Damla, a 64-year-old Turkish mother of five and grandmother of nine, explains her ground rules: “No touching or kissing; no private, un-chaperoned meetings; no inappropriate text messages; the families need to be involved at every step while the two young people are getting to know each other.”
As a result, when it comes to the modern Muslim dating world, younger generations often refer to their meetings as “halal dating” – meaning that there is nothing inappropriate going on, just some innocent getting-to-know-you on the road to eventual marriage
Damla and her husband Sertac came to Germany almost 40 years ago when he got a construction job at a railway company. They vowed to maintain their traditions and strict rules in their Berlin lives, and they have expected the same from their family as well. All of their children’s marriages were arranged, at a very young age, with other families from their community. “We are a religious family and we have many cousins who also moved here at the same time as we did,” Damla says. “We all visited the same mosque and managed to build up a wonderful community around us and our children. My husband was looking out for the best matches for our children. We know them the best, after all – we know who they’d be happy with!”
In Germany’s Muslim communities, arranged marriages are still fairly common. The matches are usually set up by the families of the bride and groom based on compatibility in status, finance and values. In reality, however, more and more young Muslims are looking for a way out of these old traditions, and there are now several organisations offering help to runaway brides.
This way, a marriage is more likely to last than when it is based on young love and lust only – or so they say
No touching or kissing; no un-chaperoned meetings; no inappropriate text messages; the families need to be involved at every step while the two young people are getting to know each other.
Many such fugitives from arranged marriages turn to the Ibn-Ruschd-Goethe Mosque in Moabit, billed as Germany’s first liberal mosque. It was founded by Seyran Ates? and opened in . “There are a lot of young women coming to us with this problem,” she explains, “and often they are already in such a marriage, looking for a way to free themselves from it.” These cases are common and are not restricted to Berlin. “We just recently had a case from Hamburg where a young woman needed our assistance,” she says, “but we get several inquiries online too, because the women couldn’t travel due to the pandemic.” It’s an issue close to Ates?’ heart: she left her family at the age of 17 because they wanted her to enter an arranged marriage (years later, she has reconciled with them).
With no such thing as civil ic culture, and therefore no way to get a civil divorce, the liberal faith leader set up a system to end Muslim marriages in a way that’s accepted by the community. Legally, women can go to a safe house or to a home for underage girls to escape their families and marriages, she says. “But for their spiritual peace of mind – and for their clan and family – they would like written proof that they’ve been to a religious Islamic leader who declared the ‘divorce’.” So Ates? set up a system: “We can provide such certificates as a religious organisation with the signature of our imam, Mohamed El-Kateb. We specifically chose him in order to have a piece of paper with the name of a man who is an imam from Egypt and would be recognised within a patriarchal family.”