The institution of marriage in the world has gone through tremendous revolution throughout history. Saudi Arabian marriages have not been any different and the population is slowly departing from the traditional procedures and religious demands, previously followed, to processes that are more liberal. For example, “while it was customary to marry paternal first cousins or other patrilinearly related kin, today fewer close cousin marriages are taking place” (Saudi Arabia Jeddah Weddings Para. 3).
Furthermore, the fiancee and fiance rarely met before the wedding but today the contrary is happening where the two communicate with each other before the wedding day. Marriage in Saudi Arabia remains a celebration worth tracing right from the time of the proposal until the celebrations end.
Marriages in Saudi Arabia were absolutely organized by families and relatives. The groom’s family chose the bride and as aforementioned, the two were not allowed to meet until the wedding day.
Since the ideal marriage was tribal, the groom womenfolk found it easy to spot the right bride for him. Families encouraged the young people to marry their cousins in order to strengthen the tribe and improve their authority in a particular society (Muslim Marriage in Saudi Arabia Para. 1).
These marriages were also encouraged because each family knew the background of prospective bride well. The elders of the prospective bride propagated marriage in Saudi Arabia and afterwards, it was the responsibility of either the groom or the groom’s parents to propose to her father.
Subject to the bride parent’s agreement, a meeting would be organized between the two partners and their respective families. However, this step was optional and mainly performed by the more religious families as compared to some families that were tribal. This ceremony has been called as the unveiling ceremony’ mainly because the bride, who is normally veiled completely except the eyes, unveils (Saudi Arabia Jeddah Weddings Para. 7). Traditionally, it is referred as shawfa, meaning ‘the seeing’.
An engagement party is then organized if the groom likes what he sees in the bride. If he accepts ‘what he sees’, his consent is indicated by the gifts he offers to the bride who on the other hand retains the right to accept or refuse the gifts. Consent of both parties provides a nod to elders to begin negotiations on the amount to be paid as dowry for the bride.
Sometimes, the negotiations are carried out between the groom and his father-in-law to be. The charges for the dowry may include monetary terms but extends to jewels, gold, perfume, and incense. The rural folks also include livestock like cows and sheep (Saudi Arabia Jeddah Weddings Para. 11).
Mainly, the bride carries out several ceremonies before the actual wedding day. The ceremony is known as Ghurma where her friends come and apply henna on her. Further, she is prepared for the wedding by being anointed with traditional oils and perfumes all over her body (Muslim Marriage in Saudi Arabia Para. 2).
However, some of these events are fading away with time mainly because of modernity. This event takes place exactly three days before the wedding day. The men conspicuously miss such occasions although the groom is sometimes allowed in the beginning for photographs.
In Saudi Arabia, the wedding ceremony is a fairy tale altogether because it involves two different but concurrent ceremonies. The men and women do not party together, hence the two ceremonies: each for the two groups.
The dressing of both parties is unique; the groom wears traditional Saudi dress viz. white robe, white headdress with iqal or something to keep the headdress on, and finally a bisht, which is a long cover. However, with changes in the society, contemporary Saudis wear business suits and normal western clothing during wedding ceremonies as well (Muslim Marriage in Saudi Arabia Para. 4).
“The bride is usually adorned with traditional dress known as Zaboun and yashmak, which is embroidered with silver thread” (Muslim Marriage in Saudi Arabia Para. 4). The theme color of the marriage ceremony might vary depending on one’s taste especially the bride. Dressing is an important aspect of the overall ceremony; thus, a lot of attention is given to it.
The actual wedding party may go on for up to two days. The men reserve their own room separately from the women. Traditionally, the main wedding ceremony is regarded as a women thing but the men tend to have a small party where they have dinner together and sometimes dance traditionally. One of the most common traditional dances is known as the sword dance where men dance holding swords.
A legal or religious representative conducts the marriage contract and the couple may sometime be required to register their wedding with the government. According to ‘Muslim Marriage in Saudi Arabia’, three witnesses, two male and one female, or three male, may accompany the religious leader (Para. 3).
Since the wedding is conducted in different locations, the bride is asked whether she agrees to the marriage in the absence of the groom. The same question is posed to the groom and after the agreement; the groom joins hands with the father-in-law and two more witnesses as a sign of the marriage.
The wedding is crowned by a variety of dishes but the women party usually has the largest variety of dishes. The women party is large and extends late into the night; therefore, they are justified to have more food.
Traditional meat dishes are usually in the menu but the occasion cannot be complete without rice prepared in different styles. Moreover, “Lamb or chicken is prepared with rice, spice and water is barbecued in a deep hole in the ground” (Muslim Marriage in Saudi Arabia Para. 5). Generally, most dishes are made of rice and variety of ingredients.
Marriages in Saudi Arabia, as discussed by Cherlin, follow the traditional route where one married to love unlike the modern trends of marrying the one you love (353).
The fact that the bride and groom rarely meet before the wedding is a testimony that one is not marrying someone s/he loves or has necessarily fallen in love with. The family organized the marriage contradicting today’s belief that everyone is entitled to make his/her own choice of the person s/he will marry.
In another note, the Saudi men are polygamous and one man can take up to four wives but on condition that the husband will uphold equity amongst the many wives (Cole Para. 35). The issue of gender roles and division of labor are sanctioned by both state and society where specific jobs are exclusively for men. Women’s duties include to stay at home and to perform household chores.
The Saudi Arabian marriage has remained conservative largely as compared to other countries and cultures. The process and the institution of marriage remain more or less the same as it was centuries ago courtesy of the strong cultural influence as well as enforcement by the government agents.
Cherlin, Andrew. “American Marriage in Transition.” Research & Composing in the Disciplines. Eds. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 2011.
Cole, Powell. Countries and Their Cultures: Saudi Arabia, 2011. Web. 16 June 2011.
Muslim Marriage in Saudi Arabia. “Preludes of the Wedding.” Nikahnama.com, 2006. Web. 16 June 2011.
Saudi Arabia Jeddah Weddings. Qusay, 2010. Web. 16 June 2011.