Meeting Each Other Halfways
But the learning process is lengthy and demands significant compromises from both sides. Nonetheless, statistics show that intercultural partnerships last longer than purely German marriages.
In the summer of 2000, Sabine bought a gift from Omar, the manager of a souvenir shop in Dahab, an Egyptian holiday resort on the Red Sea. After she had made her purchase, Omar invited Sabine to join him for a cup of tea, and she accepted. In response to his request that she tell him a story in German, Sabine recounted Grimm’s fairytale of Hansel and Gretel. He retaliated with the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves from the Thousand and One Nights, and the magic words ‘Open Sesame’ weaved their magic: two hearts opened up to each other.
Seven years on, Omar and Sabine are both 26 years old, married to one another, and living in Cologne. Sabine, who is studying education, is preparing for her finals. The main focus of her studies is intercultural education. Omar had a degree in tourism from Cairo, and will soon finish his training to become an IT assistant in Cologne. After six years together, they know each other pretty much inside out. Nevertheless, they still give the impression of having only recently fallen in love. Maybe it’s because Omar quite literally went to great lengths to secure Sabine’s love.
Shortly after they met, the two arranged to meet in Alexandria. However, when Omar enquired after Sabine in the hotel where they had agreed to meet, he was wrongly informed that she had travelled to the Siwa Oasis on the border with Libya. Without hesitation he set out on the 1,500 kilometre journey to Siwa to find her. Thankfully, Sabine was able to reach him there and they were soon reunited.
Omar is a devout Muslim and wanted to woo Sabine in accordance with the Islamic code. When he proposed to her in Kentucky Fried Chicken in Alexandria, she was very flattered. Nevertheless, she asked for some time to think it over; after all, the two had only known each other for three days. They visited Omar’s family in the sea port of Suez. Sabine instantly hit it off with the members of Omar’s family and agreed to a simple form of marriage, the qasimat zawaj, which Omar described to her as a kind of ‘engagement on paper’. Muslims require this certificate in order to book a hotel room as a couple.
Whether the qasimat zawaj may contain any additional legal provisions that affect the relationship between two people is controversial in Egypt and some individ-ual cases are decided in court. The qasimat zawaj shar'i is a contract that closely resembles a German prenuptial agreement. It specifies among other things the mahr, the dowry that the husband gives to his wife, and the mu'akhkhar, the amount that the husband must pay the wife in the event of him seeking a divorce.
There followed six months of intensive correspondence by e-mail, telephone, and post. Both consider this period to have been very important as it allowed them to get to know each other better. It also gave Sabine the chance to dispel any doubts expressed to her by others, especially the concern that Omar only wanted to marry her in order to get a visa to come to Germany.
Exactly one year after their first meeting they celebrated a lavish wedding in Suez. Prior to this, they concluded a qasimat zawaj shar'i in a department of the Egyptian Ministry of Justice in Cairo. The prenuptial agreement issued by the Ministry is recognised in Germany, where Sabine and Omar intended to live after they got married. The couple needed to provide, among other things, a certificate of marriageability. To obtain this, the Egyptian partner must provide a sworn affidavit that he is free to marry. The Verband binationaler Familien und Partnerschaften, iaf e.V. (Association of Intercultural Families and Partnerships) specialises in providing intercultural couples with advice in German, English, and a number of other languages. Anyone who would like to find out what documents are needed to marry a foreign national, for example, should read the articles posted on the association’s website www.verband-binationaler.de/eheschliessung. Further questions can be answered either by telephone or e-mail, or in a personal consultation.
Stephanie Gsell: Meeting each other halfway (pdf, 237 KB)
Stephanie Gsell is a freelance journalist based in Cologne. Her most recent publication was a book about the songs of Umm Kulthum: Das Herz liebt alles Schöne. Die Lieder der Umm Kulthum (The Heart Loves All That Is Beautiful: The Songs of Umm Kulthum). Published by Verlag Hans Schiler (Berlin 2005).
Translation: Aingeal Flanagan
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Fikrun wa Fann