Is this the best mahr in the world?
Hiba Ammar writes:
When my father proposed to my mother, he dedicated Surah Al-Imran, which he memorized by heart, as her “Mahr” (dowry).
Many years later, when my husband proposed to me, my father told him that he would have to memorize a surah of the Quran as my mahr. The wedding would not take place unless I received my mahr.
I was asked to pick one of the surahs. I chose Surah Al-Noor, for all the laws that surah contained within it and for the fact that it seemed hard to memorize on my behalf.
Before our wedding day, besides being busy preparing for our “newlywed nest”, my husband was constantly memorizing Quran. The Quran did not leave my husband’s hand an entire month as he was memorizing the surah.
A few days before our wedding day, my husband came to recite to my father the surah which he had completed.
My father told him every time you make a mistake, you must start from the beginning all over again :))
My husband began reciting Surat Al-Noor with his calm and gentle voice in such a beautiful scene which I will never forget. My mother and I would look at one another and would smile awaiting my husband to make a mistake so he would have to start all over again and by that increase my reward.
But my husband – may Allah bless him – had memorized the surah by heart and didn’t forget one single verse.
Once he finished my father hugged him and said to him: “Today I shall marry my daughter to you, for you have fulfilled her mahr and your pledge to me.”
He didn’t pay me a financial mahr… And we didn’t buy gold worth tens of thousands. He sufficed me with Allah’s words as an oath/contract between us.
The question is…. I wonder what surah my daughter will chose as her mahr in the future?
Zawaj.com Editor’s Comments:
What do you think of this practice? Some have pointed out that the mahr is required in Islam because it provides some financial security to the bride in case of divorce. Therefore reciting a surah a as a mahr bypasses this important function.
Also, a substantial monetary mahr may restrain the husband from divorcing too quickly or in a moment of anger, as he will lose his investment, so to speak.
Others feel that in a world consumed by materialism and greed, this practice reminds us of what is truly important. It also avoids placing an undue burden on a young groom who may not be wealthy or who is just getting started in his career.
What do you say, readers?
3 Problems with Muslim Weddings Today
By Ajmal Masroor
September 1, 2013
What’s wrong with our weddings?
This month I have attended many weddings and I have invitations for many more. I am invited to conduct the nikah for most of these marriages. I thoroughly enjoy getting people married as this brings people of various backgrounds together and most importantly it unites two people in love and commitment. Marriage is the only way we can maintain a healthy and sustainable society. There should be more weddings and we should celebrate that.
However, I have noticed three terribly disturbing things in wedding celebrations in our community:
1. The wastage and extravagance: Many of these wedding functions cost tens of thousands of pounds. People vie for outdoing each other in wedding halls, décor, costumes, wedding dress, wedding cars, jewelry, and gifts. I have even seen people hiring helicopters to arrive at their weddings! The food is the most expensive part in these functions. Yet in most cases the over spicy and greasy food causes great distress with indigestion, heartburn and other digestive complications!
I can understand people spending reasonable amounts of money to make their special day memorable but spending to show off is certainly in total contradiction to the spirit of weddings in Islam. People should always spend within their means but I am hearing people are borrowing huge amounts of money from banks, remortgaging their properties or using multiple credit cards to pay for their wedding bills.
If marriage is an act of worship in Islam and is performed to seek the Grace and Blessings of God, surely contravening the principles of God would be the cause of disgrace and misery. The question is, are all these expenses for one day of celebration really worth the heart ache and waste?
Allah warns us against those who waste and are extravagant. He calls them the partners of Shaytan (the devil). “Eat and drink, and do not be wasteful or extravagant.” And in another verse he says, “surely the wasteful and extravagant are partners of the devil”. You can never buy true happiness with money or materials. The true happiness is found in moderation, humility and selflessness. Marital bliss is embodied in the spiritual and physical heart of two people coming together to create a safe space for their emotional, physical and spiritual journey and growth. It is in this safe and tranquil space God bestows part of His Love (Mawadda) and Mercy (Rahma). You can never buy this with money. Weddings should always be modest!
2. Atrocious timekeeping: I went to a recent wedding where the guests were asked to arrive by 1pm and I was told to be there at 1.30pm at the latest.
Unfortunately the bridegroom didn’t turn up until after 4.00 and the bride until 5 and lunch around 5.30pm. People were hungry, kids were distraught and to make things even more complicated, the event was organized outdoor in blazing heat of the sun. There were elderly people who were suffering from diabetes and were feeling their blood sugar level altering to alarming levels.
I asked one of the organisers about the reasons for the delay and any indication of time. I was told it was an Asian wedding, what do I expect?
There is no excuse that can justify this rotten culture of bad time keeping. It has become so acceptable that everyone assumes everyone else will be late and they deliberately set off late for such functions. Unfortunately the Muslim community has gained notoriety for the abuse of time to such a degree that now many people would ask, if the event is following GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) or GMT (generous Muslim time)? It is a disgrace that people do not keep to time and it is terrible that Islam has been tarnished by the attitude of some Muslims.
I have learned from waiting for hours, I ask those who invite me to conduct their Islamic Marriage ceremony to give me the precise time. Sometimes they complain about the Imam being late for their ceremonies. Lateness is bad but Imams turning up late is very disturbing. I have been told that many imams do not turn up on time, and that is the reason the families give an earlier time so that Imam would arrive on time. I was very sad to hear that and I make it my duty to arrive on time.
There is a direct connection between time and God. We should all remember that God is time and to abuse time is to abuse God. Not keeping to time disturbs other people’s programme and causes unnecessary pain. I remember I had to leave a wedding reception event recently without performing the Nikah because the bride and the groom were 4 hours late.
3. Too many pretentious people: I have attended so many weddings in my life and have met so may amazing people who are genuine and are truly great inspiration. I have also met people who are extremely pretentious and fake. I have failed to understand the real merit in such people.
Many people attend weddings for the wrong reasons. Some attend purely to show off. They wear clothes for people to take notice of them. They wear luxurious suits or dresses for people to recognize their wealth. They talk in the most artificial manner and worse they pretend to be your best friend.
Wedding celebration is all about bringing friends and families together to rejoice in the physical and spiritual union of two hearts. The heart is ruined when artificiality and pretense is at play. People who vie for false attention contaminate the wonderful blessings contained in marriage. Such people attend weddings for promoting themselves. They will make deriding comments about the décor; they would snigger at other people, complain about the food, provide unsolicited advice, be critical for the smallest thing and demand to be the centre of attention.
I can spot such people from miles away. I do not enjoy their company and it is hard for me to pretend to be unaware of their pretentiousness. They really lack confidence but pretend to have loads of it. They are in constant need for attention and other people’s approval. They do not have sophistication but pretend to be most cultured and sophisticated. You can notice this in the way they dress and their mannerism. Unfortunately, weddings tend attract such people.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy conducting nikah and attending the celebrations. I thoroughly enjoy meeting and talking to people but I do not like phony people and I do not like people who live to showoff. I long for simple, classy, naturally managed, time maintained and unpretentious wedding celebrations. I desperately look forward to easy, relaxing, entertaining and fun filled weddings. You don’t need to dress to impress or seek other people’s approval to have fun. Wedding celebration does not need extravagance, wastefulness and pretentiousness.
© Ajmal Masroor September 1, 2013. Reprinted here with the author’s permission.
Market Day on the Tajikistan-Afghanistan Border, and a Tajik Wedding
By Christine and Jelt from their blog
Cross Border Markets and our First Tajik Wedding
It’s Friday afternoon, 4:30 pm and a colleague mentions, by-the-way, that Monday is a holiday as Constitution day falls on Saturday, 6th November. A long week-end with places to go and things to see!! To hell with a two week pile of unwashed clothes! Here in Khorog, every Saturday morning there is a cross-border market, which is the closest we can get to actually visiting Afghanistan.
At 10 am Jelte, Rod and I hail a ‘cab’ and for the price of just one Somoni each (the equivalent of 30c or 20p) we share a ‘golf cart’ – commonly known as a Chinese van – with 4 other passengers to take us to the site of the cross-border market. When we arrive, things are just beginning to come alive.
We wander around the few stalls of fruits and clothes and odds and ends. Jelte and Rod sit down to breakfast of ‘choi’ and bread with Halva. Christine is too busy watching one of the stall owners cook ‘pilav’ on an open fire.
Within half an hour the market-place is teeming with vendors and shoppers; Afghanis and Tajiks and the odd smattering of foreigners (apparently in the city of Khorog – pop: 30,000, there are a grand total of 20 odd ‘expats’).
Also present, but not in any way threatening, are Tajik police, busy taking photos of themselves and each other. We suspect they are there to keep an eye on the Afghani merchants, who, by the way, look distinctly different from their Tajik neighbours. Beautiful, strong faces and distinctly different clothes, many barefoot on their ‘stalls’ which are just pieces of canvas or cloth laid out on the ground with their wares displayed. The Afghanis are the ones who sell the exotic spices and used American boots.
So, our American friends, you know where your tax money goes!! Funny thing; Tajik food is not a culinary delight so we look across the border to be supplied with turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, screw-pine (bet you’ve never heard of that), ginger root, pepper corns and a host of other totally unrecognizable spices and ground minerals.
On the way back we stopped at the regular ‘bozor’ and stocked up on the usual Tajik staples, dried fruit, dried nuts, lentils, rice, beans, and cheese and bread for the next day’s hike. The local cheese here is the North American equivalent of cheez whizz which I had never tasted until arriving here in Khorog.
Since we arrived, with the exception of just one day of rain, each day has been much like the previous – blue, blue skies, with bright sunshine. The valley traps the heat and by mid-day it’s in the high 60s. Beautiful! And perfect for hiking. Sunday, we are off to Bogev, a neighbouring valley just 15 km away, which has been recommended by expat ‘Bo’ an avid mountaineer and climber.
The culmination of the climb is an ancient Zoroastrian fire temple, probably @ 2,800m above sea level. The climb was steep and more challenging than we thought. So Christine chickened and hung out on a convenient ledge while Rod and Jelte scaled further to the top of the mountain. Their reward was sighting a couple of grey foxes and incredible views. After our lunch of bread, cheez whizz , dried apricots and pears we made our way down into the valley, to a little village and stumbled upon a wedding party.
The Tajik hospitality is legendary and after introductions to the family of the bride we found ourselves in a traditional Pamiri House, celebrating our first wedding, surrounded by friends and family who were preparing for the evening’s celebrations. In spite of this, they took time to spread a feast for us and provided us with live entertainment to which we all danced and celebrated.
We can’t say we were not warned about the proliferation of Tajik weddings. Our co-volunteer, Jeremy, who we met in Dushanbe, said he clocked up 72 wedding attendances in 18 months of living in this country.
So far, every outing has been full of wonderful surprises, especially the Tajiks. We have never felt so safe and welcome in a foreign country; and we don’t even speak any of the languages … yet.
There’s more to the long weekend but, we’ll leave that to our next blog, when, we suppose, we should write something about our work…..
Islamic Marriage Khutbah (Wedding Speech)
This is a typical Muslim nikah khutbah (wedding speech) that would be given by an Imam at a Muslim wedding. This particular speech was translated from Arabic, I believe. I do not know the author’s name:
“Thanks be to Allah that we praise Him, pray to Him for help; ask Him for pardon; we believe in Him, We trust Him; and ask Him to guard us from the evil of our own souls and from the evil consequences of our own deeds. Whomsoever He leaves straying no one can guide him. I bear witness that there is no God save Allah, who has no partner, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger, whom He has sent with truth as a bringer of good news and a warner.
The best word is the book of Allah, and the best way is that of Muhammad, on whom be peace. The worst of all things are innovations and every innovation leads astray, and every thing that leads astray leads to Hell.
Whosoever obeys Allah and His messenger will be guided aright and whosoever disobeys will cause loss to his own self (and thereafter). Hereafter, I ask the refuge of Allah from Shaytan, the outcast.
O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. be careful of your duty towards Allah in whom you claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bear you). Lo, Allah hath been a watcher over you. [Surah Al Nisa' 4:1]
O ye who believe! Observe your duty to Allah with right observance, and die not save as those who have surrendered (unto Him). [Surah Ali 'Imran 3:102]
O ye who believe! Guard your duty to Allah, and speak words straight to the point; He will adjust your works for you and will forgive you your sins. Whosoever obeyeth Allah and His messenger, he verily hath gained a signal victory. [Surah Al Ahzab 33:70-71]“
Marriage is one of the most important acts of worship in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad (Sallallaahu layhi Wasallam) has told us how to live as Muslims. One of the branches of faith is marriage. It has been thus narrated in a Hadeeth that when a person marries, he has complete half of his religion and so he should fear Allah regarding the remaining half.
Shame, modesty, moral and social values and control of self desire are just a few of the many teachings of Islam. Furthermore, these are just a few of the many worships that a person can complete by performing the ritual of marriage. Through marriage a person can be saved from many shameless and immoral sins and through marriage he has is more able to control his desire. Therefore, the Prophet (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) has said:
“O young men! Whoever is able to marry should marry, for that will help him to lower his gaze and guard his modesty.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]
Marriage is a strong oath that takes place between the man and women in this world, but its blessings and contract continues even in Jannah. It is the way of our beloved Prophet (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam), and whosoever goes against this practice has been reprimanded.
Hadhrat Anas ibn Malik narrates:
A group of three men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet (Sallallaahu layhi Wasallam) asking how the Prophet worshipped (Allah), and when they were informed about that, they considered their worship insufficient and said:
“Where are we compared to the Prophet as his past and future sins have been forgiven?”
Then one of them said: “I will offer the prayer throughout the night forever.”
The other said: “I will fast throughout the year and will not break my fast.”
The third said: “I will keep away from the women and will not marry forever.”
Allah’s Apostle came to them and said, “Are you the same people who said so-and-so? By Allah, I am more submissive to Allah and more afraid of Him than you; yet I fast and break my fast, I do sleep and I also marry women. So he who does not follow my tradition in religion, is not from me (from my followers).” [Sahih al-Bukhari]
Therefore, Islamically, we are all encouraged to get married and not turn away from the ways of our beloved Prophet (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Salaam). It should be remembered that this duty of marriage is for both men and women. Just as men complete half their religion through this act, it is also the same for women. However, in today’s time, there are many marriage-related issues which arise in people’s lives, as today we see many people abusing the laws of marriage in Islam.
When marrying, each becomes the other’s lifetime companion. Each should understand and appreciate that Allah has brought them both together and that their destiny in life has now become one. Whatever the circumstances: happiness or sorrow; health or sickness; wealth or poverty; comfort or hardship; trial or ease; all events are to be confronted together as a team with mutual affection and respect.
No matter how wealthy, affluent, materially prosperous and “better-off” another couple may appear, one’s circumstances are to be happily accepted with qanã‘at (contentment upon the Choice of Allah). The wife should happily accept her husband, his home and income as her lot and should always feel that her husband is her true beloved and best friend and well-wisher in all family decisions. The husband too should accept his wife as his partner-for-life and not cast a glance towards another.
Allah’s Messenger (Sallallaahu layhi Wasallam) said, “The best of you is he who is best to his family”. (Mishkat)
It was the noble practice of Nabi (Sallallaahu layhi Wasallam) to counsel spouses about the awareness of Allah before performing a Nikah by reciting the verses (Nisa v14, Ahzab v69, Al-Imraan v101) from the Quran. All the verses are common in the message of Taqwa (consciousness of Allah). The spouses will be first committed to Allah before being committed to their partner. There can be no doubt in the success of a marriage governed by the consciousness of Allah. I hope and wish every person a very happy and prosperous married life. May peace and Allah’s blessing be upon you.
Tanzania Muslim Wedding, and Beautiful Nature Photos
Tanzania is an East African nation one of the oldest inhabited places on earth. Today it has a population of about 45 million, of which Muslims are about 35%. The official languages are Swahili and English. It’s an incredibly beautiful country, with the stunning Mount Kilimanjaro, rain forest, desert plains, and an abundance of wildlife. Dar es Salaam (“Home of Peace” in Arabic) is the largest city and is the commercial center, though it is not the political capital.
The African population of Tanzania consists of over 120 ethnic groups. There are large groups that are descended from Arabs, Indians, and Pakistanis, and there are also small European and Chinese communities. The people of Tanzania pride themselves on their diversity and their ability to live together in peace.
Here are some photos of this beautiful nation and its wonderful people:
Egyptian Wedding and Other Cairo Photos
This lovely collection of Cairo photos was posted on Flickr by RvDario, a world traveler and photographer.
A Kerala Muslim Wedding
A view of a Muslim wedding in Kerala, India, from somewhere near the inner family circle – but not quite inside…
December 18, 2010
The Hindu and Christian weddings I wrote about earlier were the ceremonies of the more ubiquitous and integrated faiths of Kerala. If a visitor stays here for any length of time longer than a month, he or she will invariably be invited to a Hindu and/or a Christian marriage by some open and welcoming new friend, such is the ease of meeting and befriending members of both faiths. Kerala’s Muslims, on the other hand, live their lives largely behind closed doors – as a group they are both ostracised and withdrawn, generally living in segregated communities. Grand old mosques dot the landscape and announce their presence five times a day over a loudspeaker, but in public, their faithful tend to keep a dignified and impenetrable silence.
I am fortunate that my good friend Shibu, who works in the tourist trade on Varkala’s cliff, is Muslim, and has invited me into his life in every manner possible, including the marriage of his youngest sister last year.
In contrast to the Hindu and Christian weddings I have been to, where I was merely an observer, this time I was invited to be an active part of proceedings. Shibu’s family is not wealthy, so the function was to be held at his home in a small village near Varkala; this meant a full night’s work for almost everyone. A couple of cousins joined the catering team and made a massive batch of parathas, the bride-to-be (in her sparkling wedding sari) sat cross-legged and made flower garlands of all colours, and Em and I helped the older kids decorate a bedroom for the new couple. We spent hours taping paper streamers and bright plastic decorations to the walls.
All this was done with an overriding calmness and lack of fuss, even by Shibu as he flitted from station to station checking on progress and performing all unfilled tasks. This carried through to the next day, when I was asked to join the men of the family as they travelled to the groom’s house and formally invited them to come for the ceremony. Before that, however, came an important prayer to remind everyone that we owe all of this to Allah and hope that he will bless the occasion. A priest led our select group, sitting in a rough circle on plastic chairs in Shibu’s yard, his voice deep and barely above a whisper. As he gently intoned his words of praise, the other men quietly responded with ‘Insh’Allah’ and other phrases where appropriate. These were a few moments of near stillness and utter peace; all sounds in the neighbourhood seemed to cease.
We left, and 45 minutes later we arrived at the groom’s house to formally invite him. An economy of words were spoken on either side; everyone seemed to know their lines by heart. After a quick cup of pink water, we 12 piled back into our minivan, and the groom’s extended family clambered aboard four full-size, brightly coloured buses bearing slogans like ‘Total Travel Solutions’ and ‘Executive Coach’. Another 45 minutes and we’d arrived back at Shibu’s, where half of us were dropped and the other half – Shibu and a few seniors – headed to the nearby mosque to meet with the groom and his respected elders to carry out the marriage proper. Neither the congregation nor the bride were present, which I suppose makes the Muslim wedding the shortest of all I’ve been to from an observer’s point of view.
With both sides of the congregation together at Shibu’s, we milled about under a huge tarp drinking water and exchanging a few words, while the children played (mostly) nicely. As with the Hindu and Christian ceremonies, the women of the congregation wore saris of all colours and designs, while the men stuck to plain pastel dress shirts and starched white mundus. The colour that was so prevalent at the weddings of those other two faiths wasn’t the same here; it was in the trees that surrounded us in the open air. Looking at some of the elderly women sitting patiently, it struck me that perhaps the colour of this particular wedding lay not in the here and now, but in the pasts of their weathered faces.
A short while later the couple arrived, the bride having first gotten married in absentia then met her husband for the first time on the street round the corner. They walked slowly and silently past us, looking very young and uncertain, but a flicker of a smile crossed the bride’s lips as she glanced at her friends and family watching her pass. The couple were seated next to each other at a specially decorated table and served a helping of parathas and beef. As the rest of us moved to sit at the other tables, a chatter started up and grew into a happy, noisy ambience: the calm and dignified air lifted. At last, it was time to eat, to talk, to laugh and to celebrate.
A Malay Wedding in Singapore
reprinted from building bridges
A wedding is like a microcosm of life. Family, friends, hope, past, present and future all meet on that special day.
On my recent trip home, I was fortunate to attend the wedding of my cousin’s daughter, Haslina. It was wonderful to meet again so many people who have been a part of my life, including former neighbors whom I have not met in years.
Though the Malay community in Singapore lives in a thoroughly modern city, much of our heritage still permeates our lives. For instance, weddings still remain big, community affairs. This dates back from the kampung (which means village) days when all the neighbors and relatives pitched in to help with the preparations and celebrations. And relatives from Malaysia, and sometimes Indonesia, made the trip over to spend a few days with their relatives on the island.
The number of guests can easily be between 500 to 1,000 people. We have a large extended family, and my cousin Rashid is active in the community, so his guest list was quite extensive. There was a constant stream of guests from lunch time till dinner time.
Malays have been pretty adaptable people and have found ways to merge or synthesize the new and the old. In the old days, tents were set up in the front yard for the wedding celebrations. Today, most Singaporeans live in high-rise flats and apartments. To accommodate the number of guests, the spacious lobby of the apartment building, or what is known locally as the void deck, is utilized as the wedding venue. I think this is a uniquely Singaporean feature.
Weddings used to be the launching pad for budding musicians who entertained the guests. Today, live music is not such a common feature of weddings. Haslina’s wedding had a band which played Hindi songs, and it was really fun listening to the popular hits.
On Haslina’s side, we celebrate our Malay and Indian Muslim roots, while the groom, Iqbal, celebrates his Pakistani traditions. And this was seen in the costumes and the two groups of musicians and dancers, the kompang and the bhangra, that heralded the arrival of the couple.
Haslina and Iqbal make a wonderful couple, adding another branch to our kinship tree. And thanks to my cousin Rashid and his wife Masita for giving me an opportunity to get close to my heritage and all the folks that I cherish.
Mass Weddings Grow Popular in Yemen
Mass weddings grow in Yemen
In the Arab world’s poorest state, a new breed of wedding ceremony has emerged out of financial hardship.
Oliver Holmes for Al Jazeera, 15 Nov 2010 13:54 GMT
As is customary in Yemen’s highly conservative culture, Muhammed al-Khouja has never met his fiancée. The couple have been engaged for almost two years and set multiple wedding dates, but every time the day draws near, the wedding is delayed. Yemen is full of single young men like Muhammed who cannot afford to marry.
Weddings are pricey in Yemen – bachelors have to pay their fiancée’s family to marry their daughter. The groom and his father split the cost of a dowry to the bride’s father, normally around $5,000, and the family of the groom is also expected to pay for the wedding expenses.
In the capital Sana’a, this means renting a giant beige tent, filling it with cushions, hiring a local band, covering the surrounding alleyways in light bulbs and blaring music out of colossal speakers fixed to street lamps for three days.
Until recently, the groom’s side also paid for sizeable lamb lunches and the guests’ qat, a mildly narcotic leaf chewed during afternoons and especially at weddings, but it is now generally acknowledged that these are unreasonable additional expenses.
In March, Muhammed’s father told him that to cut costs, Muhammed would get married jointly with his three brothers, a growing trend in Yemen, the poorest of all the Arab states. Now the idea has been taken a step further and a new breed of ceremony has emerged out of hardship – mass weddings ranging from 10 to more than 1,500 couples.
Last month, in Yemen’s largest mass wedding to date, 1,600 couples tied the knot. The grooms filled a sports hall in the capital, each dressed in traditional flowing robes, with black and green scarves wrapped around their heads and holding long, curved golden swords.
In Yemen, weddings are a single-sex affair and the brides had their own separate parties at home. The couples were to meet later that night, many for the first time.
The event was organised by the Orphans Charitable Organisation and sponsored by Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, a brother of the Saudi sovereign.
“All the grooms are orphans,” organiser Abdul Rajeh explained. “Orphans have a really hard time getting married as they don’t have the financial support of a father to help them with the dowry.”
The festivities included a morning of dancing, poetry and short comedic plays and the front few rows of seats were filled with Saudi dignitaries with a sea of the grooms’ black and green headscarves behind them. Even leading Yemeni Islamic scholar Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani attended, a man the US has labelled a “specifically designated global terrorist”.
Spirits were high and the grooms unsheathed their swords and danced with them above their heads for some of the more popular songs. Verses of the Quran were read and VIP guests delivered long speeches filled with accolades to Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is also Yemen’s biggest funder of Islamic institutions and analysts say Saudi Arabia’s philanthropic work here is part of a wider scheme to exert influence in the Arabian Peninsula.
In addition to funding the event, Prince Aziz donated a generous sum of 200,000 Yemeni Rials ($900) to each groom as a contribution to his dowry.
“By funding our wedding and helping us with the dowry, Prince Aziz is showing us that he is the father of Yemen’s orphans,” said 25-year-old groom Abdul Ghani at the wedding feast. After the morning’s entertainment, the grooms were bused over to a hall on the other side of the capital to enjoy a lunch of tender lamb, soft Yemeni bread drenched in spicy yogurt and sweet pomegranates.
The donation will only cover a fifth of the cost of the dowry Abdul Ghani will have to pay, but he says the money helps. “I’ve been dreaming of marriage since I was a boy. This is the happiest day of my life, we are all so happy,” he said.
Mass weddings are not only a Yemeni phenomenon. Iran has hosted mass weddings since the mid-1990s, in part to aid the poor and in part to prevent young people from marrying late, fearing premarital sex.
In South Korea, controversial Unification Church founder and self-proclaimed “Messiah” Reverend Sun Myung Moon has married tens of thousands of young couples from around the globe.
But mass weddings in Yemen are a cultural craze. As in Iran, there is a fear among Yemenis that if a man cannot afford to marry he will look for sex elsewhere. In much of the country, friendship with a woman before marriage is considered shameful and worried parents endeavour to marry off their sons and daughters as fast as possible.
There is no stigma attached to marrying en-mass and local charities, the government, tribal sheikhs and the military have started organising weddings.
Even private companies have jumped on the bandwagon in a bizarre gesture of corporate social responsibility.
A corporate wedding
MTN, a South Africa-based telecommunications company that operates mobile phone networks in Yemen, has organised an annual mass wedding for its local Yemeni staff for the past few years. At the most recent ceremony, 30 colleagues were married simultaneously.
A senior development manager at MTN Yemen said that the aim of the wedding was to “make employees loyal to the company and to raise morale”.
Yellow posters baring the MTN logo covered the walls of the hall and an MTN jingle from a TV advertisement would occasionally blast out of the speakers. At one point during the ceremony, the CEO of MTN in Yemen appeared on televisions positioned around the room and talked at length about how MTN is “allowing its employees to settle down”.
But at this corporate wedding, the grooms make relatively decent salaries and are not trapped into single life like many of those at Yemen’s charity-organised weddings.
“This is not my real wedding day,” whispered one of the grooms, adding with a smile: “I’ll be married in a couple months, this is just a good party.”
Sexy secrets of the Syrian souk
By Martin Asser, reporting from Damascus
Reprinted from BBC News Online
Just off the crowded central market in Old Damascus, a sales assistant called Mahmoud is giving me my first introduction into an unusual Syrian speciality – musical knickers.
The garments come in many different shapes and colours, and play little tunes – or other extraneous noises like telephone ringtones – all made by small electronic devices hidden in the lining.
Singing underwear isn’t the only item on sale at the “Fatin Shop for Ladies Indoor Clothing”, where Mahmoud is proudly showing off his product lines.
He’s got knickers with flashing fairy lights, others that glow in the dark, a bra-and-knickers set shaped like manicured women’s hands enveloping the wearer’s body.
In a slightly higher price range, he’s got remote-controlled bras and knickers, designed to spring open and fall to the floor with a clap of the hands or a press of a button.
Welcome to the no-frills world of Syrian lingerie – no frills, but plenty of tassels, and feathers, and zips, and bras which open like curtains, and…
There’s a whole street off the historic Hamadiyeh Souk selling this genre of clothing – all outfits manufactured in Syria, some that Madonna herself might blush to wear, all showing bawdy creativity and a wicked sense of humour.
Forthright displays of the some world’s raciest “leisure wear” have long been a feature of Syrian souks – though many tourists don’t notice the hot knickers and PVC French maid outfits among the more traditional inlaid backgammon sets and textiles.
It stems from the Syrian tradition for brides-to-be to be given a trousseau of exotic underwear – sometimes dozens of items – usually by girlfriends, aunties and cousins, to add spice to their wedding nights, honeymoons and beyond.
With a glint in his eye, Mahmoud, who’s barely out of school himself, says “some ladies keep coming back until their 30s”.
Now two London-based Arab women, Rana Salam and Malu Halasa, are shining a spotlight on this little-known local speciality, with a new book called The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie.
“They used to tell me at art school: ‘Look within your culture’. So I looked and I was in for a big surprise,” graphic designer Ms Salam told me at the launch in London last month.
“The point of the book is to go beyond politics, to break stereotypes and celebrate Middle Eastern romanticism and pleasure. Call it kitsch, call it whatever you like, but I think this attire is superb, spontaneous, pure art.”
On display at the launch party are a few of the most elaborate (but silent) designs, framed on the wall as works of art, including the “hands” bikini.
“I mean, Jean Paul Gaultier eat your heart out,” she says pointing to another exhibit, a bright red wire spiral bra, with white roses at the center and covered in a host of plastic butterflies.