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Syrian Bride Market

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Um Majed, a 28-year-old Syrian refugee, procures young brides for Arab men all over the Middle East.

AMMAN, JORDAN—Nezar’s face is tight with expectation as she arrives for the meeting. She is a heavy-set mother of 12 and as she arranges herself on the small sofa in Um Majed’s living room she removes her black veil and the pious black gloves that allow her to shake hands with men who are not her relatives.

Um Majed sets down small cups of hot Turkish coffee to ease the tension. Nezar is a Syrian refugee and looking for a husband for her daughter. She lists the girl’s qualities.

“She is tall and pretty,” she tells Um Majed. “She finished the seventh grade.”

“There is one available. He is Saudi,” Um Majed answer

This is what Nezar wants to hear. Saudis, flush with petrodollars, will pay well. She has high hopes for this Saudi.

So does Um Majed who will earn a $287 fee if the two sides agree to the match.

Um Majed, 28, is also a Syrian refugee, a former housewife from Homs. Um Majed isn’t her actual name but a respectable Arab moniker meaning ‘mother of Majed,’ her young son. She doesn’t want her full name published because of her shame about what she does for a living: procuring brides, some as young as 12, for men as old as 70 from all over the Middle East in exchange for money.

Nezar too was a homemaker in Homs who arrived in Jordan last year. Her husband was a taxi driver but he can no longer work because he has a heart condition. Her son is badly injured.

“He was a fighter with the resistance army and they were removing a roadblock the regime set up on the street when he was hit by a missile,” she explains. “Four others died. He has had three surgeries and needs another one.”

Her daughter Aya is their best hope.

“My daughter is willing to sacrifice herself for her family,” Nezar says. “If the war had not happened I would not marry my daughter to a Saudi. But the Syrians here are poor and have no money.”

Nezar’s daughter is 17. The Saudi groom is 70.

Stories of men fighting and dying to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s regime have fixated the world but for women the war has different, troubling dimensions. Syrian women and their children make up 75 per cent of the 429,000 refugees in Jordan. The vast majority do not live in the camps set up by the Jordanian authorities. They flood into cities like Amman where they live on the charity of kindly Jordanians and aid organizations.

Many of these women are not equipped to support their families, having been raised to keep the home and hearth while husbands and fathers provided for them. The true cost of how the war is ripping apart the nation is evident in the brutal life choices Syrian women are forced to make to survive.

Grasping for the security of a husband and home, hundreds of girls are being sold into early marriage. These are undoubtedly forced marriages but the truth has several shades of grey: some mothers believe they are protecting their daughters from further hardship and violence, others are desperate to pay the bills. Yet their voices are rarely heard because their lives are lived behind closed doors, their private tragedies not shared with outsiders.

“If you see how Syrians here live you will see why they marry their daughters to whoever will take them,” Um Majed says. “People are poor and they will do anything to pay the rent.”

The surplus of desperate Syrian refugees means marriage has become a buyer’s market with some grooms offering as little as $100 cash for a bride.

The legal age of marriage in Jordan is 18 but some religious clerics will marry underage girls for a small fee. This puts the girls at even greater risk for exploitation because some of Um Majed’s clients want a temporary union lasting a few weeks or months after which the girl is returned to her parents.

In other words, it is religiously sanctioned prostitution.

“One of my brides has been married three, four times,” Um Majed says. “She is 15.”

Yet Nezar believes she is saving Aya from a life of hardship. What are her daughter’s prospects in Jordan where she has no right to work? There is little hope of the war ending and returning home. She will soon become a burden on her parents. No, a life in Saudi Arabia with a husband who can provide a home and children, perhaps send money back to Jordan, is the answer.

She admits the marriage market is hazardous. Most of the potential grooms offer a few dollars to leer at her daughter.

“You are already selling your daughter, you might as well sell her to someone decent,” she says.

Nezar cuts the meeting short. Aya is having belly-dancing lessons to increase her appeal to the elderly groom.

“I will take 3,000 dinars ($4,300) from him,” she tells Um Majed. “If he was younger I would accept 2,000 dinars.”

*

In the old days, the neighbourhood busybody, a matronly figure, was the matchmaker. She would appraise the unmarried girls on her street on behalf of the grooms’ families. At the Turkish bath, the would-be bride was paraded like a prizewinning filly: her mane tugged to check she wasn’t wearing a wig, a walnut cracked between her molars to make sure her teeth were real. In a society where women, especially unmarried girls, do not mingle with men not related to them, or even venture outside the home at risk of being labelled sexually loose, many families relied on matchmakers to find the right bride for their sons.

Um Majed raises a cynical eyebrow at this innocent archetype as she strikes a match and lights a cigarette. She became a matchmaker when she approached a local Islamist charity for food and the manager asked if she “knew any pretty girls.”

“I have 10 families looking for grooms,” she says. “Their girls are between 12 and 21. The grooms are always in their 40s, 50s, or 70s. They want beautiful girls, the younger the better.”

She pauses and takes a drag of the cigarette.

“The Saudis usually ask for 12-year-olds.”

As she sees it, life has become about exploiting or being exploited.

“I have to feed my children,” she says.

“What does freedom mean?” she asks. “We were living with pride and in our own country. I asked my husband this question. He said that they are Alawites and we fight them. But the Saudis are Sunni like us and they harass Syrian girls. Is this religion? Is this freedom?”

Her husband owned a car wash in Homs. Last year, he was hit by a stray bullet and after Um Majed nursed him back to health he joined a militia fighting with the Free Syrian Army.

“I now wish the bullet pierced his heart,” she says bitterly. “He abandoned me to fight and left me with the burden of supporting the family.”

Syrian brides have always been sought after, especially by Gulf Arab men. There is an expression which roughly translates as ‘he who does not marry a Damascene will never know a night of peace.’

The stereotype of the houriya, Levantine beauties with pale faces, speaking the melodious Syrian Arabic dialect and purveyors of a famous cuisine holds great appeal. A Syrian hostess’s reputation can rest on the balance between the olive oil and lemon juice in her tabbouleh salad.

In the Middle East, the groom or his family are expected to provide maher, roughly translated as dowry. If he is a good catch he will approach the girl’s family with a fully furnished flat, perhaps a car, and bank statement proving his savings.

Zayed Hamad who runs Kitab al Sunna, a Sunni Islamist charity that helps women refugees and receives funding from Saudi Arabia, says he receives 100 phone calls, emails and even text messages a month from grooms all over the Middle East looking for wives. Some are looking for a bargain.

“Some believe if they marry a Syrian girl it is cheaper,” he says. “I get approached by the brothers but I say it is not my responsibility to find them brides.”

He says it is a good thing as these girls will have more secure futures.

*

Eman is a typical Damascene beauty with her pale skin and hazel eyes. At 29, she is considered an older bride and has two daughters from her ex-husband whom she divorced because she caught him in bed with his sister-in-law.

Eman is tired of the war and its slogans.

“I curse the people who call for freedom,” she says. “But Bashar invited the devil to Syria.”

She fled to Amman with her girls late last year. All refugees are meant to stay in the Zaatari camp, a dusty, sometimes violent shanty town on the north border. The main drag is nicknamed the Champs Elysees and sells everything from shoes to shawarmas. Women dig small holes in the ground near their tents to avoid trips in the dark to the public toilets because they are afraid.

Eman refuses to live there. “It’s horrible,” she says. Instead, she rents a small apartment in Amman with her children, sister and mother for 150 dinars a month.

But life in the capital without the protection of a husband or father is hard. When Eman first arrived she would go to charities and mosques for food and mattresses where her soft Syrian accent immediately attracted attention.

“Wherever I go I get proposals,” she says with more weariness than pride. “They ask, can I smell your perfume for 20 dinars? ($28) Can you lift your veil for 35 dinars ($50)? I’d rather die of hunger than do something wrong.”

Just yesterday she heard about a rich man giving away cash at the local mosque so she went to investigate.

“He was giving $100 and gave money to all the others and told me to wait,” Eman says. “When everyone was done he asked me to call him in the morning at his hotel. I said I’d come with my mother. He said come alone. He would give double the money. I told him he was ridiculous.”

She works from home, shelling peanuts for a factory and earning 2.5 dinars ($3.50) for every 10 kilograms of nuts she peels. Eman wants to marry soon so she doesn’t have to expose herself to unwanted attention.

“I want a real husband and a real marriage, someone like Muhandin,” she says, and giggles. He is a Turkish actor in a popular soap opera.

Um Majed, though, has no time for romantic dreams.

A new client, a Jordanian man aged 29 wants a young bride from the Zaatari camp. He will give Um Majed fake documents and they will pose as charity workers to gain access to the families and size up their daughters.

“Some families accept 50 dinars (72) to let the groom look at their girls,” she says. She has done this ruse several times.

Um Majed will get her cut for brokering the arrangement. But she insists it will be a food package, not cash.

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May Allah (SWT) have mercy on these women and create a path out of this horrible situation for them and curse those who try and exploit them. The same thing happened to Iraqi women in the aftermath of the invasion and it was mostly gulf Arabs exploiting the situation then too.

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Typical Wahabi-Salafi-Takfiri perpetrated double exploitation.

1990 and continuing - Wahabis messed up Afghanistan, brought wars and terrorism, which brought poverty and destitution to Afghani Pashtun, then rich of Saudis went and used their boys as sex slaves/suicide bombers and their young girls as sex slaves and housemaids.

2000 and continuing - Wahabis messed up Iraq, brought poverty and destitution to Iraqi Sunnis, then rich of Saudis went and used their boys as sex slaves/suicide bombers and their young girls as sex slaves and housemaids.

2005 and continuing - Wahabis messing up Pakistan, bringing poverty and destitution to Paki Sunnis, then rich of Saudis went and used their boys as sex slaves/suicide bombers and their young girls as sex slaves and housemaids.

2011 and continuing - Wahabis messed up Syria, brought wars and terrorism, which brought poverty and destitution to Syrian Arabs, then rich of Saudis went and used their boys as sex slaves/suicide bombers and their young girls as sex slaves and housemaids.

Wahabi-Takfiri-Kharji Saudi Arabia is the world's biggest capital of human trafficking and incidentally the most number of young boys and girls are trafficked into Saudi from these 'troubled geographies' which is caused by Saudis.

Muslims and the rest of humanity will need to wake up to Saudi menace and would need to do something about it. This ain't stoping with peaceful protests.

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I've read this news in the newspaper recently. Seems like a lot of Syrian family are interested in getting their daughters married to outsiders. Most of the girls are very young.

Here's the Syrian Refugees problem we are dealing with.

And check this out. PHOTOS of refugees with their most important possession

Edited by Gypsy

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fear not people, God is ever watching and God is ever controlling, to the person who asked "Where is God" God is ever present fear not, and whatever God plans for people, God will compensate and take care of, im not saying what is happening is right from the "market" aspect of this, but i am saying that God is watching and contolling

and dont forget "God does not put upon the soul that which it cannot bear"

Edited by yukapuka

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According to your logic yuka, God watching because the soul can bear it, then that would conclude that, while we are all preaching and trying to reach a high level of faith, these individuals in war torn countries who are oppressed, are in a status beyound our capabilities. I can accept it, however will all your egos be abe too?.. I think not.

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According to your logic yuka, God watching because the soul can bear it, then that would conclude that, while we are all preaching and trying to reach a high level of faith, these individuals in war torn countries who are oppressed, are in a status beyound our capabilities. I can accept it, however will all your egos be abe too?.. I think not.

i didnt quiet understand what u mean?

all i am saying is that the oppression these people are experiencing, despite that it is wrong, they are still able to bear its consequence, so dont think that somehow it is the bitter end and everything including God has failed to help them, put ur trust in God, pray for them and raise your voice agasint oppression, if you find you can do more, then do more, but otherwise we are in reality helpless to change it, God wants to test these people in such circumstances, and they WILL be rewarded for their endurance fear not, maybe God will open their vision to the barzakh world or give them some heavenly power, what God will do i dont know, but i am only saying this is "just like they plan, God also plans, and God is the best of planners" so wait and see how this will outcome

by the way remember this verse of the Quran :

002:214] Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? they encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Apostle and those of faith who were with him cried: "When (will come) the help of God?" Ah! Verily, the help of God is (always) near!

and dont worry, one day it will be our turn to be shaken and scared and tested, because everybody who wants to enter Heaven must experience its rocky climb up

Edited by yukapuka

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Very sad scenario. Do the Sunnis not feel bad for how they are being used by their rich folks in the name of religion? Oh yeah killing a shia is better than honour. Such low-life men who abandon family for a judeo-christian crusade .

Sunni is a very generic term. A malaysian may be Sunni, but I have nothing that connects me to him, other than religion. Same with Saudis.. they may be "Sunnis" but they don't look like Syrians, and their culture doesn't resemble Syrian culture. Sadly, everyone only cares about themselves, there is no "Sunni" unity or Arab/Muslim unity.

And maybe their men were killed, do not judge them.

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Well, I think it is more up to intention. I have great Muslim brother here in Finland, new convert, that I would love to marry him to Syrian, or Palestinean girl.

I myself like a lot better Syrian, Palestinean and Yemeni girls over Jordanean, Saudi, Qatari, Emirati, or Iraqi for someone. Because the latter are more proud, likely less religious and they have bigger mouth.

I think, the families are a lot to blame also. No matter HOW poor we would be, my daughter would never do mutah, or marry someone for money, not for Islam.

If there are widows, mokhles men should marry them. Lot of Finnish Muslim men would love to marry a Palestinean, or Syrian women, whose husband has died shaheed.

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