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Mullahs Spoil the Party

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Religious council bans lavish wedding parties in Balkh to prevent locals bankrupting themselves.

Institute for War & Peace Reporting
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif (ARR No. 264, 28-Aug-07)

One of the first cultural icons to reappear in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taleban were Wedding Halls – usually gaudy glass palaces that serve as the venue for what is, arguably, the most important event in an Afghan’s life.

Weddings, and the attendant parties, form the backbone of the Afghan social scene. But the cost of the dinner, music, clothing and other accoutrements of the celebration have driven many a young man to desperation.

Now, the Ulema, or religious council, in the northern province of Balkh have come up with a solution: They have banned most the expensive festivities altogether, provoking hope and outrage in almost equal measure.

In mid-July, the Ulema Shura of Balkh issued a fatwa: except for one engagement party, they ruled, all celebrations should be held in the home, to cut down on expenses.

“It’s like the Taleban,” grumbled Jamshid, 24, a resident of Mazar-e-Sharif. “We have only one wedding in our life. It’s our dream, and people should be able to spend whatever they want. It’s not up to the government to ban it.”

But the Balkh government has supported the Ulema’s decision, and is taking steps to enforce it. Copies of the fatwa have been sent to all hotels, and nailed in a prominent place on their walls.

“This decision is for the good of society, and we support it,” said Atta Mohammad Noor, governor of Balkh. “People are giving parties like competitions, just trying to show that they can do it. But it disrupts the entire social system. People have lost their way, and we are trying to bring back a little order.”

This is not a Taleban-style attempt to prevent parties, he insisted.

“People can make a wedding for a few hundred dollars in their homes,” he said. “The current situation is a disaster. We’re just trying to prevent that.”

According to the Balkh authorities, two commissions have been formed to police the ban – one will promote public awareness of the measure, and the reasons for it; the other will monitor wedding halls to make sure the new rules are being observed.

“If anyone violates the ban, we will not say anything to them, but we will severely punish the hotel owners,” said the governor.

In Afghanistan, weddings are big business. In addition to paying the girl’s father a sum of money as a bride price, most Afghan grooms have to come up with 5,000-10,000 US dollars for a series of parties, inviting hundreds of friends and relatives to eat, dance, and celebrate the young couple’s good fortune. In a country where the average wage does not top 100 dollars per month, the cost of getting married has kept many a young man single well into his 30s.

“I have an income of 200 afghani (about four dollars) a day,” complained Mohammad Latif, a bicycle repairman in Mazar-e-Sharif. Now 35 years old, he has been engaged for six years, trying to save enough money for the necessary celebrations. “How am I supposed to find 10,000 dollars for a party? The Ulema did a good job. When I heard about it, I thought, ‘Now I can finally bring my wife home.’”

According to Mullah Mohammad Sadiq Sadiqatyar, pretentious parties are against the Muslim religion.

“Islam says that overspending is bad,” he told IWPR. “If you want to get married, it is enough to have one engagement party. Anything else is banned. These parties have caused disruption within the society. We see many men who are wifeless, and many girls without husbands. This is because a wedding party in a hotel will cost at least 5,000 dollars.”

Weddings have become a competition, he added. People who cannot afford the party have to borrow money, saddling themselves with debt they may be paying off for decades.

“It is our responsibility to make people aware of Islamic rules,” said Sadiqatyar. “It is also prohibited for male singers to perform at women’s parties. They should not be present to watch women dancing.”

In Afghanistan, the sexes are strictly divided during wedding celebrations. Men and women cannot dance together in public.

This is good news for the few female musicians in Balkh.

“It is time to given women some opportunities,” said Arizo, a female guitarist. “If girls are allowed to sing at women’s parties, it will be a motivating factor for women’s music. Many girls may become musicians. But if men continue to dominate the music scene, there will be little chance for us to do anything.”

Male musicians and hotel owners were uniformly glum about the fatwa.

“We had to go to Pakistan during Taleban times because music was banned,” said the head of one male band, who did not want to be named. “Now we might have to leave the country again. Since the fatwa, no one invites us to their parties any more. And even if we do get some work, they only pay us for the men’s party, we cannot play for the women. I have to make a living, for heaven’s sake.”

Bismillah, the owner of one wedding hall, was similarly upset.

“This is our peak season,” he complained. “Everyone wants to get married before Ramazan. But since this fatwa our business is down by 50 per cent, and I think it will just get worse. What kind of country is this?”

According to Bismillah, the government should ignore the Ulema’s decision.

“Otherwise the mullahs will just issue decisions on whatever they want,” he said.

Lawyer and politician Kabir Ranjbar welcomed the fatwa, with reservations.

“From my perspective, this is a good decision, and it is for the good of the people. Unofortunately, it is illegal,” he said

The fatwa violates Afghanistan’s constitution, and disrupts the normal legislative mechanism, he added.

“When the government wants to make a law, it has to propose it to the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament),” he said. “Only after the legislature has approved it can the government implement the law.”

The Ulema’s decision was arbitrary, he added, and did not correspond to Afghanistan’s rule of law.

“The constitution guarantees freedom to Afghanistan’s citizens,” he said. “No one has the right to deprive people of these freedoms.”

But the Ulema is not overly concerned with the constitution. According to Sadiqatyar, they are answering to a Higher Power.

“The rules of God are above everything,” he said. “We respect the law. But the fatwa we issued is according to the dictates of God and the sayings of the Prophet. And this is higher than even the constitution.”

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif


Written by afghandevnews

August 28, 2007 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Culture and Arts

2 Responses

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  1. i love your writing stlye


    February 26, 2010 at 11:32 am

  2. theyr

    Lynna Vaneps

    August 28, 2010 at 6:19 pm

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