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    To many Afghans, mass marriages remain an anathema

    KABUL (PAN): Stoutly supporting arranged weddings, residents of eastern and southern provinces say mass marriages are an anathema to them. They say the tradition has been imported from neighbouring Iran, where university students introduced 20 years ago.

    In Afghanistan, dozens of couples recently tied the knot at a mass marriage ceremony in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province. The weddings were arranged by Ayatullah Sistani, a Shiite leader from the Najaf city of Iraq.

    The tradition is particularly popular with followers of the Shiite sect. But Balkh Governor Atta Muhammad Noor recently constituted a commission to help Sunnis arrange such marriages.  "Most of Sunni Afghans don't like the tradition of collective weddings, considering them an attack on Afghan culture," Noor said.

    Mass marriages are celebrated in several Afghan provinces like Herat, Balkh, Bamyan and Parwan, but opposition to the trend persists in eastern provinces. "It's an Iranian custom and its introduction here amounts to political interference," said Sanaullah, a student of the Sheikh Zayed University in Khost province.

    A tribal elder from southern Zabul province, Haji Abdur Razaq, said the way mass marriages were celebrated ran counter to Islam.  However, he did no t elaborate on how the tradition clashed with Islamic injunctions.

    A Nangarhar-based trader, Dr. Mukhlis Ahmad, said they were ready to support the marriages. But Pakhtuns, who constituted 90 per cent of the population of eastern provinces, would not attend such ceremonies, he explained.

    According to Nangarhar Information and Culture Director Aurang Samim, mass marriages are against Islam and Afghan traditions.

    "People of Ghazni are not ready to embrace the tradition due to cultural restrictions," said Women's Rights Director Fauzia Kakar.  She added insecurity and widespread poverty also impeded the custom.

    "Mass marriages are a blessing for low-income people in that wedding expenses are shooting up day by day," said Maulvi Adil, the head of the Brotherhood Association in Balkh.