In the Arab world, when a man gets married he makes a payment to his bride’s family. However in parts of Yemen when a brother and sister from one family marry a brother and sister from another, dowries are often not paid – but this can have tragic consequences.
A young man approaches a friend to ask for his sister’s hand in marriage – in exchange for his own sister’s hand. This is “swap” marriage or “shegar” as it is known in Arabic, an ancient marriage custom still practised in Yemen.
The way it works is: “I’ll marry your sister, if you marry mine.”
But the other side of the bargain is: “If you divorce my sister, I’ll divorce yours.”
Swap marriage came about as a way to help poorer families avoid paying dowries, and that is still a big attraction to some families in Yemen today. A dowry can come to about $3,500 – even though most people earn less than $2 a day.
Many religious scholars oppose swap marriage and have declared it un-Islamic on the grounds that the dowry is an essential part of the Muslim marriage contract.
“The dowry payment is meant to provide women with some financial security as they leave their home,” Yemeni sheikh Mohamed Mamoun explains.
Indeed, and whatever we might think of dowries, at least they don’t require recipriocal divorces…