15 June 2012

Somalia: Controversy Over Runaway Marriages

Mogadishu — Running away to get married is part and parcel of Somali culture and society, though Islamic clerics have different opinions regarding the legality of this type of marriage.

Wahabis and other Muslim radicals believe that eloping is against the teaching of Islam. The practice is taboo because it ignores the consent and the knowledge of the parents. But the moderate Sufis argue this type of marriage is valid as long as the spouses live 90 kilometers away from their parents.

Sheikh Abdall Ahmed is one of the moderate clerics. He says there is no distinction between running away to get married and a marriage with parental consent.

"According to Islamic law a man and a woman can contract marriage without consent from their parents, therefore clerics like me approach the couple to carry out the ritual as we normally welcome them," he explains.

According to current official statistics, one in every three Somali families were created after the couple had eloped but the practice was totally banned by Al-Shebab, a militant group that has links with Al-Qaeda when they were in control of large swathes of south and central Somalia. They say eloping is un-islamic therefore its eradication is necessary.

A few months back it used to be rare in areas under Al-Shebab control that a girl would run-off with a boy and get married without the consent of the parents, but where the militias have been driven away it seems an everyday occurence.

It was only a few days ago that Somali troops backed by the African Union's peacekeeping mission, Amisom, forcefully took control of Afgoi in Lower Shabelle region. This raised the hopes of many couples who heard that the next step would be to free Wanleweyn, a town 90 kilometers away from Mogadishu, known for hosting the majority of elopement marriages in south and central Somalia .

Mohamed Ahmed, who is unable to afford the lavish sum that a wedding normally costs, is now getting ready to pack as he and his partner are planning to travel to Wanleweyn town.

"I can't wait until Wanlaweyn is liberated, but time proves that the days of the ban on eloping to get married are numbered. I and my fiancée will be the first to reach Wanleweyn town, in order to formalise our long standing relationship and to reap the crops of our beautiful love".

Most arguments involve economic aspects. The huge amounts of expenses incurred are said to be too staggering for families from a poor country like Somalia.

Khadro, Mohamend's fiancée, says only sweet words, smooth love, open hands, beautiful behavior, sweetness and togetherness is what yields success and she is against pressurising her husband to pay what he cannot afford.

"I have to follow what my fiancé sees as appropriate for our love and oppose whatever obstacles are in our way, I have never dictated to him nor stipulated that he must have a fortune that is why our love has endured so many years"

Elopement is also a common way for a Somali woman to avoid an arranged marriage. However, the practice is frowned upon in Somali society and a woman who elopes may be risking her family's angerand weakening the bonds between her parents and her husband.

But sometimes after a lengthy wrangle between the two families, parents finally reach a compromise on the expenditure of the wedding feast and the dowries.

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