Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My big fat Bangladeshi wedding

Faisal Mahmud

Bangladeshi marriages are anything but simple.

As a predominantly Muslim country, marriages in Bangladesh should have been simpler as Islamic rituals require that the burden on bride’s family be easy. But Bangladeshi marriages are anything but simple. Marriages here are known for their extravagance. A lot of money and effort are put through to organise food, decorate the venues, and sometimes, a celebrity presence to show off the affluence of the families.

Interestingly, marriages in Semitic religions such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism are basically holy bonds tightened under some holistic rituals. In these religions, marriage is probably the only ceremony where different religious functions are held at the center stage and are primary. The rest – feeding guests, cultural programmes and all other things are secondary.

From time immemorial, marriage has been considered a ‘celebration', not only for the bride and groom but also for near and dear ones. And its celebratory face, marked by rich cultural rituals and joyous programmes, somehow manage to supersede the religious spirit at times.

A typical Bangladeshi wedding is a testament to that – at least in two areas…

Bride’s price or groom’s dowry?

For long, Bangladeshi weddings have been associated with dowry, especially in the rural region. In urban areas, dowry still plays a major part only in guise of sophisticated negotiations between the two parties. Unfortunately, here the dowry is needed to be paid by the bride’s side and this custom of giving dowry is not part of Islam.

In fact, it is a practice which has never been sanctioned by Islam and is not prevalent amongst Muslims of other cultures, except for in the sub continent. It seems to be in imitation of ancient Hindu culture (as almost all sub continental Muslims are basically converted Hindus) in which daughters were not given any share in the family property, but were given payments, part of which might be in the form of household goods, as a measure of compensation. Islam however granted daughters some share in their family property and inheritance.

A 'bride-price' is either an amount of money, goods or possessions given to the bride by the bride's family at the time of her marriage, in order to attract a good husband for her. It would, in effect, become the property of the husband or his family upon his marrying her. This is a totally un-Islamic practice. In Islam, women are not 'owned' by their families and should not be 'traded with' in this manner.

Meanwhile, ‘dowry’ is not the appropriate translation of the word ‘Mahr', and this particular word has been a thing of misconception in Bangladesh. Islamic law commands a groom to give the bride a gift called a ‘Mahr’ prior to the consummation of the marriage. A Mahr differs from the standard meaning of bride price in that it is not to the family of the bride, but to the wife to keep for herself. Islamic law considers it haram for a husband, the groom's family or the bride's family to take the ‘Mahr’ of the bride without her willful decision.

Unfortunately, most of the Muslim families in Bangladesh somehow take it lightly or don’t try to understand the essence of it. In some cases, just to show affluence, a big ‘Mahr’ is fixed which is not being paid by the groom or groom’s family to the bride before the wedding.

Who’s paying for what?

Another area where a typical Bangladeshi Muslim wedding deters from an ‘Islamic wedding’, is the arrangement of programmes. In the first era of Islam, marriage was a simple affair, without pomp or ceremony. Any expenditure incurred in its performance was quite minimal, and not a burden on either family.

Nowadays, much difficulty and hardship can be caused by the enormous wedding feasts and celebrations which bring a most unreasonable financial burden on the families concerned. Financially crippling celebrations are totally in opposition to the spirit of Islam, and are not necessary.

Islamic laws and rituals said that a bride’s family doesn’t need to spend any big amount or need to arrange any stupendous programmes. As marriage is basically a sad occasion for the bride’s family, since they are giving away a family member forever, the bride’s family is exempt from financial losses.

On the other hand, groom’s family is getting a new member and they need to announce the arrival of this new member through arranging a programme and feeding their near and dear ones. That programme is called ‘Walima’, bearing the financial burden for arranging that lies onto the family of groom.

In Bangladesh however, a bride’s family usually needs to go through a series of financial burden. First, they need to spend a good amount of money when the groom’s family members first come to see the bride officially for the first time (be it an arranged marriage or a love marriage). Then the bride’s family needs to spend another big amount on the occasion of ‘engagement’ if that didn’t happen during the first visit.

Nowadays, ‘Akdt’ (the actual marriage) and the marriage ceremony (Nikah) take place in two separate programmes. Nonetheless, the ‘Akdt’ itself is another big programme and the bride’s family usually bears the financial cost of it. Then come two other programmes, ‘Gaye Holud’ and the marriage ceremony. Again, it’s the bride’s family who pays for those. Lastly, there is another programme called ‘Firani’ where the groom (after walima, groom stays at bride’s house for some days) and brides are officially taken back from the bride's house for a day or two.

The groom’s family usually arranges two programmes: one is ‘Gaye Holud’ (for the groom) and the ‘Walima'. So in a Bangladeshi Muslim wedding, the bride’s family needs to pay for six programmes, whereas the groom’s one needs to pay for two.

Shared from Dhaka Tribune
Link: http://archive.dhakatribune.com/weekend/2015/nov/05/my-big-fat-bangladeshi-wedding

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