KABUL — Big weddings, music and dancing were banned in Afghanistan under the Taliban. So after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the regime in 2001, Afghans who could afford it began throwing large, loud and expensive weddings. But the government says the tradition has become a burden for grooms' families, who are obliged to underwrite wedding costs, and the parliament has passed a law to makes lavish and expensive weddings illegal.
The new law limits the number of wedding guests to 500 and caps the per-head cost at around $7. "This law will solve huge problems facing young people that make up the majority of our people," explains Muhammad Abdu, a member of the Afghanistan Congress who supported the law. "We will need to work in partnership with the public and the media to make sure this law is implemented."
Owners of big hotels and wedding halls had been intensely lobbying lawmakers not to pass the legislation before parliament ultimately supported it. It doesn't officially become law until President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani signs it.
Its passage comes as a disappointment to 23-year-old university student Zahra Nijati, who has been engaged for a year and was looking forward to a big wedding. "No one will respect this new law," she says. "It should be a personal decision how much you spend on your wedding. If you have the money, then you should be free to spend it on your wedding. If you don’t have money, then have a simple party."
Her future husband, 28-year-old Muhammad Nazar, might need some convincing. He has been saving up by working in Toronto, Canada, and has returned to Kabul to prepare for the wedding. For him, the law capping wedding costs comes as a relief. "I want to have a simple wedding party in line with Islamic teachings," he says. Instead of spending money on the wedding, he wants to take a trip. "And that's my final decision," he tells his future wife.
In Afghanistan, grooms or their families pay for weddings in addition to giving the father of the bride a walwar, or a reverse dowry.
Ahmad Naweed, a 37-year-old who works as designer in a printing center, says he can't afford to get married. "I tried to get married once," he says. "My family and I approached a girl, but her family gave me a long list of things I had to pay for. And they wanted a very expensive wedding, which we rejected."
Under the new law, hotel owners could face punishment if they host events that exceed the new limits. Under article 4 of the legislation, weddings are allowed to be held in hotels and rented halls but not other festivities. Events such as engagement parties, birthdays, the naming of a newborn children and graduations are to be held at home.
Hotel Mumtaz Mahal is one of the most popular places for wealthier Afghans to get married. Hundreds of guests are normally invited to events here with women and men separated by high wooden walls. The men dance while the women talk. The groom and his family typically cover all the bills, including the food, band, dresses for the bride and decorations for the couple's throne-like chairs.
Muhammad Afzal Akbari, who runs two popular wedding halls in Kabul, says the law is a disaster. "If this law is implemented, then it will be like closing the doors on all the wedding halls," he says. "We can't control how much a families want to spend on their wedding. Every person and family has their own culture and way of celebrating, and they should be able to do that in a flamboyant way if they want to."