The “Celebrity Weddings” of the Somali People threatening the institution of Marriage

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By: Salah Abdi Shiekh

The institution of marriage is a real trouble among the Somali people. Young men and women with little means remain single unable to raise the huge monetary outlay required for a modern Somali wedding.

Young men earning less than Sh.100,000 a month are being forced to finance expensive, unnecessary and wasteful “celebrity weddings”. A young man came to my office few weeks ago trying to organize his upcoming wedding. The accountant in me wanted to know the exact cost of the wedding. It was astonishing: A bed 100,000, a sofa set 110,000, utensils and kitchen materials 45,000, and carpets 25,000 while the party would gobble up Sh. 250,000-300,000. The bride was not even being paid mahr because he couldn’t afford it and had to defer it to a future date.

A rather modest wedding now costs more than a million shillings. People are forced to contribute to finance weddings of their relatives and friends and so many are now feeling fatigued by the constant demand for donations. If you don’t have moneyed friends and family, and you are earning starving salary, then you shouldn’t be promising a wedding to an innocent young woman. That’s harsh. Isn’t it?

There’s an alternative to this craziness, misuse of resources and sheer partying stupidity. If you cannot raise enough money for the “Somali Celebrity Wedding”, then have a “Private Wedding”. Obviously you need an understanding bride for this kind of wedding. No need for expensive new furniture, no need for a party and no need for anything else. The bride, the groom and the parents’ troop to the Kadhi Office, the Kadhi performs the nikah, pay your wife her mahr or a portion of it and go home to your humble dwellings. Make sure you buy utensils on the way.

People worry too much about what people will say and such other mundane matters. That should not interest anyone. The only opinions that matters in a marriage are that of the two people who are marrying. What matters is what they want not what the parents, relatives and friends want.

It is my advice as an old uncle to many young men and women who will read this post that we stop the “celebrity wedding” madness of the Somali and simplify the whole idea of marriage and weddings. If you can’t afford a smashing party, don’t do it. If you want a smashing party, and you can afford it, by all means do it. In the end after all the partygoers have left, you remain with a person, and that all that should have mattered from the beginning.

Many a young couple starts life together, exhausted, broke, indebted and mad at each other because of the sheer effort, time and resources required for a Somali wedding. Spare young people the trouble and allow them to have a private function at no cost at all. The only legitimate cost of a wedding is the mahr to the bride, everything else is discretionary.

The problem of unaffordable weddings is a time-bomb in our community. In order to resolve this pertinent issue, the community needs to popularize two types of weddings. The first is the private reception, a family only affair where a maximum of 20 family and close friends are invited and they witness the nikah and have bites and drinks and the couple goes home to their dwelling. This can be officiated by the local Kadhi at his office and friends can bring juice and cakes. That is it. No expensive fanfare, no hassle, no energy-draining shopping and planning and no disagreements with relatives over wedding expenses.

The other wedding is mass wedding at an appointed date at appointed venue. We aim for 100 couples. The organizers will raise the money from friends and the couple will contribute what they can afford. We arrange with 10 Kadhis to officiate the wedding and issue certificates there and then. We have a small party with juice and biscuits, lectures on faith and hard work and within two hours a happy couple goes home holding hands. How many of the people will be willing to participate in mass weddings?

I am told many of our young ladies have this thing called a dream wedding. Let me tell you about dream weddings. First there’s nothing dreamy about them. You feed 200 people you have never met. You buy expensive household items to impress the neighborhood, people you have never cared about. The planning and arrangement brings the worst among relatives and there’s a disagreement at every turn. The bridegroom bears the brunt of illogical demands by sister-in-laws and aunts who behave like they are the ones getting married. Normally the bride has no say in anything at this stage. Very few members of the elite can afford these types of weddings on their own income, so the groom to take on huge debts and beg for donations from people he dislikes and this makes a person feel undervalued, ugly, cheap and poor.

When the party is over and the bride is taken to her husband, she is normally tired, she smells from a combination of chemicals, sweat and spit from kisses of people who had fish for dinner. The bridegroom is exhausted, broke, and indebted and regretting the day he met his new wife. With such anxiety in his head, he goes through the motions of consummation of the marriage like it is some strange devilish ritual devoid of feeling. You can be sure half of those marriages fail within a year. That is not a dream wedding, which is really a nightmare.

It is my submission that we need to simplify the issue of love, marriage and weddings among the Somali community. The institution of marriage need not be a conspiracy of mutual suffering where people make extreme sacrifice to get in and jeopardize their happiness and future.

Let’s start by talking about simplicity, frugality and ability. Let’s also talk about mass weddings. How many are willing to join a hundred others to take part in a mass wedding? How many young men can convince their brides and in-laws to accept a private reception?

Let’s think about these things.

Salah Abdi Sheikh is a partner at Josiah, Salah & Associates, Certified Public Accountants. salah@salahabdisheikh.

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