Marriage in the Middle East
There have been many types of marriage traditions in the Middle East and most of them are still around today. These are also all Islamic customs. Middle East traditions have some of the oldest marriage customs in the world. The two types of marriages are an arranged marriage and an open marriage. Most marriages in the Middle East are arranged marriages. The groom and the groom’s family pay for everything. The first thing one needs to do when planning an arranged marriage is to pick the bride or the groom.
The next thing that has to happen is the marriage negotiations over the bride price and the dowry. Finally, for any type of marriage, the wedding celebrations have to be planned. There are five celebrations that take place. The choosing of the groom is usually done by the bride’s father. Many times the father picks his brother’s son so that the bride price and the marriage negotiations would not be so costly. This would be the bride’s cousin or the bint’amm. Cousin marriages are quite common in the Middle East, but they are not very common anywhere else. However, these marriages are often not possible.
Sometimes if the father does not do the choosing of the groom, there is a friend or relative that does it, and they are known as the go-between. The only thing that really matters for whoever is choosing the bride, is that they choose a person of equal status. After the bride or groom is chosen there are a few details that need to be determined before the official marriage negotiations begin. This is also done by the go-between (“Arab Marriage” 2). The bride also has to approve the chosen groom; if she does not like him she has the choice not to marry him.
The groom can have more than one wife. The Koran states that a man is allowed up to four wives (“Religion & Ritual” 349). The official legal age for when you can be married varies for men and women. For women the age is twelve and for men the age is fourteen. Usually these laws are ignored and children as young as seven can be married. It is unusual to be 16 and not married(“Arab Marriage” 5). When planning an arranged marriage, there needs to be marriage negotiations. It is custom for the family of the bride to be given some sort of compensation for the loss of their daughter.
They do this because the father of the bride is losing some of his labor force. Another reason the family of the bride requires a dowry is because she is building up a “stranger’s” home. These marriage negotiations are usually also done by the go-between. Some of the money is paid immediately. After the dowry or bride price has been set, some of it is set aside for the bride in case the marriage does not work and then the bride will have some money after she is divorced. Usually the bride price is paid in money.
When all negotiations are finished, there is a feast. In some areas in the Middle East the feast is a somewhat small occasion but in other areas the feast is a huge event (“Arab Marriage” 3-4). During all of the celebrations, the bride and the groom are wearing many different things. Usually the bride and the groom wear vibrant and elegant outfits on all the day before the wedding (“Marriage Traditions” 1). During the betrothal feast, after the dowry or bride price has been set, the bride is dressed in very fine garments and jewels (“Arab Marriage” 3).
The bride also dresses like this for the signing of the marriage contract, which is called Mahar, and the engagement party. For most of these parties, the bride changes up to five times. For the Henna party the bride has tattoos on her hands and feet and the tattoos are applied using mehendi. The bride usually wears a green dress for this celebration. The green dress symbolizes holiness and fertility (“Marriage Traditions” 1). The next celebration is the wedding ceremony. The groom doesn’t wear specific garments like the bride but he is expected to wear white with a green sash that will match his new wife’s headdress.
The bride’s dress has many different articles that make up the entire outfit, but one rule for the dress is that everything has to be covered, from her head down to her toes. The six things that make up the articles of her dress are: a dress called “queen”, a silk dress, a “green dress”, a girdle, and an embroidered jacket of velvet or cloth, and black head cloth of crepe with fringe that is usually green. She also wears a chin-chain, fingerings, and bracelets. To make this look happen, the people dressing her need to use henna, antimony, and gold-leaf.
The bride’s crew of people working on her are usually family or close friends. The making of this outfit is done over special women gatherings and feasts (“Arab Marriage” 6). It is also customary for the bride to wear a veil. The custom of wearing a veil originated in the Middle East and women wore it to ward off the evil eye. The veil protected the woman’s face as well as her body and the wearing of it symbolized that the bride was pure and innocent (Emrich 23). During the wedding celebration, the bride and groom exchange rings.
These rings are worn on the fourth finger and the reason of why it is worn of the fourth finger goes back to the Egyptians. They believed that a vein on the fourth finger of the left hand went directly to the heart and since the heart controlled both life and love, this was the finger the ring was supposed to be on (Emrich 32). The last celebration is the wedding shower. Only the girls attend this party and they typically wear long dresses that cover everything and the bride wears the same but in bright colors (“Arab Marriage” 6).
The five celebrations that make up the wedding process are the engagement party, the Mahar party or the signing of the marriage contract, the Henna (Mehendi) party, the wedding, and the wedding shower. The engagement party is one of the smaller parties out of the five. During this party the bride and groom exchange engagement rings and intimate gifts (“Marriage Traditions” 1). Wedding rings are endless and circular because they are supposed to symbolize everlasting love (“Wedding Traditions” 2). Family and close friends are invited to this celebration and they dance and talk all throughout the night.
During the party the bride and the groom can sometimes have to change up to five times. The Engagement ceremony is usually long and lasts throughout the entire night. The next party is the Mahar celebration, or the signing of the marriage contract. This is cause for more celebration. What happens is the couple go to a courthouse and sign their marriage contract so that they are officially a legally wedded couple (“Marriage Traditions” 2). The contract that the bride and the groom sign states the rights each person has in the marriage.
This contract is considered to be a civil agreement and the couple are entered into it. Traditionally, the contract was a verbal agreement made between the father of the bride, the family of the bride, and the groom (“Wedding Traditions” 2). When they come home from signing the contract they would have another party waiting for them. This party is much like the Engagement party, there is food, dancing, singing, and everybody is socializing. This party also lasts throughout the night and again it’s custom for the bride and groom to change five times. Up next is the Henna or Mehendi party.
The henna party is the second largest celebration and happens one day before the wedding. The main purpose of this celebration is to ward off any evil and ensuring the happiness of the new couple (“Middle Eastern Wedding” 1-2). The bride is usually decorated with tattoos made from henna that decorate the bride’s hands and feet and is wearing a green dress. This is the celebration where the “grinding” takes place. What happens is the bride and groom sit next to each other surrounded by young unmarried girls. They are holding a white cloth over the couple’s heads.
Then a girl called the “Grinding Girl” grinds two lumps of sugar over the couples’ heads while she is also asking Allah (god) to get rid of all evil from this new couple’s life. They believe that Allah can fill the wedded couples’ life with bliss and happiness. This party also continues until dawn on the day of the wedding (“Marriage Traditions” 2). The next and biggest celebration is the wedding. Most wedding ceremonies take place at night. During the day of the wedding, the bride is confined to her future husband’s house. There she is being assisted with putting on her wedding garments and jewelry.
After that has been done, the women who help the bride sit around complimenting the bride, talking about matters and eating, waiting for the groom to come. For the groom, the day of the wedding is spent at the home of one of his relatives until sunset when his male friends start to show up. The groom is given a special bath, shaved, and dressed in a special wedding garment that sets him apart from all the other males in the crowd. Then after everyone has shown up, the groom wishes to leave to start the wedding procession at about eleven o’clock. These wedding processions are usually long and slow.
During it there is always dancing and singing. Sometimes there were horseback riding, flute playing, and shooting matches. As the procession nears the house where the bride is waiting, the groom quickens his pace and people pass along word to the bride that the groom is close. Then the maidens waiting at the house light up the entrance with lamps and candles. This honors the groom and the group of family and friends around him. After the procession collects the bride, the wedding ceremony begins (“Arab Marriage” 5). The ceremony is performed by mullah or a priest and it always requires at least two witnesses.
This usually isn’t a problem because Middle East Marriages are fairly big (“Religion & Ritual” 350). Then the wedding rings are exchanged and the marriage is declared legal by the mullah. Then there is a huge marriage feast at the wedding reception. This is usually a treat with rare meat like camel which is very expensive. Also during the reception, each guest is given five almond pieces which symbolize the sacred wedding wishes of health, fertility, wealth, happiness, and longevity. Everyone dances and sings all throughout the night.
After the first day of the reception, which can last up to seven days, the bride and groom are escorted to their private room where the groom can finally unveil the bride and the marriage is consummated. Also the go-between who chose the bride and the groom is waiting to see if they are pleased. After this the celebration goes on for days until it is time for the marriage shower (“Arab Marriage” 4-7). The wedding shower or in Arabic is called the Sabaa, happens seven days after the wedding. Sabaa means seven. It is very much like the wedding showers that take place in Europe or the U.S. The Sabaa is held at the bride’s mother’s home and only females attend. At this occasion the bride is given presents and the bride’s mother usually gives her diamonds or gold (“Middle Eastern Wedding” 2). These are most of the marriage traditions in the Middle East and the Islamic weddings today are still very much like the ones that happened a long time ago. The traditions never changed. Middle Eastern marriage customs are some of the oldest customs in the world. The traditions are also very elaborate and specific. There are many types of marriage traditions from the Middle East.