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Hakeem Olajuwon Marries 18-Year-Old

August 13, 1996 GMT

HOUSTON (AP) _ Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon was married to 18-year-old Dalia Asafi of Houston last week in an arranged union.

``There is no dating process, no boyfriends and girlfriends in Islam,″ Olajuwon said in a statement issued Monday. ``Families meet, talk, get to know one another. Then the marriage is arranged.″

The NBA star said he has worshiped for years at the same Houston mosque as the bride’s father. But since men and women are separated when praying, he did not meet his future bride or her mother until a meeting was arranged.

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``In the Islam faith, it is customary for a girl to marry much younger than they do in America, at age 15 or 16, for instance,″ Olajuwon said in a statement. ``Dalia may be 18 in terms of age, but because of her background, beliefs and religious understanding, she, like many other Islamic young women, possesses a maturity, knowledge and wisdom beyond her years.″

The 33-year-old Nigerian native was raised as a Muslim and recommitted to the Islamic faith as an adult.

The couple were married Thursday in Houston. It is a first marriage for both. Olajuwon has an 8-year-old daughter, Abisola, from a prior relationship.

``It was a very private ceremony with just family,″ said Pamela Greaney, Olajuwon’s personal assistant. ``They’re both very happy.″

It is not known when Olajuwon met his bride-to-be or when the marriage was arranged.

Ms. Greaney said Mrs. Olajuwon, who wants to study medicine, received a $1,000 scholarship from the athlete’s ``The Dream Foundation″ charity in June.

Mrs. Olajuwon will h voluntarily relinquish the scholarship because family members of those involved in the foundation cannot receive a scholarship, Ms. Greaney said.

Olajuwon leaves Sunday for Australia, where he will join other NBA players as one of the league’s international ambassadors, Ms. Greaney said. She did not know if Mrs. Olajuwon would accompany him.