The combination of radical Islam and conservative leadership means that Bradford's Pakistani community is
socially ossified in a way that other Muslim communities in the country, let alone immigrants from other
faiths such as Hindus and Sikhs, are not. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the institution of marriage.
Even now, nearly fifty years after the first generation of Mirpuri immigrants arrived in west Yorkshire,
represents, above all, an instrument of social engineering rather than one of personal choice. Many
betrothals may be successful and most couples may eventually find mutual respect, if not love, but these
attributes are not necessarily the primary aim of those who arrange the marriages of their children.
Strengthening and nurturing family ties remains the single most important factor governing the choice
of partners for marriage. This means that the search for brides and grooms leads inevitably to rural
Pakistan. According to the Ousley Report, published after the riots in west Yorkshire in 2001, there
were about 1,000 marriages a year in Bradford's Pakistani immigrant community. The majority of these - at
least 60 per cent - involved a spouse brought over to Britain from Kashmir. Virtually all of these
marriages were to close relatives - probably first cousins, who are considered the perfect match.
Across Britain, according to Home Office figures for 2000, over 10,000 Pakistani nationals obtained
entry clearance to join partners who are British citizens; that's more than the figures for India and
In a striking piece of research, the Oxford academic Alison Shaw, suggests that the proportion of marriages
involving cousins may have recently increased among the children of the pioneer generation. Her own work in
Oxford follows several other academic studies that have looked at what specialists call cosanguineous
marriages - they too have noted an upward trend. These studies - which looked at second- and even
third-generation marriages in Oxford, and to a lesser extent in west Yorkshire - suggest that
cousin-marriages may now account for more than half of all marriages.
lf these findings can be extrapolated, they give the lie to one of the most commonly accepted views
about what happens to immigrant communities - that they become more integrated with every new generation.
What the Shaw study may show is exactly the opposite. Significant parts of the Pakistani community are
becoming more and more entrenched in their 'home' culture. With every imam who comes to Britain, with
every marriage that is arranged with a cousin in Mirpur, the most culturally introspective aspects of
the community are reinvigorated.
The reasons these cousin-marriages are still promoted so assiduously are complex but they have their
roots in the ancient but powerful clans - biradaris - that form the social bedrock of rural communities
in Pakistan. A biradari is a kinship group that starts with a small cluster of intermarrying relatives
and widens out into a theoretically infinite extended family. The level of obligation
between two members or families will depend on where exactly they are in the chain of ties that make up
For minds schooled in the Western notions of individual needs and nuclear families, the idea of an
all-powerful loyalty to a clan is hard to fathom, but it is really the only way to make sense of what
has been going on in places like Bradford. While we probably see the union between husband and wife as
the most important building block of society, the biradari places far greater value on cooperation
within the extended family. Being a member of a clan invokes such concepts as honour and shame which
are all but forgotten here. The biradari encompasses a system of reciprocity (lena-dena - literally
giving-taking), in which gifts are exchanged. Crucially, a return gift is always worth slightly more
than the original offering so that the 'debt' is perpetuated.
Far from being the exercise of individual enterprise and ambition that is normally associated with
migration, the movement of Pakistani Mirpuris to Britain in the sixties was driven as much by the
desire to enrich the biradari. And so it has continued in a chain of migration that has drawn in more
and more members of a particular biradari.
Source: A Home from Home - From Immigration Boy to English Man by George Alagiah, Abacus Books, London 2007, pp. 182-184
to ossify - verknöchern
Mirpuri - a Kashmir region
betrothal - Verlobung
spouse - Ehegatte/-in
consanguineous - blutsverwandt
to entrench - verschanzen
assiduous - eifrig, gewissenhaft
to fathom - ergründen, verstehen
reciprocity - Gegenseitigkeit
1. What function does the institution of marriage have for Bradford's Muslim community?
2. Compare a Muslim marriage with that of a western one.
3. Why is today's Pakistani population of Bradford even more conservative than Pakistani
immigrants of the 1960s?
4. What role do the biradaris play in the Pakistanis' way of life?
5. What is your view of the concept of biradaris?