I am attending a wedding tomorrow, of the daughter of a school friend (the other daughter is my god daughter), and this got me thinking about Muslims and Muslim weddings, which are, or so I have been persuasively told, not like our weddings.
When we marry, we marry outside our family, and our weddings are thus gatherings involving and uniting two families, and what is more two families who probably had nothing to do with one another until the bride from one and the groom from the other brought them together. Our marriage customs are, in the patois of the anthropologists, “exogamous”. We marry outside the clan.
Muslims, on the other hand, by custom, marry within their own clans, and a Muslim wedding is thus a gathering of and a celebration of just the one family, together with its various friends and hangers-on. Arab marriage customs are “endogamous”.
As one of my favourite intellectuals – a French anthropologist called Emmanuel Todd, known to the Anglo-Internet mostly for his bizarre opinion that the Euro-economy is racing ahead of the US economy, but better than that at anthropology, trust me – puts it, in his brilliant book (which fully lives up to its amazingly confident title) The Explanation of Ideology:
From Morocco to Pakistan, from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan, a single family form dominates, its unique trait being preferential marriage between paternal parallel-cousins. Typical of the Muslim world and not simply of the Arab one, this characteristic can be observed in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and among Berbers of Algerian or of Morocco. …
This does not apply to all Muslim societies, because Islam conquered some non-endogamous societies on its perimeter in its early time of military supremacy. But it does apply to the Muslim heartland.
Here in the West, alliances and cooperative ventures that go beyond mere clan membership are commonplace. You may not like, for example, the Labour Party, but at least its upper echelons are not confined to people who are all related to one another. Yet Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, to take one particularly famous example, was ruled by a clan all of whom lived in one town, and old habits die hard.
One result (among many) of this peculiar fact is a society in which them and us remain permanently divided. Islam, in Islamic minds, is irreconcilably divided from the rest of us, and similar them/us divisions afflict Muslim society itself. We in the West indulge in plenty of themming and ussing, so to speak. I am, after all, doing it in this posting. But the Islamic version of this habit is now, I think it is fair to say, far more absolute.
This could have been a very, very long posting, but I will keep it short and just say that I think this explains a lot.