Dowries in Brides, Nagging Social Problem [Archives:2000/33/Culture]

August 14 2000

By: Hassan Al-Zaidi,
Yemen Times
Many existing traditions and social norms play havoc with family relations by creating a lot of problems. Such traditions need to be studied carefully. Still are there social taboos controlling certain aspects of social relations that could not be overpassed. One of those traditions in our society is Zawaj Al-Badal, that is a sort of bartering in marrying a bride for a bride. Zawaj Al-Badal is the marriage of one’s sister/daughter to another man wt the bridegroom should marry his sister/daughter to his brother/father in law. The crux of the problem is that if one of the two husbands divorces his wife, his sister/daughter married to the other man in such manner is bound to meet the same end. Although this habit is rarely observed in cities, it is still there in the countryside.
“I am one among tens in the area who have suffered from ‘Zawaj Al-Badal,’ said Saleh Ali Kilab. He said that he fell in love with a young woman from a neighboring village. “I met her father who refused my proposal unless my sister married him. He was very old and my sister was very young. My sister liked to sacrifice for my happiness,” he went on. What happened after marriage was common. “Sometimes my sister left her husband’s house due to some problems between them. Whenever this happened, her husband came and forcibly took his daughter, my wife, away from my house. This went on for two years, until we had children. Things went normally after that,” he concluded.
“I was married 8 years ago to a man who refused my brother’s proposal to marry his sister,” said a woman who requested anonymity. “I had to marry him so that he agreed to let my brother marry his sister. I was 14 then,” she sighed. “When problems became unbearable, I left his house for many times. Each time this happened he came and took his sister. I always went back to him for the sake of my brother who loved his wife and she loved him. However, problems did not stop. So many times I tried to commit suicide. When he saw that I was seriously attempting to kill myself he divorced me. But in return my brother was forced to divorce his wife, although he had already had a baby. My brother tried to force me to go back to my husband’s house, but I refused. My youngest brother was about to kill my husband because he put the same condition to divorce me, that his sister must be divorced as well,” she ended her story.
High dowries is likely to be the main reason. Not all men can afford marriage expenses. Matrimonial exchange of sisters or daughters is a breakthrough for many of them, because each bride is considered as a dowry of the other. This may appeal to some people, but this means one of the two couples will be oppressed.
Zawaj Al-Badal in Islam
Such kind of marriage is forbidden in Islam unless all parties agree. Besides, each bride must be given her own dowry handed to her in person. Many girls are forced to accept such marriage and sometimes under pressure of relatives.
Montaha Salah, a psychological researcher, made a study on 50 women who married in this way. She observed that most of them did not succeed in their marriage life. About 4% of them suggested that each bride had her own dowry. Only 1% was leading a stable life. These were far away from their parents. The researcher also noticed that such tradition was more common among relatives (80%), and in the countryside than in cities. I believe that it is because of girls’ ignorance and inability of men to make decisions away from the influence of their fathers, she said. Decision makers are often the fathers or the eldest brothers. Disputes and problems are also judged by the same decision makers who often order their sons or brothers to divorce their wives. In case their daughters or sisters are divorced the reaction is unquestionably the same.
The main motivation in the researcher’s opinion is the difficult financial situation of families which can not afford the marriage of their sons and the traditions that permit such marriages.
This kind of marriage reminds us of some marriage traditions known in the pre-Islamic period which were forbidden by Islam, said Dr. Nasser Al-Thobhani. “The Yemeni society, although relatively urban, is still controlled by some traditions and conventions, particularly the eastern and northern areas. The system of Zawaj Al-Badal should be connected to the social behavior, especially blood relations and affinity, of the respective area if it is to be explained. The behavior in the tribal society does not depend on freedom of choice and finding the right person, but rather on the coherence of such behavior with the traditions and conventions rooted there.
Undoubtedly, certain changes have been noticed in the individual’s roles within tribal families. Some of those changes have been in the domain of Zawaj Al-Badal. To some extent, Zawaj Al-Badal might suit the social structure and the tradition and conventions of tribes. Consequences of Zawaj Al-Badal is clearly seen in societies which observe some social, cultural and economic changes which crack the tribal structure and the nature of traditions and conventions. Such changes also lead to certain changes in women’s role in society. Women and society no more accept such marriage at a time couples work together to plan their future,” he added.
Forced Marriage
Marriage in our country is still controlled by a set of traditions and conventions that create some social taboos that nobody dare challenge. It is the tribal traditions that dominate social life in many of its aspects. Such traditions and conventions make resorting to courts to settle disputes among married couples a kind of a scandal, especially for women. Disputes are often settled through traditional norms.
Marriage traditions and conventions are somehow common among tribes. Although this kind of marriage has declined in many areas in the past decade, same traditions and conventions are still controlling marriage formalities in some areas of tribal background. Such traditions and conventions are mentioned below:
Tribal traditions give the priority to marry any girl to her relatives. If a relative has already spoken to her, or her parents or has paid some money as a sign of his interest in marrying her, they are considered engaged. In this case, he has the right to object to any other proposals. If the daughter rejects her relative for another suitor from outside her family or tribe, the new suitor is taken to oath that he does not influence her to reject her relative. If he does not agree to swear, his proposal is rejected.
The ‘Hajr’ or ‘Qusran’ (Mode of Objection)
When a suitor comes from another tribe or family to propose marriage to a girl whose family has once refused the proposal of one of her relatives, the relative who has been rejected has the right to object to any other engagements. He has first to present a specific amount of money (known as Zikn) to the girl’s father. If he has a cogent reason for his objection, the new suitor has to satisfy him in order to let him marry his dream bride.
Breaking of Engagement
If the girl decides to break her engagement, her father tries to change her mind. If she insists, her father has the right to forbid her from other marriage for a specific period of time if her fianc demands that for breaking the engagement. During this period the fianc can try to change her mind. If he discovers, during this period, that there is another rival he has the right to forbid her from marrying that person for good. He also has the right to get his money back in double.
Dowry & Related Conditions
Upon engagement, the would-be bride’s father or guardian identifies conditions including the dowry. Some would ask rather difficult demands, especially if they want to reject the suitor indirectly. The suitor has the right to have a slack time (often not more than two years) to collect the money. If he agrees, marriage arrangements should go on. Dowries always do not exceed YRs 2 million including gold.
Al-Himlan (Husband’s exemption from wife’s subsistence)
When a wife leaves her house out of problems with her husband, traditions and conventions force her father to make her go back to her husband’s home. If she persists without any mistakes from the husband’s side, her husband has the right to (Al-Himlan) from 6 months to 7 years. During this period, the father tries to persuade her to return. If she refuses, the husband can ask for arbitration.
The tribal norms do not force the husband to divorce his wife even if she does not want to live with him anymore, unless arbitration is made by her father upon the demand of her husband. In this case the father commits himself to pay whatever the husband dictates in order to divorce. Again, tradition and conventions do not give the husband a right to ask for money more than what he actually spent in the marriage. The tribal society does not respect those who ask for great amounts. Husbands should be generous and tolerant if they are to gain respect. Interestingly, the husband has the right to name three persons to whom the divorcee must be forbidden to marry for good.
On the other hand, the father is not asked to give back the whole sum demanded by the ex-husband immediately. He can postpone paying part of it until a new suitor knocks at his door.
The above norms are considered laws that all tribesmen must resort to in case of any disputes. Such laws are in need of a radical change to suit the new roles individuals should play in modern Yemen.
By: Abdulrahman Thabet
Although she addressed us with a very sad tone and a rattling voice, we understood every single word she said. She was talking about one of the most terrifying days she ever came across in her entire life, the 6th of August 1945. She is one of those people who witnessed that inauspicious day, the day when the war machine decided to use the first atomic bomb against a human population. She wake up early at around 7:15 a.m. She asked her aunt’s daughter to join her game in front of the house. It was a clear morning, bright and cloudless, something that encourages any body to have a day out.
Suddenly, a flash of light pierced her eyes. The next moment the entire house collapsed on their tiny little bodies. They ware trapped underneath. She did not know for how long she remained unconscious. She struggled to pull her self together again.
When she managed to do that, she found that cuts are throbbing her face and hands. Her shirt was soaked in blood. Motionless, her aunt’s daughter was lying some meters away. She died immediately after that terrible bang. The body was so burned she could not recognize it, she only knew her by that little silver necklace surrounding her neck. It lost its shining silver colour and became as dim as an early September evening. She was able to poke her head out of the wreckage and tried to crawl to the nearby city center. At the beginning, she thought that some natural disaster targeted their house only and caused that much of damage. But when she freed herself of the debris and opened her eyes, the neighboring buildings that should have stood there were nowhere to be seen. Every thing was a sea of flames. For a while she thought that she did not wake up from her short coma because what was happening in front of her eyes was beyond belief.
Thousands of people were hurling through the air, naked and burnt. The blast has blown their burned clothing to tatters. In the city, where nearly all-standing structures were toppled, thousands were trapped under the debris. Unable to free themselves, they were burned to death in the sea of fire. She saw panicked people running her and there with skins peeling off and left hundreds of glass fragments lodged in their bodies. Decades later survivors still occasionally have such fragments surgically removed from deep in their flash; some continue to live with fragments embedded in them.
The old lady was speaking to us in one of the halls of the Peace Memorial Museum, built in Hiroshima to “narrate” the horror of that event and to show the human kind deepest wish to eliminate nuclear weapons in order to realize a genuine peaceful international community.
The 6th of August and the days that followed were times the survivors find difficult to recall. Despite the pain, many have devoted their lives to the task of describing the experience. They come every now and then to the Museum to recall these memories and relive the horror times to convince the world never again to permit the use of a nuclear weapon.
They recall things like the utter destruction, the tragedy, the overwhelming numbers of dead, the grief of family members they were unable to save, the physical disabilities and the constant fear of aftereffects. Mrs. Tananka, the lady speaking to us that day, is one of them. Comprising of three buildings, the museum is located inside the Peace Memorial Park where the A-bomb Dome stands, the same place that received the hit, The three buildings contain a variety of functions, displayed and narrated by visual means in a very well manner, through which the city works to preserve the memory of the a–bomb and bring about world peace. The buildings also display belongings left by the victims and other materials that convey the horrors of that event. One of these things that touched my feelings deeply was a bicycle that belonged to one of the kids that were near the scene. Pieces of his skin, stains of blood and remains of his cloths were stuck on his bicycle. May be he was going to his school or to bring home something that his mother asked him to bring. No body knows because both of them were killed immediately right as soon as the blast happened. In one of the corners stood a concrete pillar on which hundreds of letters are stuck on it. They are addressed by the Mayor of Hiroshima to carious world leaders urging them to work for peace and to get rid of any mass destructive weapons. Later I understood that this is his daily main duty that he is performing, daily, with real enthusiasm and devotion. Like the rest of the people in Hiroshima, the atomic bomb experience convinced then that human beings could not coexist with nuclear weapons. Hence, Hiroshima, a city known for education, became better known for its efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons and bring about lasting world peace.
The Victims’ Monument stands close to the center of the Peace Memorial Park. At its center lies a stone chamber that hold the Register of the A-bomb Victims. Each year on August 6 the names of victims who died because of the aftereffects are reported by their friends and families and added to the long list. The Japanese characters carved on the front of the chamber say, “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not reveal the evil” These words are a pledge never again to repeat the evil of war, and visitors take this pledge as they pray for the repose of the souls of the A-bomb victims. The pledge expresses the determination of the Japanese to endure the sorrows of the past, transcend all rage and hatred, and work tirelessly for peace and mutual prosperity. The Children’s Peace Monument, the most popular monument, also stands at the other edge of the park. The monument was inspired ny Sadako Sasaki, a vivacious young girl suddenly struck down by radiation aftereffects. She developed leukemia about ten years later. In the hospital she used medicine-wrapping paper to fold over thousands of paper cranes in the desperate hope that doing so would cure here. Her class mates were also assisting he in folding these cranes and she also received thousands of similar paper cranes from children from all over the world who tried to stand with her during her crisis. Such activity continued until she died on October 25, 1955. Sadako’s grieving classmates decided to build a monument in her honor.
Their sincere patience led to a nationwide fund raising campaign to build a monument for her and the thousands of other children lost due to the atomic bombing. As a result to these efforts, the monument was built and revealed on may 5, 1958. On top of its concrete tower stands the bronze statue of young girl holding over her head a huge paper crane symbolizing the hope of all children for a peaceful future.
In comparison to the destruction caused by natural disasters or conventional weapons, the tragedy that Hiroshima witnessed on August 6, 1945, and few days later on nagasaki, represented an entirely unprecedented disaster. The potential effects of the radiation threaten the health of survivors to this day, and the more threat has inflicted tremendous psychological damage. The suffering caused by radiation is immeasurable. In addition to that, the dropping of those atomic bombs thrust our world into the nuclear age. By developing unclear weapons, human beings placed themselves on the brink of self-extinction. Hence, we must give a deep thought to this issue, not gust on the A-bombs that were dropped on Japan but on war in general and actions that lead to war. We should manifest the Spirit of Hiroshima and powerfully support Hiroshima’s mission, the effort to help all peoples around the world join hands to make peace a permanent reality.