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Proposed Afghan Law On Weddings Stirs Memories Of Taliban's Morality Patrols

The lavish City Star Hall in Kabul's Wazir Abad neighborhood was built at a cost of $5 million and features four wedding halls and hosts about 70 weddings a month.
The lavish City Star Hall in Kabul's Wazir Abad neighborhood was built at a cost of $5 million and features four wedding halls and hosts about 70 weddings a month.
By Mustafa Sarwar and Charles Recknagel
A proposed law requiring that Afghans observe Shari'a standards of modest dress at weddings is causing outrage in Kabul.

Some say it sounds like the Taliban is returning.

"How you dress up is a personal matter. I think that interfering in such personal issues is like interference into people's family life," said Abdul Samie Safi, a young law graduate of Kabul University. "I am against monitoring weddings. It is inadmissible to interfere into either the personal or family affairs of people.”

He and several other young people spoke out against the proposed law when a talk show aired by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan addressed the subject recently. "Fekre Naw" (New Thinking) invites young Afghans to air their opinions on government policies and is one of few such programs in the country.

At first glance, the new law might not appear particularly contentious. The Justice Ministry says it wants to put restrictions on weddings because the amounts of money being spent on lavish celebrations and competitive gowns and dresses is so great that many Afghans cannot afford to marry or, if they do, are driven into debt.

But the law also proposes setting up committees to monitor weddings to ensure that ladies are modestly attired and that male and female guests do not mix in the same room. And that takes direct aim at how much freedom young Afghans have and, more broadly, at the growing influence of Western values upon modern Afghan society.

Lighting Up The Night

That the wedding halls are Western-style symbols -- and big ones -- no one can dispute. The four- and five-story cement-and-glass structures rise up like monuments to post-Taliban Afghanistan in almost every large city, lighting up the night with neon facades. Just one of the many in Kabul, the towering Sham-e Paris, or Evening in Paris, is crowned with  miniature Eiffel Towers and neon fruit trees and offers bridal parties a pick-up service with stretch limousines.

Young Afghan men dance during a wedding in Kabul. Such halls can seat as many as 1,200 people and cost thousands of dollars to rent.

Inside, the largest wedding palaces have halls that can seat as many as 1,200 people and cost thousands of dollars to rent for an evening, in a country where the average annual income is less than $400. What the groom's family gets for that money is a public place that, over time, has come to be regarded as a private space where guests can have a degree of freedom traditionally only enjoyed in homes.

That includes Western dress codes that, sometimes, see brides appearing in Hollywood-style wedding gowns with bare shoulders or low necklines. And it can include abandoned dancing on both the men's and ladies' sides of the partitioned hall, plus some visiting between the two sides.

Given the size and costs of the weddings, some hosts might welcome the ministry's proposal to limit their scale. The proposal, which is now being considered by President Hamid Karzai's cabinet, calls for restricting the number of guests to 300 and spending no more than about $5 per person.

But the Justice Ministry's proposal for policing committees, whose members would include representatives of the Religious Affairs Ministry and enforce Shari'a-compliant dress, raises questions of whether the law's real purpose is more far-reaching.

Memories Of The Taliban

Habiba Danish, a young Afghan member of parliament who took part in the talk show, spoke out forcefully against the proposed legislation. "I personally won't vote for this, because the [mullahs] will take advantage of it," he said.

For many, the committees recall the way the Taliban used to police weddings to ensure they observed the hard-line militia's ban on music and dancing, both of which it considered against Shari'a.

During the Taliban era, members of the vice-and-virtue department patrolled the streets, beating and arresting men if their beards were too short and women if they were out without a male relative.

The four- and five- story cement-and-glass wedding halls rise up like neon monuments to post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Some critics of the Justice Ministry's proposed new law believe it could be an effort by the government to reach out to the Taliban as it tries to bring the militia into peace and reconciliation talks.

"I think that the government is bringing up this issue for a political purpose, to make the Taliban happy, as well as to show that it is taking the initiative in trying to safeguard family budgets," said Siar Anwari, a young activist. "In my opinion, the proposed law is not practicable. The government only wants to attain its purpose and the result will be to leave behind a social problem for us. Frankly, it is insulting that the government wants to interfere in people's weddings.”

The proposed law not only would limit wedding spending and set up committees for policing weddings, it also would bar fashion shops from selling wedding clothes considered too revealing. Shopkeepers who continued to sell clothes that did not comply with Shari'a dress codes would be fined and, if they persisted, closed down.

The proposal does not spell out exactly what Shari'a standards would be applied but bans selling of "outfits that are semi-naked, naked, transparent, or tight in a way that reveals part of the woman's body."

It is not yet clear when the cabinet will take up consideration of the proposed law or, if it does, whether it would be approved. If approved by the cabinet, it would have to also be approved by the parliament to become law. It would then be up to the Justice Ministry to define how it would interpret and define the law in practice.

The halls are regarded as a private space where guests can enjoy a degree of freedom traditionally only found at home.
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by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix AZ
April 14, 2011 23:09
Ban music and dnacing at a personal wedding ceremony? What a laugh!!!
The Taliban should go back to their caves.
In Response

by: Gina from: USA
April 22, 2011 22:13
The Afghans who think the Taliban were too strict should really think about what they are doing. A marriage is not a circus. If you call freedom looking like Hollywood whores, drinking and showing off in front of your friends, then enjoy your new democracy inspired western weddings. A marriage is a contract with your spouse to live in dignity and have a family that glorifies Allah. If you start off half dressed and drunken, you are glorifying only yourself.

by: Niamatullah from: kabul
April 15, 2011 03:45
Hope every will be fine
We Wellcome this law becouse our brother 's and sister's will be marry in time .
as concern of how sould groom and bride have dress or are the male and female guest sould be in one hall it is also ok becouse with these permision what have west got that we will be get. and it is all non islamic we all first muslim
and than afghan's and also this wil be a warm breath for making new good faimily
In Response

by: Amina from: Sarajevo
April 15, 2011 13:05
Even if you adhere to the most rigorous and strictest interpretation of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad had music and dance during weddings and holidays, he would say that people should rejoice and be marry...and he never forced a certain dress-code upon anyone. It was a matter of personal-choice.
What the people of Afghanistan need is not some ridiculous draconian laws; but peace, safety, jobs, education, and health care...to end the US occupation and start self-governance. That kind of puritanical Islam you propagate has nothing to do with Qur'an or Sunnah and everything with the Saudi monarchy...which by the way, is in bed with the US...which is occupying your country.
In Response

by: emran from: USA
April 25, 2011 05:07
well, the law is about dress not music though... and how come you can even compare these weddings with the times of prophet PBUH. it is a fashion show and I don't think it befits a poor country like afghanistan to spend an average of 30000USD on weddings... and please westerners, stop interfering in our domestic issues and telling us what freedom is. we can see how freedom is exploiting women in the west. if there is anything we would want to learn from the west, it definitely won't be modesty and human rights!!!!
In Response

by: Younus from: Karachi
April 19, 2011 10:27
Afgahnsitan, a place full of natural beauty & serenity. I wish to have afghan freinds & learn their language.

by: Teda from: Prague
April 15, 2011 06:20
Nice topic and pictures. Thx

by: karim from: london
April 15, 2011 19:47
It is really funny to hear that the Afghan government is trying to gain the support of the Taliban, by trying to impose bans on weddings. It will never be enforced and will not work for the country any longer. Now, the people are different and know what is what and who is who.

Any way, great story and nice pics. Tnx

by: Soza
April 15, 2011 19:52
Great story and lovely photos. Enjoyed reading the article. It is stupid I think to impose ban on people's weddings.

by: Viera from: Slovakia
April 16, 2011 09:55
Really interesting! Wedding is the most beautiful ceremony, To prohibit something like this would be inconceivable...
Anyway, those pics are beautiful!

by: Zhak from: Kabul
April 16, 2011 10:00
First I would like to say that I really liked the story, it is really fantastic and great, specials thanks from those who have written the article, second I think it is not fair to impose bans on Weddings, I want the Afghan government to let the people live freely.

by: Abdullah Jan Azizi from: Kabul, Afghanistan
April 16, 2011 10:59
Excellect report with beautiful photos which really reflect the existing tradition in almost all wedding ceremonies in Afghanistan. As for the law, I should say that the government must better focus on projects like poverty reduction, employment creation, ensuring security, economic development, infrastructural development, education, HIGHER EDUCATION, counter corruption, counter narcotics, mafia groups, banking systems, social security, and many many other similar priorities. Trying to regulate people's weddings or private parties and ceremonies is not advisable for a democratic government. Instead of that, the government better try to arrest the mafia groups and corrupt officials who have built these wedding halls with the nation's money. How the people dress or organize their parties is their inner matters and government is in no way allowed to interfere, however, the government could build the economy, create jobs and ensure security so the people would enjoy their weddings while feeling safe.

by: Heela from: Kabul
April 16, 2011 11:31
Hi
This story was very good
I wish best luck for the Author this report.

by: Ahmad Farid Formuli from: Kabul
April 16, 2011 12:13
its a good start! and I hope to hit the target as we like!
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