A Family Matter, Part I

In the U.S., the Afghan wedding is one of the subjects that most interests people. I can see the smiles on people’s faces when I talk about weddings, and I receive many more questions than usual—especially from women.

In Afghanistan, family is very important, and the family plays a major rule throughout the wedding process. Most of the time, the families themselves make the decision to marry—without asking either the girl or boy. Most often, it’s the girls that the family ignores in making this important decision. Many families encourage their sons and daughters to marry cousins or close relatives, and one reason is because it is hard to get to know or trust outsiders. People who are not close to the family are known as foreigners, and the family has no way of knowing their background, relatives, and other things that matter most.

Sometimes the bride’s families accept the groom based solely on whether or not he is rich. There are many families who want their daughters to marry someone who lives in a foreign country because he is rich—or because he might become rich. The tradition of bidding on a daughter or sister in a lottery has become less popular in recent years. Child marriage is the worst way to get married, because the children are mostly girls who don’t know anything about life, and so it’s a total failure from the very first until the end. Child marriage occurs when the family lacks education or they are too close-minded to listen to others. Child marriage is a “traditional” form of arranged marriage.

Every region has its own traditions, but the basic structure remains the same. Sometimes, the boy himself chooses the girl, and if the girl is not from the same family, the boy’s mother, sisters, and maybe an aunt go to see the girl and her family. She should be nicely dressed, and come to say hello to them, bringing tea or other drinks. She stays quiet, and then leaves the room after a short time. They decide then if the girl is good for their son or family. After accepting the girl, they go back to her house to propose—just the women, at first. They all wear nice dresses and bring cake and other sweets.

Then it is time for the girl’s family to consider the groom and see whether or not he fits into their family. Most of the time, the brothers or fathers do this job. They ask the potential groom’s friends and neighbors about him, and if they think that he can handle his life, wife, and future, then the boy will be accepted as a future son-in-law.

Before the bride’s family says yes, but after giving the green light to the groom’s family, the groom’s family comes to the bride’s house. The bride’s family gives them candy in a nice dish, always accompanied by a big white handkerchief, all of which they take home. This is when they talk about the bride’s price. Frequently, families put out large amounts of money, referred to as mahr (an amount of money that the groom has to pay to the bride and her family before marriage).

According to the law, “Islam does not prescribe such a bride price, but does allow the giving of mahr in the form of money or property for the personal use of the bride so that her financial welfare may be ensured in the event of divorce. Islamic law does not include the concept of alimony.” The bride’s family is responsible for procuring the primary necessities of the couple’s house. For example, they buy dishes, rugs, TV, bedding, and many more things that the couple can use those for the first ten years or so. Many of the items are handmade and the bride herself makes them with the help of her friends.

Shirini khori or lafz takes place when the groom’s family has accepted that the daughter will marry their son. Essentially shirini khori is a small engagement party. Families, neighbors, and relatives gather and make speeches in front of people–those words are like a contract between two families and the boy and girl that will marry. There are two witnesses who come from among the men and go to the bride, who is sitting with the other girls in another room, and this is when she should say, “Yes, I accept.” During the party, both families decide how long the bride and groom will stay engaged and talk about the timing of the engagement party, which is yet to come. Islam recognizes the engagement as the time that the bride and groom will get to know each other—they can even decide not to marry. But breaking up during this time is not appreciated.

Depending on the families and their decision, they may or may not have the engagement party. The engagement party is the same as lafz, but larger. During the engagement, which is normally one or two years, the two families get in touch fairly often. There are many traditions. The boy’s family is supposed to bring clothes to the girl’s family at Eids, Nawrooz (New Year), and other occasions. Depending on the families, they may or may not be allowed to go out together or keep in touch with each other. Going out together is not too common, and it is mostly done by people who live in the city. But as with everything else, it all depends on the decision of the family.

To be continued…

By B. Fatima A.


Comments

  1. Naomi Benaron says:

    What a wonderful surprise to see how much work you have done on this story, Fatima! I continue to be so proud of your good work and your your careful study. Thank you for producing so many pieces to enrich our lives!

  2. Wow, I thought this was so informative. And written well. Thank you for helping us understand your culture.

  3. Heidi Lyss says:

    Thank you for such a clear, fluid description of the engagement process and customs! I was very interested to learn about it. I have Afghan friends too, and knew a few things, but your piece here put it all together so nicely, and added so much more, that I understand the customs much, much better now. Thank you.

  4. Hi, Just to clarify that Lafz dadan, is when the GIRL’s side has accepted the boys (and his family) proposal. The way it’s been written as if the girl has proposed not the boy.
    ALSO Child marriage is not a tradition we folloow. It only took place during the war i.e. when a young girl is left alone, after most member of family have died, then her close relatives decide with/on behalf of her. Another reason for this was to prevent young girls from being kidnapped. As sad as it sounds it did happen.

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