By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent
The divorce date, in the Middle East, has spiked considerably over the past few years, which has sounded the alarm for many of the conservative Islamic governments. In Saudi Arabia, the rate of divorce has escalated by almost 15% from 2008 to 2009. And in Kuwait, the divorce rate has skyrocketed to a whopping 187% over the last 23 years making it the highest rate of divorce in the entire world according to recent statistics released by the government. Most countries in the Middle East take a backseat role when it comes to divorce, leaving couples to figure it out for themselves. However, one country seeking to nip the notion of divorce in the bud, even prior to the marriage, is Iran.
Statistics on the Iranian divorce rate are sparse given the cultural and language chasm between the West and Iran, however a 1992 study by Sanasarian indicated that about 10% of Iranian marriages end in divorce (family.jrank.org), while according to divorcemag.com, less than 1 out of every 100 Iranian marriages end in divorce.
Regardless, Iranâ€™s government-backed National Youth Organization has recently inaugurated its very first online pre-matrimonial course. According to the groupâ€™s mission statement, the online course will seek to assist young Iranians in finding their perfect marital match while also maintaining strict Islamic values, which frowns upon premarital dating or relations of any kind. The organization also has high expectations, by educating Iranian youth prior to marriage, to cut Iranâ€™s rate of divorce drastically.
The course is held, for free, in virtual classrooms online and lasts for 3 full months. Designed by top Iranian professionals and Islamic scholars, the course highlights the dangers of relationships out of wedlock and upholds arranged marriages as the best recipe for living happily ever after. Participants in the online course must also take a weekly test and, based on how well they do, will receive a diploma in the union of marriage.
However, since its inception, there is very little information known about the specifics of what the course teaches which has whipped critics into a frenzy. At the launch of the program a very general syllabus was released to the media, which provided more questions than answers. In a recent interview, well-known Iranian sociologist Shahla Ezazi said, â€œAwareness is fine but the question is what kind of a family they are seeking to promote.â€ In a blatant attempt to quell any controversy, the head of the National Youth Organization Mehrdad Bazrpash summated, â€œMarriage needs hundreds of hours of education.â€
Iranian officials have also used the launch of the program as a soapbox to discourage harmful and extravagant practices when it comes to Iranian weddings, such as exorbitant dowries and expensive weddings that most families cannot afford. And to seal the deal in cementing the union of marriage, President Ahmadinejad has recently promised to give priority to employing newlyweds and providing affordable homes for recently married couples. Quite notably, the age in which Iranians now get married has increased exponentially due to financial circumstances and familial problems. For centuries, most Iranians would get married in their early twenties and today most Iranians marry in their late twenties or even early thirties. More and more couples in Iran are delaying their marriages indefinitely until the time is right or until they can afford to get married.