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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 17:42 GMT
Blunkett 'wrong on arranged marriages'
Women shop for cloth in a market
Community groups have criticised Blunkett's suggestion
The row over arranged marriages sparked by David Blunkett shows just how little is known about the tradition, a Muslim community leader has said.

Mahmud Al-Rashid, deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said the suggestion people should find partners in the UK and not abroad denied people the right to make their own choices.

Mr Al-Rashid, who had an arranged marriage in Britain 10 years ago, said many people mistakenly assumed the bride and groom had never met and were being forced to wed.

He told BBC News Online: "An arranged marriage is one where the family are involved in the decision making process. The final decision has to be with the two people, but it involves the wider family."

'Major decision'

Mr Al-Rashid, 37, said he and his English wife, Sarah, were introduced by friends five years after she converted to Islam and both wanted their parents' involvement.

I would not have gone ahead without my parents' blessings

Mahmud Al-Rashid
He said: "I would not have gone ahead without my parents' blessings and likewise for Sarah.

"It's the done thing, they always expected me to go to them. It's a major decision in my life and I would not do that without my parents."

Although Sarah was born in this country, Mr Al-Rashid said it would have made no difference if she had been from Pakistan, Bangladesh or elsewhere in Europe.

He said Mr Blunkett was wrong to suggest marriages involving a non-British citizen were less valuable.

"If you are a young guy and went to the French Riviera, fell in love and brought the girl back here nobody would say anything to you," he said.

"It only happens when an Asian is involved."


The home secretary's argument that encouraging British only arranged marriages could help end forced marriages was also rejected by Mr Al-Rashid.

I don't think people should...say 'you can't fall in love and marry this person'

The father-of-three said: "You can get forced to marry someone in this country and you don't want to.

"Forced marriage is a very different issue and he [Mr Blunkett] is very ill-advised. I would not want that to happen to my children, my sisters or anyone else - it's absolutely wrong."

Mr Al-Rashid also criticised Mr Blunkett's for suggesting many arranged marriages involve false visa claims.

He said: "Every arranged marriage becomes suspect then. The question is 'have they only done it to get a visa?'"

Private life

For other British Muslims the decision to find a partner abroad is a practical one.

Among them is 32-year-old Aziz, who recently went to Pakistan to arrange his own marriage.

He hopes to bring his fiancée to this country and questions the right of any politician to interfere in his private life.

Aziz said: "If I could find somebody within my community, within this country, who had the same background, the same cultural beliefs, the same everything, then I would marry them.

"But I haven't. So does that mean I end up single for the rest of my life?"

Green card

Aziz rejects any suggestion that his bride-to-be is not as eligible as a woman raised in Britain and the implication that she should not leave Pakistan to join him.

He said: "My fiancée speaks English fluently. My fiancée has a bachelor of business administration. My fiancée has a green card."

Aziz, who expects his fiancée to join him after their wedding in August, says Mr Blunkett's comments interfere with his right to choose his own partner.

He said: "I don't think people should turn round to us and say 'you can't fall in love and marry this person' or 'you can't fall in love and marry someone else'."

See also:

07 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Immigration shake-up unveiled
12 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Asian runaway bride story 'not racist'
07 Feb 02 | UK Politics
The politics of asylum
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