By Laura Bain
You’re bound to come across a wedding in Ghana on a weekly basis. Weddings here are similar to what you’d expect in Canada—a church service, a big white dress, a groom in a sharp suit and a large reception.
This month, I attended a friend’s wedding in Kumasi. I was excited since it was going to be a traditional Muslim service, which I have never witnessed before.
I arrived armed with a new dress and pair of sandals, giddy with excitement.
But, when I saw the groom, Mufty Mohammed, he was stressed, more than the typical day-before-wedding jitters.
“They’ve just demanded an extra 400 cedis ($285 CAD)!” he exclaimed.
“Who did?” I asked.
“The lady’s family. They are squeezing me for all I’m worth,” he said.
A traditional Muslim wedding can be very expensive for the groom. Beyond covering typical expenses, he has to pay a bride price, a gift in cash to the parents of the wife, and a mahr, a gift of money, possessions or property given to the wife, a compulsory part of an Islamic marriage contract.
In some cases, like Mufty’s, the woman and her parents may request an extremely high mahr. He had to reschedule his wedding date three times as well as sell his car to satisfy the financial demands of his future in-laws.
“It is very annoying,” he says. “Assuming a struggling young man like me, you expect me to pay thousands of cedis to marry your daughter and the relationship doesn’t work out. It’s very psychologically damaging.”
The mahr is typically set according to a prospective husband’s financial situation and should not normally be more than he can easily afford.
But in some cases, overzealous family members negotiate on the bride’s behalf, looking to host a flashy wedding.
“With the advancement of society, the token of bride wealth has become very huge and can result in some heavy debts,” says Osei Piesie Anto, a professor at the Islamic University College in Accra. He admits that some families take advantage of the tradition and consider bride wealth and mahr as a way to get rich quick and end up straining the marriage.
“Now it’s about extravagance—spending money to look good to the public,” says Mufty. "But, if you drain the groom, how can he support the wife?”
A Ghanaian Muslim marriage is considered the union of two families, not only two individuals. The marriage customs allow the in-laws to get heavily involved in all the wedding arrangements and the setting of the bride price and mahr.
“It’s a bond between the two families and it’s very important,” says Anto. If you take my daughter who I’ve put through university, what are you going to give back to me? It’s a token.”
Anto compares the bride price and mahr to the tradition of a man buying a woman an expensive ring to exhibit his commitment. But, he admits the tradition should be polished to make it more modern.
Of course, cultural traditions should be valued and maintained, but culture is fluid and adapts with the times. The idea of two families bound together in the Ghanaian Muslim tradition can ensure a more stable and secure marriage.
According to Mufty, there’s something moderately unromantic about literally putting a price on love.
“All this frustration and anger has been eating away at me,” Mufty laments. “The night your wife is presented to you, the joy is not always there. You think, ‘Is this lady worth all this money?’”