Women are the hidden
factor in the politics of ethnicity in the Muslim communities of Northern
England. The broader context to the apparent silence of women lies in a matrix
of patriarchy and imperial experience, as well as the impact of Orientalism on
contemporary European culture. In other words, there is a culturally embedded
assumption that women should know their place, colonial peoples should know
their place, and oriental women are too ethereal to have a place at all.
The custom of arranged marriages is
generally endorsed by South Asian communities of all religious affiliations. The
system may have some advantages if due regard is given to the wishes and
preferences of the intended spouses, and if dowry considerations do not turn the
exercise into a commercial transaction — both very big “ifs.” It is the ugly
side of arranged marriages that has made headlines in the British and American
press several times in recent years.
Three important changes in English
law in the past quarter of a century have opened the doors of the English
matrimonial Courts to Muslim spouses resident in England. Prior to 1973, the
English Courts exercised divorce jurisdiction on the basis of domicile; spouses
resident but not domiciled in England could not invoke the jurisdiction of the
English Court to terminate their marriage.