Aida Hilali, also known as Um Sultan, is a professional matchmaker and as such a pillar in Jordan's marriage industry.

With growing uncertainty and war in the region, the family is one of the last vestiges of stability in the Arab World. Um Sultan helps couples get together so that successful families can be formed.

Twice a year, before and after the holy fasting month of Ramadan, she oversees the marriages of dozens of Jordanian couples.

Um Sultan has been instrumental in 2,000 weddings over 18 years. She considers her work part of a larger effort to maintain a strong social and family fabric that allows Arab families to weather the storms of war and uncertainty.


FILMMAKER'S VIEW

By Mariam Shahin

Two years ago I was researching the under-aged marriages of refugee girls in Jordan to older men looking for young wives for a current affairs programme. Ibrahim Shahin, my co-producer on Um Sultan: Jordan's Matchmaker and I searched for weeks in out-of-the-way places close to the refugee camps across Jordan for these dubious characters.

During our search, we met Um Sultan, a well-known matchmaker in Amman's eastern district of Jabal al-Akhdar. She immediately told us that she refused to introduce older men to underage girls, refugees or otherwise and that she had spent more than 20 years successfully introducing would-be brides and grooms to one another. What caught our attention immediately was her charisma and ability to make anyone she met feel comfortable and like an old friend. 

Um Sultan is her nickname, her real name is Aida Hilali. In that first hour we spent with her, she got at least 15 phone calls, sometimes fielding two conversations at once in an incredibly amusing juggling act, which included catty and candid comments and commentaries.

While mostly diplomatic, she has no filter - she says what she thinks - bringing a much-needed clarity of thought to the art of marriage and matrimony to Jordan and Jordanians. 

Um Sultan, 59, is a professional matchmaker in Jordan, a society caught between tradition and modernity [Al Jazeera]

Aida Hilali was born in Damascus to Lebanese-Syrian parents and has a Turkish grandmother. She is one of 10 siblings who now live across Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. She married traditionally at 17 and was a widow with a son by the time she was 20. When her son turned 17, he met her current husband, Musa al-Hadidi, while visiting Jordan. He told his mother she should not stay alone and introduced the two. They soon married and Aida moved to Jordan with Musa. 

She began her "career" as matchmaker by introducing neighbours to one another, and before realising the need and potential of matchmaking in Jordan, a country constantly being challenged by war and displacement all around it.

In the oasis that Jordan is today people seek stability through marriage, and Um Sultan is there to facilitate. In the age of the internet and modernity, she deals mainly with more traditional requests for wives who will make good homemakers while looking pretty, and husbands who will be suitable providers.

"Love" comes after marriage in Um Sultan's book. For her, common sense, social suitability and economic provisions make up the basis of what a good, stable marriage is based on.  

Filming in her small, one-bedroom home, with a large insulated porch, where she receives her visitors and clients, was often a challenge for George Azar, our director of photography,who was frequently squeezed into tight corners during the shoot.

But the tightness of location created a sense of intimacy that Azar's filming and the editing of Rabab Haj Yahya was able to capture. Although Aida never spoke on camera about her own life or that of her family, her on-camera presence draws in viewers, like she draws in her visitors when meeting them in person. 

Her family includes people who have disappeared in Syria's prisons and whose whereabouts remain unknown - which is a constant personal reminder of how fragile the region around her is. But her positive energy allows her and all those around her to continue living with hope for a better tomorrow and perhaps, a happy marriage. 

Source: Al Jazeera