who shared their religious outlook and was, at the same time, of the same socioeconomic level. Given the pressure to get married, many women had ended up in marriages where there partners did not share their religious goals, which led to constant negotiation and management of difference in intimate and family.

Migration, marriage and economic pressures
Contrary to expectations, marriage-related migration was not common in these upwardly-mobile circles in urban Pakistan. Although marriage-related marriage, particularly to Britain, has been documented in other groups, this research revealed that it was not common in this group. Although many of the men, in the families that I interviewed, lived and worked in the Gulf, Malaysia and China, they usually lived alone and preferred for their wives and children to stay in Pakistan. This was because it was easier to maintain a middle-class lifestyle in Pakistan while earning abroad, but they did not earn enough to provide a similar standard of living in the host countries. In addition, keeping the family within the joint family house allowed the men to keep abreast of happenings within the home and to secure their share of the property.
Exploitation Route There are three possible ways in which my findings can be taken further. In broad terms, my research challenges the dichotomy between 'love' and 'economics and reciprocity', drawing attention to the variety of interests and concerns - material, financial, fantasies and desires - that come together in, and ground, intimate and family life. This new perspective can be of use to scholars interested in marriage practices but also inform the work of civil society activists in South Asia working on female empowerment. As detailed in my narrative impact, this aspect of my work has been used in relation to the Economic and Social Wellbeing Survey of Punjab.

Second, my broader finding on the resurgence of the family, as both a social and economic unit, in the time of neoliberal policies and a generally roll back of state can be used to understand how people in the global south withstand vulnerabilities. Aspects of this work are being used in the project Re-building Kinship and Care After Dislocation: Lahore and Colombo compared, funded by the BA-GCRF Cities & Infrastructure Programme.

Second, my research into co-existence of religious differences within intimate life and how they are managed challenges apriori ideas of difference as problematic. This can be taken forward by social science researchers to theorise on how differences are managed and how people cohabit alongside difference in conservative settings.
Sectors Creative Economy,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description At an academic level, this project has developed an understanding of contemporary marital strategies, spousal choice and ideas on marital happiness amongst young women in Pakistan. In addition, it has underscored the strengthen position of the joint family, at a time of neoliberal uncertainty, and the role that this plays in marital choices and lives of women. Together, these understandings can be used to inform and influence advocacy work on gender equality and female empowerment. Since the conclusion of this grant, I have worked towards disseminating my findings within this audiences interesting in questions of gender equality. This has included sharing my work and engaging with relevant journalists, policy makers and development practioners in Pakistan. I have given research and policy briefs at the Institute for Development and Economic Alternatives and Centre for Economic Research in Pakistan. Through such engagements, my findings have been used to explain and understand recent statistics on women's participation in labour force in Pakistan. For instance, a recent article in the public newspaper dawn, used my findings to understand and comment on the statistics collected in the Economic and Social Wellbeing of Women Survey in Punjab: https://www.dawn.com/news/1468369/the-enduring-appeal-of-khud-khana-garam-karlo I am keen to further push for this kind of public and policy engagement with my work, and have planned for several meetings and upcoming events with non-academic audiences. In particular, I am seeking to develop linkages with ongoing work on public transport for women in Pakistan, and the effect that greater economic independence will have on marital choices.
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Cities & Infrastructures Programme - Rebuilding Kinship and Care After Dislocation in Urban South Asia: Lahore and Colombo Compared (Co-I)
Amount £300,000 (GBP)
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 07/2019
 
Description Multi Religious Encounters in Urban Settings (80226 MEUS), ERC Starting Grant
Amount € 1,490,000 (EUR)
Funding ID 1400000 
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 10/2019 
End 09/2024
 
Description Multi-religious encounters in precarious urban settings
Amount £4,675 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department John Fell Fund
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2017 
End 09/2017
 
Description Anthropology of Religion reading group 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Together with, Dr Giulia Liberatore, a colleague from the department, I organize and convene a reading group on the anthropology of religion. The group was started as a way for us to read and discuss texts that were productive for our respective research on Islam. Its success in generating interest within the department has led to it being incorporated as a separate research cluster within the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.
Collaborator Contribution In turn, the School has given us additional funds (£300 plus venue) for holding a larger international workshop on the anthropology of religion in September 2016. The details of this workshop are mentioned in the relevant section.
Impact 1. Formation of anthropology of religion research cluster within the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, with plans for further expansion. 2. Support for holding an international workshop on the anthropology of religion, with focus on Islam, due to be held on 22-23 September 2016.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Knowledge exchange visiting fellowship 
Organisation Max Planck Society
Country Germany 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution In April-May 2017, I will be visiting scholar at the Max Panck Institute of Human Development, to engage with the work of scholars part of its History of Emotions Centre. I will update the contributions and outcomes of this collaboration after the fellowship has been completed.
Collaborator Contribution I will update the contributions and outcomes of this collaboration after the fellowship has been completed.
Impact I will update the contributions and outcomes of this collaboration after the fellowship has been completed.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Unwriting Pakistani Culture working group 
Organisation Aga Khan University
Department Institute of Educational Development
Country Pakistan 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Together with Nosheen Ali at the Institute of Educational Development, I have set up a working group, which provides a feminist platform for female researchers working on Pakistan to share academic work, methodological concerns and thoughts on gender.
Collaborator Contribution Institute of Educational Development is providing space and funding for a workshop in 2019.
Impact A multidisciplinary edited volume will arise from this initiative, documenting the work and methodological concerns of female researchers working on gender issues in Pakistan. The disciplines include geography, anthropology, art, art history, development studies, history, sociology and urban planning.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Lecturer, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I was part of the lecture team for the course "Political Islam in South Asia", offered to mid-career diplomats in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. My presentation, in particular, dealt with class politics and new Islamic movements in urban Pakistan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Op-ed for international newspaper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact I wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, highlighting my research and its significance to how we understand Pakistan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/24/opinion/pakistan-modern-middle-class.html?mcubz=0&_r=0
 
Description Part of video produced by British Academy to highlight its research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was part of a video, shot by the Cities and Infrastructures Programme at the British Academy. The aim of the video was to create awareness about the work done by the British Academy, and on our research. My part focused on discussing my research findings on the importance of kin networks in Pakistan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=british+academy+cities+infrastructure
 
Description Podcast interview with New Books Network 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was interviewed by the New Books Network on my book The New Pakistani Middle Class, the podcast is available free online:
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://newbooksnetwork.com/ammara-maqsood-the-new-pakistani-middle-class-harvard-up-2017/
 
Description Radio interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was interviewed for a BBC World Service documentary, produced by Reduced Listening, on beauty parlours and wedding make-up in Karachi, Pakistan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description South Asia Advisory Group, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I am a member of the South Asia Advisory Group for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For this, I am called in as an academic expert to discuss issues related to Pakistan, and to advice the FCO on their current policies and programmes in Pakistan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015