SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Sixty Bosnian Muslim couples held a religious wedding ceremony in the capital Sarajevo on Thursday in what organizers said was one of the biggest Islamic mass weddings in Europe, designed to make it easier for young people to start families.
Bosnia officially recognizes only civil weddings. The couples, who were already legally married, attended the Muslim ceremony for religious or cultural reasons.
“The wedding is a special day for everybody but getting married in this way and with so many couples around will be something we will remember for life,” 31-year-old Almin Cutuk told Reuters.
A charity that helped organize the event provided tailored suits for the grooms and pale purple gowns and white headscarves for the brides. The couples were treated to a banquet and given a cash gift of 500 Bosnian marka (about $300).
Imam Resul Alic, who led the service at the Istiklal mosque, said the aim was to encourage Bosnians to start families at a time when many young people find it too expensive to celebrate a wedding on their own.
“Matrimony is the basis of humankind and any society. Our society and family in particular are nowadays facing a number of challenges and fewer people are getting married,” he said.
With the economy still recovering from the 1992-95 war and unemployment in double-digits, marriage and birth rates have been steadily falling in the Balkan country, which has a population of just over 3.5 million, about half of them Muslim.
From a peak of nearly 24,000 marriages registered in 2007, the number of fell to just 14,870 last year.
Bosnia’s traditional form of Islam is moderate, shaped by long co-existence with other faiths. Some Bosnians worry that more fundamentalist strains are on the rise, arriving from the Middle East and threatening the country’s cosmopolitan culture.
More than two decades after the war, in which 100,000 people died, Bosnia remains split along religious and ethnic lines among Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Christian Serbs and Catholic Croats. Reconciliation and reform needed to join the European Union have proven elusive.
Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Peter Graff