Afghan couples fight costly tradition of marriage

Shamayel Hassani and Zaki Alemi, a couple who have newly married, are pioneer of a generation who are struggling against costly marriage expenditure. “We reduced the maximum marriage [ceremony] of 1,500,000 afghanis and the minimum cost of 800,000 afghanis to just a piece of cake,” said Shamayel.

Holding costly marriage party is broadly accepted tradition across Afghanistan. Afghan families are accustomed to arrange big marriage parties which cost a lot as compared to economy of the nation.

From those earning a life through low daily-wage businesses to wealthy families and businesspersons, all want to wed off their sons and daughters in “honorable” ceremonies. In the traditional Afghan context, an honorable marriage party is the one which is arranged lavishly in big wedding halls with thousands of guests on attendants.   

Instead of wasting money in meaningless ceremonies, as the couple argue, they prefer to invest the amount to make a better life in the future. “We didn’t hold ceremony neither for fearing the coronavirus, nor for we couldn’t afford it. We didn’t hold it because we didn’t want,” says Zaki. “We did it to fight against harmful tradition practices and costly marriage ceremonies in the country.”

Shamayel and Zaki are not the only couple who have swum against the tide. Over last years, a new educated generation who are convinced that arranging luxurious marriage party is nothing but wastage of money have arranged their marriage parties is simple manner—less costly way.    

“There are much opposition and complaints. Some people, even our families, are still feeling resentful towards us and our decision,” Zaki says, adding their families argued against them that they needed to “pay back the debt” of those whose ceremonies they attended.  

Khatera and Mahdi, Samira and Nassim are other couples who have held their wedding ceremonies in simple less costly manners. They have donated part of their supposed wedding costs for the families who were impacted by the outbreak of coronavirus in Afghanistan.

Describing huge expenses of marriage as “harmful” practices, the couples are of opinion that they did so to fight against a wrong costly custom in the country.

Marriage cost is not just limited to wedding parties. In addition to parties, the groom is forced to pay huge amount of money for different causes to his in-laws families before holding the wedding ceremony. Since engagement party—the first and costly event in marriage—Afghan traditional practices require grooms to buy expensive jewelries for bride and his female-in-laws in every three major cultural and religious events such as Nawruz or first day of the Persian solar year, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha.

Government response

Successive Afghan governments have put effort to bring reforms in marriage custom and pass marriage law and regulations but in vain. Amanullah Khan who ruled Afghanistan from 1919 to 1929 banned dowry, Eid expenditures, and dramatically reduced the wedding expenses to just a few kilos of sweats and fruits. The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan renamed to Republic of Afghanistan in 1987 (1978 -1992) also took almost the same measures by reducing costly wedding events, reducing the wedding expenditure, and cancelling the dowry.

But a dogged custom has persisted against any reform in marriage custom.  

In March 2015, the Afghan parliament approved a draft law developed in four chapters and 23 pages banning dowry, Eid presents for brides and grooms, and limiting the number of wedding guests to 500 people. The law further stipulated that wedding halls must not present food menus worth more than 400 Afghanis in a wedding party, otherwise the hall owners will be fined.

Despite those official measures taken under different governments, marriage expenditures have only increased in the country.

The initiative taken by Shamayel Hassani and Zaki Alemi shows that individuals can play a significantly reforming role to change a deeply rooted wrong custom in the Afghan society.   

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