Shanaz was a year into her A levels when she noticed that her mother had started buying the kind of things
that normally presage a wedding. In an upstairs room of their home in Keighley, on the outskirts of
Bradford, Shanaz became aware of a steadily increasing collection of clothes, gold jewellery and other
presents. 'We are going to Pakistan,' her mother would say by way of explanation. Shanaz did not need
to ask why to know that her life was about to be rearranged.
The subject of her marriage had been in the air ever since she was into her teens. 'My mother would have
been happy if I'd stopped school at twelve,' she told me as we walked along the lake at Lister Park on
a sunny but windy late spring day. The final decision about her education was settled not in the intimacy
of a family chat, but by a group of elders, all men. 'l think there were about twelve of them,' she said.
Her father had told the other men that Shanaz was keen to go on to university. They were opposed to the
idea, portraying university life as licentious and unsuitable for a Muslim girl. They might have found
the bitter pill easier to swallow if Shanaz had wanted to study something that could be useful to the
community but she wanted to take art. Shanaz fought back. 'I used the Koran as my weapon,' is how she
put it to me. 'You see, it says in the Koran that you should travel to the four corners of the world in
the pursuit of education.'
lt is a tribute to Shanaz's determination that the elders eventually relented. She was allowed to continue
her A level course and apply for a place at university though there was what Shanaz called an 'indirect'
condition that marriage would be thrown into the bargain - no dates, just a commitment. When I first met
her, Shanaz's hair was dyed red with a lightning streak of silver-grey that swept back from her forehead -
a work of art in itself. To see her is to wonder why a woman of such independence, such verve, could ever
have countenanced wedlock at a time other than that of her own choosing and to a man she did not know. The
only way she could explain her acquiescence was simple but, as we shall see, tragic: 'l went to Pakistan
because I loved my parents. I never did love my partner, but I did love my mother and father. I did it
The man chosen as her husband was a first cousin back in Mirpur. Ali Shezad (I have not used his real
name because Shanaz wants to protect his privacy) was a year older than his bride-to-be but light years
behind her in education, aspiration and outlook. Shanaz, even if she was brought up within the confines
of a Muslim home, was a child of the city, a British city at that. She is a living embodiment of all the
contradictions that swirl around the lives of so many young immigrants: Asian but British; a woman but
independent; a Muslim but with secular values; above all a dutiful daughter but with a sense of her own
being. Her husband-to-be had the customs and traditions of Mirpur written into his bones. 'Like chalk and
cheese', they might have said in Yorkshire. lf in her mind Shanaz had decided to accept her place in the
family plan, the same could not be said of her heart. Within days of getting to Pakistan, she fell ill,
losing all her hair and dropping down to five stone in weight. And still the wedding took place - the
honour of the biradari apparently more important than the health of an individual.
Two weeks after the marriage, in August 1989, Shanaz returned to Keighley. Her husband was to follow
later when he was able to get a visa. Shanaz went back to what she had always wanted - her education.
A levels in theatre studies and art won her a place at Leeds Metropolitan University, a commutable
distance frorn Keighley.
By the time Ali Shezad joined her in Bradford in January 1995, Shanaz was in her final year at college.
At first his visa had been withheld because Shanaz, as his spouse, had to prove she was independently
capable of supporting him. As a student, it was a condition she could not meet, and it was an incapacity
she was happy to prolong for as long as possible. Even when she found work, the immigration authorities
further delayed granting a visa.
Source: A Home from Home - From Immigration Boy to English Man by George Alagiah, Abacus Books, London 2007, pp. 184-186
to presage - ankündigen
licentious - zügellos, liederlich
to relent - nachgeben
to dye o's hair - sich die Haare färben
acquiescence - Einwilligung, Einverständnis
Mirpur - town in southern Pakistan, where many Pakistanis come from, who now live in Bradford
biradari - powerful family clan
1. How did Shanaz persuade the elders that she would take up a study at university?
2. Why did she eventually agree to marry the man who had been chosen for her by her parents?
3. When Shanaz arrived in Pakistan, why did she fall ill?
4. Shanaz's husband finally received his visa. How do you think did their marriage develop?
5. Which sentence from the above text suggests that Shanaz's story is not fictional? Substantiate your finding.
6. Comment on the following statement: Britain should keep on tolerating 'arranged/forced marriages' of Muslim couples.