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In Pakistan, Look to Mom for Love Match

Love, Marriage Pakistan-Style
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Love, Marriage Pakistan-Style

Valentine's Day is a relatively new tradition in Pakistan, a conservative Muslim society where romance almost always takes second place to family ties and responsibility.

On Valentine's Day in Islamabad, flower stalls are overflowing.

Mohammad and Shamoona Tanvir are a rare example of a "love marriage".

"I was dancing at a friend's wedding and she was standing with her friends. It was love at first sight. I thought she was the most beautiful woman there," Mohammad admits.

Romantic love and flirting are frowned upon in Pakistan. So Mohammad only talked to Shamoona when her parents were not around, on a cell phone smuggled to her by her cousin. They got married six months later -- but only after their parents met and approved.

Obeying one's parents is central to Pakistani culture. Family ties are considered more important than love.

Like most marriages here, Usma Ayub's marriage to Sohail Ahmed Khan was arranged by his mother, Zahida.

"Here, the marriages that are most successful are arranged by the parents. Love marriages don't work out," Zahida notes. "Parents always think the best for their children. And, normally the children are obedient - the parents show them photographs of who they have chosen and they accept and get married."

Usma and Sohail first met on their wedding day. Five years later, they have twin boys.

"My parents were absolutely correct in their choice. They made the right decision," Usma says.

Marrying without parental approval can mean being completely cut off from one's family. It can also result in social exile. So for now in Pakistan, Cupid's arrow is still mostly shot by mothers.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.