April 28, 2011
Weddings in the UAE
Saying “I Do” in the Gulf
By Jenifer Fenton

If you have a question about anything Emirati, “Ask Ali,” real name Ali Alsaloom, is the one with the answer. The Emirati author and television host has his own online portal where he answers queries about his culture. Alsaloom also has a cultural consultancy Embrace Arabia dedicated to intercultural awareness. He studied hospitality as an undergraduate, has a Masters in Business Administration and has travelled extensively. I asked “Ask Ali” about weddings in his country.

How are marriages arranged traditionally in the Gulf?
The term “recommended” marriages would be a more appropriate term since this is actually what families would do – they would “screen” the social circles of the family for potential matches. Once potential partners for single relatives get into the focus of the families, a bit of research will be done to find out more about this potential partner. Only then a formal contact will be initiated between the families. If both families agree to a potential partnership, the two “candidates” will be asked their opinion. And only if both agree, they will be formally introduced and meet in the presence of some relatives. Only after this meeting and only with agreement of bride and groom-to-be will the engagement and marriage be arranged.
What happens at a royal wedding in the UAE?
The legal paperwork is all based on our Islamic Sharia Law, so nothing is different from the public weddings. Basically royal weddings are nothing more than other weddings when it comes to the formalities. The father or guardian of the bride and the groom sign the marriage contract in the presence of the religious leader and the witnesses – and like this, the marriage is formally acknowledged.
But the main difference is that our royal families, because of their tribal background, definitely consider the importance of tying the knot with other royal members from other Emirates or other royal families from neighbouring sheikdoms to strengthen their political position; also to strengthen the relationships between both royal families and the countries for the future. This is something that existed in most royal weddings around the world and not just here in the UAE. But having said that, there is also the regular royal weddings which consist of a sheikh from royal family “x” to a “y“ sheikha from another Emirati royal family or from a well known tribe from the UAE. So a mix of both do exist.
Usually a few weeks after this, there will be separate celebrations for the men and the women. The groom will usually host more of a reception-style party, where relatives and friends – and in case of members of the royal families national and international dignitaries – will come to congratulate. For the bride usually a lavish “ladies-only” party will be held. The groom will usually come in the late hours of the evening to this party to greet his bride, take the official pictures, meet the well-wishers and then take his wife with him. A royal wedding might see more guests, but even the most “humble” local wedding will not see less than 300 guests. Of course, the budget of the couple will determine location and menu, not their status.
Is a marriage ceremony to a second wife different?
Even though a Muslim man can marry up to four wives, if he has valid reasons and is convinced that he can support and treat his wives with equal care and attention, multiple marriages here in the UAE are the exception, not the norm. The formal ceremony is exactly the same: signing the contract in the presence of a sheikh and the witnesses. Parties are at the discretion of the couple and they can range from absolutely nothing to a lavish celebration.
Are there prenuptials in the Gulf States?
We don’t have prenuptial agreements in Islam, therefore a country like the UAE that implements Sharia Law won’t approve a prenuptial agreement. But what we do have is a Sharia Law marriage agreement which automatically entitles the woman, after getting married and God forbid she gets a divorce, to alimony to support her as well as any children. The custom from many men, when they divorce, is to leave their house to their wife along with the children for convenience. Here it is customary that the groom gives the bride the so-called “dowry”, this is an amount of money or wealth for her to have as a financial backup. This is completely hers and she is free to use this as she wishes. However, in our Islamic Sharia Law, as well as our culture, it is entirely the responsibility of the man to take care of his wife and to share his wealth with her.
Ali Alsaloom is the author of “Ask Ali: A guide to Abu Dhabi” and “Ask Ali: A guide to Dubai”. He is from Abu Dhabi.