Finding my happily ever after in an arranged marriage

When Chef Ali Mandhry finally said “I do” to his bride in September 2014, many blogs mistakenly reported that the two had been dating for a while. The truth was that before their nuptials, Chef Ali and his wife, Khadija Abdalla, were strangers to each other. 

Four years on, 31-year-old Chef Ali still calls the 23-year-old Khadija ‘my princess Dija’. Judging by the pictures which dot their social media pages, although Khadija might come across as an aloof porcelain beauty, she dotes on her husband and two young daughters.

With divorce rates rising in the country, would arranged marriages be the solution? The couple weighs in on arranged marriages and how it’s working for them.  

Why did you choose to go for an arranged marriage?

Ali: I grew up seeing arranged marriages work for my relatives and friends in our community in Mombasa. In fact, two of my elder brothers had had arranged marriages - so the precedent had been set in our family. These were successful, loving marriages and unless they told you so, you wouldn’t know they started out as strangers. To me an arranged marriage made sense. I would get to know and love my spouse with every passing day - after all we would have to spent the rest of our lives together. 

Khadija: I was not opposed to the idea of an arranged marriage. It was what I expected since everyone in my family had an arranged marriage.

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Who initiated the process?

Ali: I did. I decided it was time for me to get married and I broached the subject to my mother. She was a little surprised because she expected that I would probably be the one who wouldn’t follow tradition, being a celebrity. She later approached Khadija’s family - through her aunt - and asked them if they’d be interested in our proposal. They said yes.

Khadija: When my aunt was approached by Ali’s mum, she talked to my parents and they sought my consent before proceeding. In this process, both partners have the freedom to say no. Nobody is coerced.

I suppose you were first given photos of each other. What was your immediate reaction to seeing this person who was probably going to be your spouse?

Ali: She was drop-dead gorgeous. For me, it was love at first sight.

Khadija: I did a little online search on him and was impressed by what I saw. He was tall, handsome, ambitious and successful. The fact that he was a celebrity didn’t bother me.

Coming from the same community in Mombasa, did you meet at any time before you started arranging your marriage?

Ali: No, we had never met before. Unlike my brothers, I decided not to meet my bride-to-be at any point or even talk on the phone. I wanted to do it the traditional way all through. The first time we met, very briefly, was when my family went to settle bride price. She was all covered up with a hijab and buibui and was very shy. We didn’t even exchange any words. You can say we only met properly on our nikkah (wedding) night. That was six months after our engagement. 

Khadija: I was nervous when we first met. Looking back, I was so shy. We just said “hi” and that was it.

Did you tell your friends that you were planning to have an arranged marriage?

Ali: Most of my friends found the idea appealing and would tell me “that’s the way to go”. But a few were appalled that I didn’t want to date my wife before getting married. They would tell me “Dude, it’s the 21st Century!” But their opinions didn’t really matter to me as I’d already made up my mind.

Khadija: It’s normal in our community, so my friends were supportive.

When did you spend the night together as a couple for the first time?

Khadija: When we finally got into our new home on the wedding night.

Ali: She was 19 then, very quiet and shy. But I’m very talkative, so I kept the conversation going. We’re still learning about each other and it never gets boring. 

I understand that you now have two daughters…

Khadija: Yes, we have Princess Alyaanah who is now four years old. She’s a loving and caring little girl. Our two-year old Princess Anaya is sweet, protective, with a hint of naughty. Our daughters bring us a lot of joy.

Are there any special challenges that come with having an arranged marriage? 

Khadija: Other than marrying a stranger, I think an arranged marriage is basically like any other marriage. We come from the same background, so that helped a little.  In a way, it’s like you’re still dating and getting to know each other, which is exciting, only there’s the commitment of marriage. 

What has been your biggest fight since you got married?

Ali: Like any other couple, we have minor tiffs here and there…but not anything that can’t be resolved with a sober conversation. We try not to stay mad at each other for long. Overall, it has been pretty amazing.

Khadija: Communication is key in marriage. We talk everything over and resolve any problems. We don’t involve third parties - even our parents - in our relationship issues. But so far, we haven’t had any major disagreements.

If in future your children chose to go for an arranged marriages, would you be supportive of that?

Khadija: Definitely yes, this was our personal choice and if they choose so, why not? We would be in a good position to guide them through it.

Any advice to married couples and those desiring to get married?

Ali:  Let your spouse be your best friend, always be loving, honest and have trust in one another.

Khadija: Your spouse is only human, so don’t expect them to be angels. Have realistic expectations, be understanding and forgiving of their flaws, appreciate and praise their positive traits, and be 100% committed to your relationship.

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Arranged marriageMarriageChef Ali MandhryKhadija Abdalla