Thu, May 17, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Nigerian religious authorities holding mass weddings for widows, divorcees

The Guardian, LAGOS, NIGERIA

In northern Nigeria, it is a truth universally acknowledged that widows and divorcees must be in want of a husband, whether he is wealthy or not. Therefore religious authorities have decided to organize the wedding of a thousand women’s dreams.

The Hisbah board is matchmaking for 1,000 widows and divorcees in Kano, a predominantly Muslim state where marriages last two years on average. Responsible for enforcing Muslim Shariah law — including “beer destruction days” in which truck-loads of alcohol are confiscated — the panel on Tuesday held the first of a planned 10 mass weddings at the emir’s palace, the ancient home of the ruling religious family.

“As soon as I heard about the marriage, I rushed to fill out a form and I am so happy to be here today,” said Sani Abdellah, a newly married groom whose first wife stayed at home.

“In our culture it is a joy to celebrate marriage together as a family and if there is any problem with my new wife, I know the board will intervene,” said the 45-year-old, one of 100 men getting married.

His 28-year-old bride, Aicha, declared she was “very, very happy, and happy that the Hisbah is helping women with the problem of finding a good husband.”

Throughout Nigeria, women of marriageable age who remain single are often marginalized amid entrenched perceptions that they lack respectability.

Education levels in the north, which is also home to millions of Christians, remain well below the national average and school attendance for sons is more of a priority than for daughters.

Although Muslim men may marry up to four wives, divorced or widowed women are shunted between male relatives, who view them as a burden. That has led many women to turn to prostitution or begging — a problem that can be fixed through mass marriages, according to the Hisbah board.

However, activists say that does not address soaring divorce rates in 11 states that follow Shariah, which permits a man to divorce by simply saying three times: “I divorce you.”

Altine Abdullahi, 44, who is registered to participate in an upcoming mass wedding, said: “My husband and I loved each other like Romeo and Juliet. One week before the divorce, we promised each other we would never separate.”

However, the day her husband took a third wife, an argument escalated and he said: “I divorce you” three times.

“As soon as he said the words, we both started crying. He begged me to stay with him, but I told him now you have let me go, I must go,” Abdullahi said.

“God willing, my new husband will be tall and gentle and generous. He will be fine, but not too fine. Too much handsome is a problem,” she said.

She will not meet her new groom until the moment they take their vows.

The organization the Voice of Widows, Divorcees and Orphans, which has increased to 100,000 members since 2003, also campaigns for the state to make more effort at encouraging men to be what women want, too.

Islam abhors divorce and sees it only as a final resort, Abdullahi said.

“Too many men in Kano treat women like a T-shirt. They wear them and throw them away when they get tired of them,” she said.

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