21 May, 2006

Marriage: at what cost?

Marriage is a very expensive process in the whole of Hadhramaut; expensive in comparison to people's earnings. And expensive in the suffering and pain it causes.

Here, most men, normally get married between the ages of twenty and thirty; a few after the age of thirty. And all prefer getting married to women in their late teens or early twenties. As it is the men who always do the proposing, the women have no other choice but to wait for the right man to come; the longer she stays without getting married, the more difficult it gets for her to find a husband. As it is: the older a woman gets, the less likely any man will propose for her; should she pass the age of thirty, then it becomes very difficult for that to happen; and after the age of forty, she might as well forget marriage.

Normally, the proposal for marriage is made by the man's parents to the woman's parents; the woman has to give her consent before the marriage can proceed. In most cases, the man and the woman involved have had very little contact or non at all; and know very little about each other apart from what relatives tell them. Even after the marriage has been agreed on and arrangements are in progress for the wedding, the two can not meet. And always: the woman is expected to be a virgin before the marriage, unless she is a divorcee. As for marrying divorcees, it is much cheaper and easier. But very few men, here, indeed, would decide getting married to divorcees!

What makes all this costly, is the financial requirements for the wedding ceremony and all the marriage process; both - for the man and his parents and for the girl and her people. The man has first to pay the mahar or a bride-price to the girl's parents normally ranging from the equivalent of US$ 2,000 to 3,000; some pay much more than this. After which, he has to buy bedding and a complete set of bedroom furniture which would cost him a few thousand, in dollar terms, more. As most married couples first live with the man's parents, this is all the furniture they would buy; but those who decide to live alone, have to find a flat or a house and rent; and spend more to furnish it. At the same time, the bride-to-be's parents, have to get their daughter as much gold as they can - bangles, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and belts; and good, expensive: clothing, cosmetics and perfumes. Add to all these: the cost of the wedding feast.

All this eventually costs thousands. In riyal or in dollar terms. Most times, after the wedding, both sides end up with huge debts to pay; which might take them years to settle. And at the same time, immediately after the wedding there are the daily expenses to maintain; and children always do follow, not long after a marriage which means - even more expenses. One can only imagine what kind of pressure this puts on the married couples.

What is most senseless about this, is: why does the cost of getting married have to be so high? What purpose does it serve? In no way does this agree with Islamic teachings. In no way does this help society at all. And in no way does this help - either the married couples or the families involved. And yet: it is the norm and way of getting married here. Then there is the other very sad side.

Due to the expenses involved, most men stay longer before getting married; and fewer men are getting married at any given time. Meanwhile, the girls are growing in to women and getting older; and while on the other hand, the men are choosing the younger women to marry. The men have the privilege and luxury of getting married whenever they want to, irrespective of their age; while women have a 'marriageable' age. This has caused many women to be condemned in to wretched un-married lives, as due to their reaching a certain age - they end up never getting married at all. When they too, would very much wish to get married and have children.

Many here, know the very bad effects this 'tradition' is causing, but very few do any thing to stop it! And the result: the huge debts incurred after weddings; and saddest of all - the very large number of un-married women who remain stuck in their parents homes. Many of whom will never know what having their own homes will be like and what the joy of being married and having children is. Though, they would very much love to!