GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Memorizing the Quran has always been appreciated among the Palestinian Muslim community. The Hamas-affiliated Al-Tayseer Society for Marriage and Development in partnership with the Riyad Charity Society on Feb. 4 announced the launch of Ridwan (Satisfaction), a program to provide free weddings in Gaza for individuals who memorize the Islamic holy book. The project is being funded by the Palestinian Charity Committee, affiliated with the International Islamic Charity Organization in Kuwait, a prominent organization that collects donations to help the poor in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
The spread of poverty and high unemployment, which according to figures issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics stood at 41.2% in the first quarter of 2016, have made wedding ceremonies and dowries expensive propositions for young people.
Riyad Shahin, chairman of the Riyad Charity Society, said during the press conference announcing the program that it targets unmarried “huffaz” — people who have memorized the Quran — 26 and older. The aim, he said, is “to encourage youth to read the book of Allah and strengthen ties and social solidarity.”
Hasan al-Juju, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Courts, said at a Jan. 29 press conference in Gaza City that the marriage rate in Gaza dropped by 8% from 2015 to 2016. He attributed the decrease to poverty and unemployment.
A number of young men told Al-Monitor that they disapprove of the memorization requirement to obtain a free wedding. Mahmoud al-Batrawi, an unemployed university graduate, dreams of getting married, but he is unable to find a spouse because he lacks the financial means. He has not memorized the Quran and therefore cannot benefit from a free wedding courtesy of Tayseer, the most prominent organization helping young people with the financial burdens of marriage.
“Some have been blessed with the ability to memorize the book of Allah, and so they have,” Batrawi said. “Today, those who lack this ability will be denied the chance to benefit from this project. This is why I believe this is an unreasonable condition, and I hope it will be reconsidered because memorizing the Quran means memorizing around 78,000 words, i.e., about 6,000 Quranic verses. No ordinary human being is capable of doing so; only those with an extraordinary talent for memorizing can do it.”
Ibrahim al-Ejel, who works in a blacksmith shop in the Shujaiyah neighborhood, east of Gaza City, makes $150 a month. He told Al-Monitor that he has been saving for eight years so he can get married, and he got engaged two years ago. He has not yet, however, been able to save enough for a wedding, which on average costs around $10,000.
“I realized that a young man living in Gaza cannot get married without help,” Ejel said. “This is why I had high hopes for a charity to help me out in overcoming this [financial] difficulty and finally achieving stability in my life. I was extremely frustrated when I found out that Tayseer’s project was only for huffaz.”
He added, “Young people from all social classes in Gaza need help getting married. This is why all discrimination in terms of social and religious standards should end now.”
Tayseer director Wael al-Khalili stressed that the free wedding program for huffaz is only part of a series of social projects to youths. He told Al-Monitor, “ We chose huffaz as worthy of receiving such help because they represent a special and unique segment in our society." Khalili said that his organization also helps youths in general through the Tayseer Marriage Fund, which was established in 2010. The organization provides a loan from the fund to cover the wedding, and the newlyweds repay it in regular installments.
“The huffaz are the young people with the highest morals in our society,” Khalili asserted. “They deserve to be treated differently, and so they do not have to pay back the money they get for their weddings.”
As for the huffaz who stand to benefit from the project, Khalili said, “We do not have a specific number for the time being, but the funding is enough for dozens of huffaz. Each one will be granted an amount to cover the costs of the entire wedding.”
Mouin Rajab, an economics professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, noted that Palestinians from all social classes are living under difficult economic conditions, which is why thousands of unemployed graduates are in need of assistance to deal with life's troubles.
“Although honoring the huffaz is appreciated by Palestinian society, Palestinian youths — college graduates in particular — are unemployed, have no income and are unable to pay for a wedding,” said Rajab. “This is why they should all be receiving help without exception.”
He added, “Even the ones working need assistance to cover the costs of weddings, because they can barely earn a decent living in light of the low wages in Gaza and the difficulty in saving.”
Palestinian youths in Gaza are mired in economic problems that render them unable to live normal lives. Social, partisan and government organizations are able to provide some help for those hoping to marry, but many are stuck between the hammer and the anvil when it comes to financing weddings and dowries and meeting social and religious standards.
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