Like many a young man, Zabiullah,20, dreamed of getting married. He has been engaged for a year already. But his job as a rickshaw drive in Samangan province barely pays enough to live — just 200 afghani (around $3.50) per day. With the astronomical costs of Afghan weddings, which average $15,000 or more, Zabiullah was destined to spend a very long time as a bachelor.
In Afghanistan, the groom pays all costs associated with the wedding, including lavish gifts for the bride’s family, and a payment to his future father-in-law known as the “walwar,” or “bride price.”
Families compete to outdo each other on the celebrations, and a great deal of importance is attached to how much money a girl fetches — nasty rumors can circulate if the bride price is too low.
The Afghan government has tried several times to address the issue, outlawing the walwar and trying to limit the amounts that can be spent on weddings. In April of this year the lower house passed a law capping the overall cost of a wedding to $3500, with no more 500 participants.
But Afghanistan is a country where custom trumps law, at least where weddings are concerned, and thousands of young Afghan men are forced into emigration or debt in order to be able to tie the knot.
Zabiullah was resigned to working day and night for years, although even that might not have been enough.
Then fate stepped in. More accurately, a group of men living outside Afghanistan decided to make it possible for dozens of Afghans couples to wed — in a single, mass ceremony.
On August 17, Zabihullah got married with 139 other couples in Almas wedding hall, in the provincial capital of Aibak, in the presence of 6,000 guests.
“When I heard that my wedding would happen, I thought God had sent me angels,” said Zabiulah. “I shed tears of happiness, but I still thought it was a dream. But no, it was not a dream, it was a reality a gift that God gave us through his servants.”
Tribal elder Haji Abdul Qodos said that 34 men who live abroad had paid for the event as a charitable donation.
“This wedding is unprecedented in this province,” he told Paiwandgāh? “It is the first time that such an event is being conducted to help hundreds of poor youth.”
The wedding, he said, cost more than $60,000.
“We praise such initiatives,” said Maulawi Abdul Jabar a local religious scholar. “Huge expensive weddings are against the rules of Islam.”
The ceremony was far from the loud, garish events held in bigger cities. Kabul’s wedding halls have so many lights, fountains, even, in one case, a brightly illuminated mock-up of the Eiffel Tower, that the capital by night sometimes resembles Las Vegas.
There was no singing or dancing at the Samangan wedding — just religious scholars who delivered lectures.
But at least the couples were legally married.
In all, 172 couples have participated in mass weddings in Samangan. An earlier ceremony helped 32 other new families to get married without ruinous expense.
The two ceremonies together cost $110,000, informed Qodos.
“We are now more hopeful for the future,” said Esmati, a new husband. “We are able to hold our weddings without economic tensions. Without this, we may have all been victims of a bad tradition.”