Asylum conditions change engagement traditions among Syrians
Enab Baladi – Baraa Khattab
The war’s conditions have cast their shadows over the lives of Syrians, pushing millions of them to seek refuge in various countries. This has led to changes in some habits and traditions, including the engagement ceremonies, which remain captive to the concerns of success and failure.
Pre-2011, in Syria, engagement as a social ritual was subject in most cases to customs, traditions, and norms prevalent primarily among the members of the same community. It was a costly journey and might not be short, differing from one area to another.
Traditionally, the choice of the bride was the responsibility of the groom’s mother, who begins with her daughters to search for a suitable wife for her son, according to specific social, aesthetic, and ethical criteria. It was possible for the young woman (the bride) to come from close-knit and well-known families in the same area, excluding the possibility of marrying the son to a young woman from a different city or province, unless there were family ties between the two parties.
The mother would inquire about the young woman in fine detail, and after arriving at an acceptable or convincing choice, she would take the bride’s photo to her son for him to see and give his opinion, with clarifications about the bride’s personality provided by the mother who had carried out her assessment, perhaps more than once before reaching the photo stage.
The subsequent steps might not face the son’s objection, especially with the mother’s conviction, as the criteria she agreed upon are most suitable. This was the traditional way of acquaintance and engagement in the past.
The engagement customs that were followed in Syrian society began to gradually change since 2011, which marked a significant and continuous exit of Syrians from their country to various countries around the world, especially neighboring countries and the European Union. Individuals and families have left, which formed a state of familial diaspora that sometimes scattered members of the same family in several countries.
These factors reduced social ties, to be replaced by estrangement on more than one level, prompting new methods that align with the new reality. Thus, the young man might not be surrounded by an educational or professional environment that enables him to take on the task of finding a bride instead of his mother. This enhanced the presence of old traditions but in a more modern way. Some families try other methods to search for a suitable life partner for the young man who is about to marry, within the state they reside in, to avoid falling into the family reunification cycle, which may not end shortly.
Women’s clubs for acquaintance
Bashira Halimiya, a Syrian woman seeking refuge in Germany with her family and originating from Damascus, decided to look for a bride for her 37-year-old son Muhammad.
Halimiya followed several methods hoping to find a suitable young woman for her son, including contacting friends and relatives in Germany, but to no avail.
She told Enab Baladi, “A friend in Germany told me about clubs for ladies where they meet weekly within the state they live in, with the aim of family acquaintance among Arab families, including Syrians.”
Halimiya joined the club and started attending it weekly with her daughter, and after about five months, she met a woman who has four daughters, and after the two families got acquainted, she betrothed one of them to her son.
The woman explained to Enab Baladi that the engagement was not like this in the past, but war conditions forced people to change many of their customs, including the way they look for a young woman for engagement, which is extremely difficult abroad.
Through online groups or friends
Despite doubts about the success of relationships formed through social media, with some people having excellent experiences that may end in successful relationships or an experience that may not end happily, Aws al-Dihni decided to go through this experience after several attempts by his mother to convince him to get engaged to a young woman from his city Daraa.
Finding a suitable life partner among Syrian refugees is one of the challenges they face, especially in the absence of family members, who usually take care of such a significant social event.
Aws al-Dihni, a 28-year-old Syrian living alone in Belgium for seven years with his family in Daraa city, the decision to propose was not easy because of the difficulty of finding a young woman in his surroundings. Over the years, he tried to find “a suitable young woman,” but the limited relationships and the small number of Syrians in his environment did not help him meet the sought-after partner.
Al-Dihni told Enab Baladi that his mother spoke with him many times about looking for a young woman from his city, but he rejected her request every time because he did not want to enter the family reunification spiral, whose procedures take about two years, as he said.
He continued, “About a year and a half ago, a friend told me about groups for searching for a husband or wife for Syrians in Europe and asked me to join one of them and follow what is posted in it, hoping it might help me find a suitable young woman.”
Over the years, the idea of creating social media pages, websites, and groups for acquaintance among refugees in Europe has been active. However, al-Dihni believes these methods are not fruitful for meeting a young woman to marry.
He did not see the online group option as good and responded to his friend’s words with ridicule, saying they are just scams and fraud.
“But my mother’s attempts and her persistence forced me to enter one of the groups under a pseudonym, and after about two months, a post by a young woman looking for a wife for her brother in France caught my attention. Curiosity led me to her personal account, where I was surprised to find that the young woman is the sister of my friend who lives in France.”
After about a week, the young man talked with his family and informed them about the young woman, and they decided to contact the family to request her hand in marriage, and the wedding was held about five months later with the agreement of both parties, without the presence of the groom’s family.
Al-Dihni’s story is not an exceptional case among Syrian youth in refugee countries, as the ongoing war for more than a decade has imposed significant variables that led to the alteration of customs and traditions that accompanied the Syrian society, especially in terms of engagement and marriage.
Mayada Shaar, from Idlib city living in the city of Iskenderun in Turkey, said to Enab Baladi that the mother of her friend, who lives in the same city, contacted her and asked for her help in searching for a wife for her son.
She added that the young man’s family lives in Jableh city in Syria, and the mother felt that searching for a young woman in the same city where her son works does not take a long time, and also does not require much money, for instance, to smuggle the young woman out of Syria.
At that time, Shaar was supervising a “Youth and Girls for Marriage” group on WhatsApp, and she communicated with one of the members, a mother of a marriageable-age young woman from Maarat al-Numan in Idlib. She spoke with her and requested a meeting, informing her about the young man’s characteristics, job, and family, and the mother agreed for both parties to get acquainted and set a day for their visit.
After the first visit of the young man and Shaar to the young woman’s family, the agreement was reached, and the two families communicated and agreed on the details of the marriage.
Shaar’s role did not stop there; she is currently searching for a young woman for her nephew who resides in Antalya, Turkey while his family is in Syria and sees that engagements differ from the past, as families started to break traditions and customs under circumstances that were imposed on them and they had to adapt to.
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