Wedding Woes for Widows

Bereaved provincial women are being forced to marry their late husbands’ relative in defiance of both Muslim and civil law.

Wedding Woes for Widows

Bereaved provincial women are being forced to marry their late husbands’ relative in defiance of both Muslim and civil law.

Habiba, a 28-year-old widow from Kabul, is engaged to the son of her late husband’s eldest brother. But her future spouse is only six years old.


Shogoofa, a 20-year-old widow from Nangahar province east of Kabul, has been ordered by her father-in-law to marry her late husband’s cousin - who is 45 and already has two wives. She says she would rather die than agree.


Life can be harsh for widows in Afghanistan, particularly in the conservative provinces where long tradition, flying in the face of civil law and Muslim practice, dictates that a widow can only remarry someone from her late husband’s family.


Failure to do so brings shame on that family, and can lead to tragic consequences.


Mohammad, 52, from Logar province south of Kabul, had a brother who was killed in 1998. When one of the dead man’s two wives wanted to remarry outside the family, Mohammad offered an exchange, which would have alleviated the shame. He suggested that one of her two daughters should marry his son, thus keeping it, partly at least, in the family.


However his sister-in-law ignored the offer and went ahead with her planned marriage, sparking a train of events and revenge that ended up with two people dead, one threatened with death - and two more widows.


Enraged over the marriage, Mohammad killed the groom, Wazir. To avenge this death, Wazir’s brother Hakam killed Mohammad’s 21-year-old son Wais four months later. “Now I am trying to kill Hakam,” Mohammad told IWPR.


In order to prevent any repetition of these events, Mohammad moved quickly to marry the second wife of his late brother, to ensure that she did not follow the first wife’s example and seek a husband outside the family. They now have a daughter together.


Shogoofa told IWPR that her husband, Akhtar Mohammad, was killed in a traffic accident in Pakistan three years ago after only five months of marriage, “I don’t have any children, and would like to get married to a good man and have a nice life. However my father-in-law won’t let me marry outside the family and wants me to wed my husband’s cousin Saifullah.


“I don’t want to do this. If I am forced to get married to him, I will leave, or commit suicide.”


Habiba’s husband Najibullah died two months ago after a brief illness. “I had three children, and wanted to get married again so I could provide for them,” she explained. “My husband’s elder brother Dar Mohammad and I wanted to marry, but his wife was against it, and so he refused me.”


Habiba said that she had a number of proposals of marriage from her friends and relatives, but Dar Mohammad refused to allow her to marry outside his family, “As a result he forced me to get engaged to his six-year-old son. I am 28, and my husband-to-be is six. You can draw your own conclusions.”


Alhaj Mawlavi Obaidul Rehman, Mullah of Pol Kheshti Mosque in the centre of Kabul and the head of the capital’s religious school, said that under the Islamic code a widow can get married to anyone she likes, provided he is a Muslim, after four months and 10 days have elapsed since her husband’s death.


“It does not matter if the widow has children or not. The Quran allows a widow to choose a person and marry him, after the specified period. People who prevent widows from getting married are illiterate and ignorant – it goes completely against the principles of Islam,” he said.


Abdul Ahad, a retired police officer, said, “Widows should be allowed to marry anyone they like. They have suffered enough already, losing their husbands. We should treat them as our own daughters.”


Mohammad Naseem Shafaq is a freelance journalist in Kabul


Pakistan, Afghanistan
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