Sami, a self-described citizen-journalist in Qusayr, writes about how the prolonged armed conflict in Syria has changed not only the outlook on weddings and marriages but also longstanding traditions surrounding them. Sami has shared previous narratives about barrel bombings, a Christian friend who fled Syria, and the impact his brother’s combat injury has had on his family. The names of the author and all other individuals in this account are not their real names. Also, the image above was provided to us by Sami. Its authenticity cannot be independently verified.
The Syrian government restricts independent reporting within the country, so we invite Syrians on both sides of the conflict to tell the world how they cope with street violence, human tragedies, political chaos and existential challenges in their daily lives. Syria Witness reports cannot be independently verified and, for personal safety reasons, some contributors do not use their real names. Texts are edited for clarity and style, but no changes to content are made.
by Sami in Qusayr, December 2, 2012
Hussam dropped out of pharmacy school when the protests began in Qusayr. Then he bought a rifle with his own money and joined the Free Syrian Army. The other day he told me he is now engaged to be married.
I’ve known him since high school, but I’ve sensed a change in him lately. He is now calmer and, when he speaks, he measures his words more carefully.
“It feels wonderful,” he told me. “I feel like I am a new person. My outlook on life is now different,” he said referring to his planned wedding.
Parents can’t say ‘no’ to a fighter
As the war drags on, many of my friends are marrying, and the customary long and expensive formalities preceding weddings are no more. Hussam and his fiancée plan to marry this month.
In Syria, getting married has always been costly and used to take many months of negotiations between the families involved.
“The only condition they set was me being a member of the Free Syrian Army.” – Hussam of Qusayr
I asked Hussam how the negotiations with the parents of his bride-to-be, Maryam, had gone. He said it was no problem. “The only condition they set was me being a member of the Free Syrian Army! Nothing else matters,” he said.
A shorter courtship
Hussam and Maryam met in high school, but he had only seen her a couple of times since. Her family had turned down other men’s offers in the past but Hussam said that until recently he had never considered her as a future wife.
But one day, Hussam did think about what it would be like to be married. Then he tried to recall all the girls he knew.
“She was a good polite girl and she was studying engineering,” he said of Maryam. She gave him her mobile phone number and they talked it over. Next, he asked his parents fro permission to speak to her parents. When they all agreed, he proposed.
“What matters most to them,” Hussam told me, “was to make sure that their daughter was in good hands.”
Which is why Hussam now spends so much of his spare time at her parents’ home. “Although I cannot hang out with my fiancée due to the shelling and the siege, I can still visit her house whenever I like and talk to her at will and we are like soul mates.”
End of a tradition
Setting up a marriage in Syria used to take weeks if not months. Before the revolution, a guy would see a girl he likes and then he would ask others about her and her family. His next step would be to get initial approval from the girl through a mutual friend. If she told her friend she agreed, he would then tell his own parents about the plan. It was then up to his parents to go to the girl’s house and formally propose their engagement.
If the girl and her parents approved, they would hold an engagement party and many other parties, ending with a wedding ceremony at a huge private hall.
The war has changed all of that. Now the engagement takes only a few weeks because civilian life in Syria’s war is too dangerous for public celebrations.
“Contrary to Islamic teachings, the parents of some brides used to ask for a lot of money from the groom’s family, but not any more.” – Sami of Qusayr
People used to spend about $1,000 for the engagement parties alone, and as much as $5,000 for a large wedding complete with singer, gifts and dowry for the bride.
Contrary to Islamic teachings, the parents of some brides used to ask for a lot of money from the groom’s family, but not any more. Many expected large sums for a dowry in order to furnish a new home. These practices have changed with so many people out of work and shops closing down. The traditional gifts such as perfume and dresses for the bride have been reduced to a bouquet of flowers for the wedding service. The groom goes empty-handed most of the time. Nowadays, the engagement and wedding ceremonies can cost less than $1,000 combined.
These days, after a wedding most brides move in with their husbands’ families because everyone – both the rich and the poor – have financial problems.
Our class structure has changed slightly as well. It was uncommon for a woman with a university degree and a job to marry someone who is unemployed or a shop worker with no degree. Now, however, a fighter from the Free Syrian Army is every girl’s knight in shining armor.
A warrior’s dilemma
One day, a group of us talked about marrainge at a local meeting point. We realized that as the revolution was growing longer by the day, many activists and fighters decided to marry sooner rather than later. But there were exceptions.
“I will consider getting married the moment this regime falls!” – Mohannad from Qusayr
Mohannad, a cameraman in the Free Syrian Army, took a different view. “After losing so many friends, I have lost interest in getting married. My whole life now is about making sure that my friends’ sacrifices were not in vain,” he said passionately. “I will consider getting married the moment this regime falls! How am I supposed to get married when my friends are getting killed before my eyes?”
Others have talked about their fear of getting killed during combat and leaving their families unsupported. Generally, an unmarried fighter is also less concerned about his safety than a married one who must consider his family in case he gets killed.
I argued that the end of the revolution might be months if not years away and that we cannot just stop the cycle of life.
Mohannad, on the other hand, insisted that fighting for freedom was his full-time job.
Life goes on
The Assad regime and its security forces have destroyed the homes and livelihoods of Syrians, but they cannot take the very things that makes us happy and hopeful for a better future. The revolution, in our view, might take a bit more time and we may have to adapt to new conditions.
But marriages give us Syrians a sense of continuity; they assure us that bright days will follow rainy days.
Amid the catastrophic conditions of our daily lives, Syrians will carry on. We have found ways to still enjoy life despite the death and destruction around us.
More than a year ago, I had a teaching position at Homs University and hoped to pursue studies abroad. Marriage was not high on my list. The revolution has changed my outlook on life as it has changed the outlook of many other Syrians. I, too, am considering marriage now.
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David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.