Before settling down, Gaza couples get U.S.-style marriage help

Wed Jan 20, 2016 9:09am EST
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Hesitant but curious, several Palestinian couples walked into a classroom in Gaza this week to attend the first marriage guidance program in the conservative, Hamas-run enclave.

The initiative, backed by three Palestinian ministries, the Islamic University and British-based charity Interpal, is designed to prepare young couples for married life, including religious, legal, medical and psychological counseling.

Courses are free, with couples offered gifts worth $60 to encourage them to attend the 15-hour course. Some classes are mixed and some are held with the partners separated.

"So far it is a trial course of 90 brides and grooms," said Hassan Al-Jojo, head of the Higher Religious Judicial Council, one of the program's sponsors. "We want to encourage couples to come because there is still hesitation."

Marriage is a big business in Gaza, with 20,000 unions last year, 5,000 more than in 2014, when a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants interrupted plans. Much of the rubble and destruction of that conflict remains.

Since more than half of Gaza's 1.95 million people are aged under 25, the marriage figures are only likely to grow. Most Gazans cannot easily leave the densely-populated coastal territory, which is blockaded by Israel and Egypt.

But even if marriage is popular, it does not mean it is always a success, particularly with many unions arranged. While U.S.-style counseling feels awkward for many Muslims, the promoters hope it will make marriages stronger.

There were 10 couples in Tuesday's class, with brides being taught about their rights and duties under Islam and the men receiving advice from a psychiatrist about how to open up and maintain a smile in the face of hardship.   Continued...

Palestinian brides attend marriage counseling class at the Islamic University in Gaza City January 19, 2016.  REUTERS/Suhaib Salem