16:36 - September 29, 2007
News ID: 1586961
CAIRO — Shy beneath her pearl-dotted veil, Zeinab clutched Reda's arm as they made their entrance as man and wife for the first time to the raucous cheers of the joyful guests.
They are among 200 couples who had gathered in a Cairo stadium to tie the knot in a mass wedding for poor Egyptians organized by an Islamic charity.

"It is firstly a religious duty," Hamdi Taha, the head of Karam al-Islam charity, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday, September 27.

Taha, whose charity aims to promote lawful unions between men and women in a bid to save them from sin, said growing numbers of Egyptians are shying away from marriage because of the high expenses.

He warned that "not getting married can lead to deviant behavior" such as sex outside marriage.

"Celibacy in Egypt is nothing but a time bomb ready to explode and tarnish the image of my country," said the professor of communications at the prestigious Al-Azhar university.

Islam encourages marriage as the pure and legitimate way for regulating and fulfilling human instincts and desires.

The Islamic faith is against both curbing man’s desires through celibacy or giving them free rein through licentiousness and sexual permissiveness.

New Weds

With joyful eyes, the new brides and grooms made their way to a rug-covered floor to a singer's repetitive chants and applause of the relatives.

Several thousand family members packed onto the stadium benches watched as loved ones celebrated their union.

Mustafa Saad, an economics graduate, looks ecstatic while sitting beside his bride Naglaa Hamdi.

"We received a kitchen with appliances, a bedroom set and curtains," said an excited Naglaa, her hair hidden beneath a white headcover like the vast majority of the brides.

Abdelsalam Ahmed 32, and his bride, Sahar Ettawwab, 26, say there was no chance that they could have got married without receiving financial assistance.

"Maybe in 10 years' time," said Ahmed with a shrug of the shoulders.

Tradition dictates that a man must offer his wife-to-be gold jewellery, pay the dowry, buy most of the furniture and also find housing before a father accepts to let his daughter go.

Such a financial tall order for young couples deeply affected by high rates of unemployment often means that tying the knot has to take a backseat in the list of life's priorities.

"We offer everything from lingerie to the wedding dress, so that nothing can prevent the marriage," said Ibrahim Higazi, one of Karam al-Islam's patrons.

Since 2002, the Islamic charity has organized collective weddings for thousands of young Egyptians.

Only this year, the charity helped 2,300 couples across the country, including around 100 Coptic couples, to tie the knot.

The charity says it received applications from 6,000 couples but that it gives priority to the poorest and to orphaned young women in a society where a traceable lineage is valued.

"We even had a 42-year-old bride this year," said one of the organizers.

"And look, we even have disabled couples," he said pointing to Mustafa, who was paralyzed by polio, and his bride Naglaa, whose arm was amputated after a work accident.
IOL & News Agencies
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