Russia’s Muslim south triples sharia bride price as Islamic law advances

July 9, 2010

brideThe pricetag on a bride in Russia’s Ingushetia province has been tripled by the regional government, in a sign the Muslim North Caucasus region is slipping out of Kremlin control as sharia eclipses Russian law.

Against the backdrop of a bubbling Islamist insurgency, the revival of Islam in the North Caucasus following the break-up of the Soviet Union almost 20 years ago has brought sharia law to the region, revered by both rebels and ordinary citizens alike.

((Photo: Zalikhan, 16, going to her wedding in a Chechen refugee camp in  Ingushetia, August 7, 2000/stringer)

The issue of the ‘kalym’, a price paid by a groom to the family of the woman he chooses to marry, is the latest example of a broader trend that has troubled the Kremlin.

At an Ingush conference for Muslim scholars and elders this week, attended by the Kremlin-backed leader of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the money a groom must pay the bride’s family for her hand was increased from 12,500 roubles ($401.9) to 40,000 roubles ($1,286), the local government said on official website  “It is time to raise the rates, and with them the responsibility of the groom,” a statement on the site said.

At a meeting with Yevkurov, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looked concerned as he told the Ingushetia leader that the price rise for a bride did not correspond to Russian inflation.  Putin added he was not sure if the practice, widespread in the Caucasus and Central Asia, was Muslim in its nature.

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Interesting, but this article confuses a number of concepts.

-There’s no such thing as a ‘bride price’ in shari’a law, so the headline is straight out wrong. This is a cultural practice which may or may not be shari’a compliant. In shari’a law, there is something called ‘mahr’, which is paid by the groom to the bride herself (not her family) as a form of appreciation and as an assurance of future security. This amount is generally set by the bride herself in accordance with her needs and lifestyle, not by a public authority, so it varies from bride to bride — it can be a small symbolic amount or a large sum. The Wikipedia seems to have good, distinct definitions of ‘bride price’ and ‘mahr\':

-Is it really good journalistic practice to conflate a bunch of disparate issues (the paintball incidents, bride price, gunning down alcohol sellers)? Especially when none of these things are actually endorsed by shari’a law as any half-trained Muslim scholar knows it? The net effect is to turn this word “shari’a” into a scary, irrational, capricious thing in the minds of many. I would agree that there may be a trend of rising faux-fundamentalism and provincialism — a legitimate story — but it’s definitely not a case of ‘creeping sharia’ in any of these cases.

-It would be good journalistic practice to only use the word ‘shari’a’ with reference to some religious authority, when that authority can be specified. There isn’t really a monolithic shari’a, so a journalist must specific whose interpretation is in force, if any.

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