Here at LoveHabibi we receive a lot of mail about Afghanistan, so I’ve come up with a quick run down of the questions we’re most frequently asked regarding Afghan courtship and marriage and I’ve answered them to the best of my knowledge. We are not in the business of judging, just of providing information from all sides of any debate, as sensitively and sincerely as possible.
We welcome the views of our readers on every topic we feature, so please, if you know something we don’t, or feel moved to add your thoughts, do write us!
1) Who do Afghans Marry and At What Age?
Marriage between the first cousins is a common practice in Afghanistan but not exclusive. Marriages are arranged in almost all cases. Sometimes the search for a prospective groom is initiated when a girl reaches ten. Her mother, aunts and female friends meet up to discuss prospective candidates. Nevertheless, even in these cases, the actual marriage is only supposed to take place when the girl reaches 16.
2) How is a potential groom vetted?
The women consider the status and reputation of the guy, his background and even his looks before he gets the thumbs up. The chosen candidate is then presented to the men folk and they make their own inquires before finalizing the union. If everything is approved, the pre-wedding ceremonies are performed to attain public approval.
3) Who Pays Whom for Marriage in Afghanistan?
Each Afghan marriage requires two financial exchanges:
- Mahr is the dowry for the bride and is paid by the groom. It generally takes the form of livestock, property and money.
- A dowry is also brought by the bride to the husband’s house and consists of household items for the couple’s future life together.
4) Do Men and Women Mix at Afghan Weddings?
In Afghanistan and other traditional Islamic cultures, it is customary that men and women are separated at social events.
At Afghan weddings women sit inside the courtyard in the evening. The men sit in a ‘hujara’, which is a large room with Afghan carpets and cushions. During the evening, a feast is organized. As the Pashtun tradition of hospitability dictates, the hosts don’t eat until the guests, both male and female are full up.
5) Can Muslims Marry Non-Muslims in Afghanistan?
Under Afghan law, a Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman but a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man.
When a Muslim man wants to marry a foreign woman who is non-Muslim and the woman is not kitabi (of the book), she must first convert to Islam. The court will only register the marriage religiously, with the nekah ceremony. When both parties are Muslim, the Family Court will register the marriage and perform the nekah ceremony, which involves igaba wa qabul, an acceptance agreement.
6) Can Two Non-Muslim Foreigners Marry in Afghanistan?
In case of both non-Muslim foreigners, the court will register the marriage by performing igaba wa qabul. The court will also seek to apply the regulations that govern marriages in the couples’ home country. Afghan law permits polygamy but foreign men are not allowed to marry multiple women.
7) And finally – About the Controversial Marriage Law…
In April 2009 Afghanistan’s government passed a law that stirred an international outcry for “legalizing marital rape.” The law concerned Afghanistan’s Shiite minority, which comprises 10 -20% of Afghanistan’s 30 million people. Nevertheless, the measure caused an uproar because it was thought to harken back to Taliban-era rules.
Karzai said that he had not read the law before signing it (!!!!) and that his Cabinet advisers signed a version that did not include articles requiring a woman to ask her husband’s permission to leave the house. He insists that those articles ended up in the draft he signed, alongside another that ordered wives to offer sex with their spouses at least every four days unless they were ill.
Many Afghans took to the street to protest: academics and politicians signed a petition condemning the law, and women took to the streets of Kabul. So a new version was hastily drawn up.
The new version, drafted in August ‘09 no longer requires a woman submit to sex with her husband, only that she do certain housework. The section that required a wife to ask her husband’s permission to leave the house has also been deleted, replaced with an article that states that a woman is the “owner of her property and can use her property without the permission of her husband.”
Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, said the amendments would “ensure Afghanistan meets international obligations.”