The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Saudi Weddings 101 

1. The only female faces that a Saudi boy will initially see, will be of those relatives that he cannot marry. So he will only see his Grandmother, his Mother, and his sisters. All the rest will be veiled in his presence. Eventually he will see his wife. However, first, he has to meet someone who will become his wife.

2. These restrictions make it difficult, or impossible, to meet a girl. Schools are single-sex. There are no social activities where they can meet (there are no social activities like cinema, dances, parties, bars, period.) If he goes to a shopping mall to pick one up, he’ll probably be barred entrance by a doorman. If he gets in and pursues some veiled lovely, (talk about a “blind date”!), he risks being picked up by the Religious Police and getting 100 lashes. He may get these lashes at the gate of his school, “pour encourager les autres”.

3. He therefore depends upon his family to provide an introduction. Let us be clear, this is an “arranged introduction”, not an “arranged marriage”, certainly not a “forced marriage”. He is free to say yes or no, in theory.

4. The Mother will typically look around for a suitable bride. Normally, she will tend to concentrate on her own family and tribe, hence the high incidence of genetic diseases in the Kingdom. If she is very enterprising, she will gatecrash someone’s wedding and look the young girls over.

5. When she locates a suitable girl, she will broach the subject with her family. They in turn will check out the boy, via contacts, particularly the Imam of his mosque. If all goes well, the boy is invited to meet the girl.

6. The meeting usually takes place at her house, with various female relatives in attendance, of course. The girl will, on this occasion, be unveiled. They will normally chat for 20 to 30 minutes. Although the occasion will be slightly inhibiting, this is what they will have to base their decision on. There is certainly no touching. This resolves the tricky issue of whether to “kiss on the first date”.

7. The boy goes away, and each makes their mind up. In exceptional circumstances, they may get together for a similar session again. They are then free to say yes or no. However Saudi mothers are a force to be reckoned with, and have a high personal investment in all this, so a “no” takes some courage and determination.

8. Assuming that both say “yes”, the marriage is arranged as soon as possible. There is no further contact, between boy and girl, no “courting” or “walking out”.

9. The actual wedding involves the signing of a contract by both parties. They may do this together, or on separate occasions. The boy provides a dowry, which may be money and / or gold / and / or other items. This becomes the girl’s own property, even if there is a subsequent divorce. A major inhibitor these days is the increasing dowry being asked for, which of course plunges the boy into debt from day one. Fathers of the bride are also becoming greedy and asking for things like a car for themselves as part of the dowry.

10. The wedding festivities, commonly referred to as the wedding, follow completion of the legal proceedings. Typically it takes place in a hotel or special function rooms, where the men and the women celebrate separately in different rooms. Therefore the men will not see the bride, nor the women the groom. Entertainment for the women is usually a singer or singing group. Entertainment for the men is usually musicians to accompany their dancing. The typical men’s’ dance is in 18/8 time*, arms interlinked, but sometimes with swords. Food is typically based around complete roast sheep on a bed of rice, preferably eaten with the hands. There is no liquor, but lots of fruit juices.

11. At a suitable point in the proceedings, man and wife meet in a separate room, and leave en route to their married life.

12. In the case of a man, this procedure may be repeated 3 more times. Any more, and he needs to start divorcing wives. However divorce for men is a simple legal procedure.

* For the musicians who were asking earlier, 18/8 is 18 eighth notes in a bar, in six groups of three. It is the same as a bar with six triplets. So it goes like
Daa-di-di Daa-di-di Daa-di-di Daa-di-di Daa-di-di Daa-di-di
and then onto the next bar. Each “Daa-di-di” lasts about a second and a half. It is a very leisurely dance, as appropriate for a country with daytime temperatures up to 50 celsius. There are no more than four separate notes in the whole bar. Most melodic interest occurs in the first 4 groups, the last 2 are anti-climactic. The idea, when dancing together with swords, is that for the first 4 groups you move to the centre of the circle and raise your sword; for the last two you retreat and give your arm a rest. It’s not particularly “catchy” but, like pool, it’s far more interesting to play oneself than to watch.

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