I was finding it hard to get my Year 10 RE class to consider the possible advantages of arranged marriages, so decided to try a different approach. We studied some lonely hearts advertisements from the local paper, looking at the shorthand conventions used. Each pupil then wrote their own lonely hearts entry describing their interests, character and appearance, and outlining the sort of person they WLTM. Having read their adverts, I matched up pupils according to what they had written, sitting the new "partners" together.
The class were then invited to evaluate the appropriateness of the pairings and to discuss whether their parents might have been able to make a better choice than my efforts, which were based solely on their own descriptions of themselves.
Some pupils were prepared to admit that their parents might have focused on more than just appearance and similar interests, and might have chosen people with more long-term appeal. The class began to accept that there are some points in favour of the culture of arranged marriage, even if they still did not agree with it.
This introduction then led on to a consideration of Muslim marriage contracts through the new "partners" role-playing drawing up a contract for themselves which had to include the rights and responsibilities of each partner. These were highly creative, including one which detailed the precise number of washloads per week to be done by the boy and the maximum amount to be spent per month on hair colouring by the girl. The pupils were able to reflect on the value of being aware of their rights and responsibilities before getting married and to consider how this tradition might help a relationship to work in the long term.
The unequal balance of boys and girls in the class meant that some boys were matched with more than one girl, leading to an interesting discussion of polygamy. Pupils considered the Muslim teaching on the subject and discussed whether it was possible to treat all partners equally, and indeed, what this equal treatment would consist of.
This lesson helped to address some of the negative stereotypes brought to class about the nature of Muslim marriages and certainly helped the pupils to produce more balanced evaluations of arranged marriage.
Head of RE and PSHECitizenship Co-ordinator, Habergham High School, Lancashire