LEWISTON — When Abdimalik Maalim and Fartun Bare got married, no wedding invitations were sent out.

Yet the reception at the Longley Elementary School gym July 9 was teeming with men and women. The women were dressed to impress in colorful skirts and head scarves. Girls took selfies. Two DJs played lively Somali music.

“Our weddings are open to everyone,” Maalim said. “We rent a huge place so everyone in town can come.”

The bride and groom arrived in a black stretch limousine, looking like royalty. He donned a white, embroidered robe. She wore a long gown and a headdress.

Her wedding party wore matching gowns with gold accents and headdresses.

As in all cultures, a wedding in the Somali community is a big event. What’s different is the time invested getting family approval before the wedding. And after that, the groom has to pass one more test: to prove himself to the bride’s family financially.

Maalim, 24, had to work hard to marry Bare, 21.

A traditional Somali wedding has two parts, nikah, the ceremony, and aroos, the party afterward. Somali weddings celebrate the two extended families, as well as the bride and groom.

During an interview at their home a few days after their wedding, the couple shared how they met, their traditions and their gratitude toward their families.

‘I started to know she was the one’

Maalim and Bare were both born in Africa and came to Lewiston with their families. He was born in Somalia; she in Kenya. Maalim and Bare graduated from Lewiston High School, in 2011 and 2013, respectively.

A few years ago, when Maalim visited his cousin, Bare caught his eye.

“I’ve always admired the way she presented herself,” he said. “She was always covered properly. Muslim girls nowadays (are) trying to adapt to the American culture (and) not covering properly.”

He didn’t know much about her, at first. They got to know each other a little better when both got jobs at Wal-Mart in Brunswick. To get to work, they had to carpool. Sometimes, they would be in the same carpool.

As time went on, “I started to know she was the one,” he said.

She agreed to consider marrying him.

Asked what she liked about Maalim, Bare said, “He’s religious. He’s caring. He’s very kind.”

He approached her, saying he was interested in marrying her and asked for her parents’ phone number.

“You can’t just go up and start dating without getting the parents involved,” he said.

In Somali culture, a man must have parental permission to date a woman. If the woman’s parents approve, the couple may date, but visits are chaperoned. The couple is never alone together until after the wedding.

Once both sets of families agree, the bride’s parents make demands, including how much the groom must pay to marry their daughter, Maalim said.

The groom and his family pay the woman’s parents and her aunts and uncles. A general amount also is paid to the bride. The groom covers wedding expenses and numerous gatherings at different homes leading up to the wedding.

“This is the part a lot of Americans should get to know, especially those who think Muslims don’t value women,” Maalim said. What men have to do to marry “shows you how men value the women.”

He estimated he and his family spent between $25,000 and $30,000 in payments to the bride’s family and the bride, plus food and expenses for numerous gatherings.

“It’s a lot,” he said with a smile.

He worked and saved for years. Maalim received  help from his family.

“They came through for me,” he said.

When he learned the American custom is that the bride’s parents often pay, he was amazed.

“I’m like, ‘Really? That’s easy!’”

The actual ceremony (nikah) that legally joins the couple as husband and wife was at her mother’s home the night before the reception in the presence of family elders. The ceremony includes readings from the Quran, and the bride and groom swearing oaths to each other.

‘Real love happens after the wedding’

For seven days after the wedding, the couple stays home together, allowing time for family to visit and pay respects. 

Both Maalim and Bare value their culture’s marriage traditions.

“Real love happens after the wedding,” he said. “Once you live with each other, you see the real person. If you still love them, that’s true love.”

Once the week is over, the newlyweds start their normal routine.

A graduate of Central Maine Community College, Maalim works for a nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities. This fall, he plans to attend CMCC for another degree, this time in the automotive program.

“I love fixing stuff,” he said. 

His goal is to someday own his own auto repair shop.

Bare works as a certified nursing assistant at Marshwood Center. She, too, plans to attend CMCC, and to become a registered nurse. Her long-term goal is to become a nurse practitioner.

“We don’t have any Somali nurse practitioners,” she said.

Maalim wants people to know that Muslim couples have their own, separate career plans.

Some people think once Muslims marry, “their lives are over, that you can’t continue your education,” he said. “We’re trying to prove that wrong.

“We are going to be supporting each other through everything, and make sure we also achieve our goals in life.”

 

Marriage not arranged, but parents’ permission vital

LEWISTON — Abdimalik Maalim and Fartun Bare chose each other for marriage. It was not arranged by their parents.

“Nowadays, Somali marriages are not arranged; they used to be,” said groom Maalim. But some young adults ran away together, he said, and arranged marriage in Lewiston “hasn’t worked.”

Maalim’s marriage to Bare did require parental approval, however.

“They’re experienced and know much more than we know,” she said. “They can advise you.”

Without parental approval, their wedding would not have happened.

“It all comes back to having respect for the parents,” he said. “Disobeying the parents is a huge deal.”

When a Somali couple marries, it’s more than a union of a couple; it’s the coming together of two families.

A man must ask a woman’s parents for permission to start seeing their daughter with the intent of marriage. But he doesn’t go to see her parents alone; he goes with his parents, and only after they approve of a possible marriage, Maalim said.

In his situation, after his parents approved, family elders were sent to talk to her family, telling them Maalim was interested in marrying Bare.

“Usually, they will not give you an answer straight away,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘OK, we’re going to think about it.’”

Waiting was nerve-wracking, they said.

What the parents and elders consider is “how these two families have gotten along,” he said. “Unfortunately, sometimes relatives from the girl’s family might not like family members of the guy. They might say no, that ‘any guy from that family is not going to marry our daughter.’ That would be the end of it.”

In this case, both families knew each other and got along. But her father was out of the country. Approval took two years because they had to wait for him to come to Lewiston, the couple said.

Throughout the process, if Bare changed her mind about marrying Maalim, “then that would be the end of the story,” he said. “Her parents can’t force her to marry me.”


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