Friday, March 26, 2010


So the other day I was chatting with a Qatari colleague about what he got up to over the weekend and after telling me a few things he nonchalantly added on the end...

... "oh, and I got engaged on Thursday."

Oh, was that all! Just a standard weekend then?! :-)

He just didn't know how to tell me. Apparently in Arabic there is a specific phrase one says to people to announce that you got engaged but it has no equivalent in English so he wasn't sure how exactly to break the news to English-speaking people.

Anyway the proper response is "Mabrruk", the Arabic word for congratulations.

This is also a great opportunity for me (and for those of you out there who read this blog) to get a firsthand account of the Qatari wedding process. My colleague said it was okay as long as I don't use names or give away much in the way of personal details.

Now engagements and weddings are not the same throughout the Islamic world, cultural differences play a large role. Gulf Arabs tend to be very conservative and I'm willing to bet their weddings would be very different from a wedding in Indonesia or Lebanon. That said it is extremely difficult to declare certain things about the process to be purely cultural and other things to be purely Islamic -- this region has been Muslim for 1400 years and Islam underpins so much of daily life that the two are fully intertwined to the point where many cultural activities may have had Islamic roots that people don't even really think about anymore, like in the West why 13 is considered an unlucky number or why we say "bless you"after someone sneezes. The best I can do is that in any blog posts about the engagement and wedding if I can find something in the Qur'an or Hadiths directly related to it I'll let you know, otherwise we will have to go on the assumption that it is more strongly influenced by local culture.

Here's what I learned about the engagement process:
-- his parents and her parents agreed that it might be a suitable match, at which point he went with his parents to her house to meet her and her family
-- after the first meeting apparently my friend and the lady both thought it went well so a second meeting with the families was arranged
-- after the second meeting they agreed to be engaged

I think I previously mentioned in my blog that Qataris have arranged marriages, love marriages are not common (actually I've never heard of one but I'm sure they occur at least occasionally).

Anyway, on to some other details:

-- They are not first cousins. I noted once that it is common for first cousins to marry in many parts of the Islamic world, including Qatar, and while I do know one Qatari who married his first cousin it that is not the case this time. [The Qur'an specifically lists who a person is not allowed to marry, first cousins are okay. This is important since if a woman is going to be escorted by a husband or male relative it can't be someone she is eligible to marry]

-- Once engaged many families will allow the lady to go out on dates with her fiancé, chaperoned by one of her male relatives. Many, not all. In the case of my friend that will not be happening. He is allowed to come over to her family's home for dinner though, and they are allowed to talk to each other on the phone so that they can get to know one another.

Naturally to Westerners this seems a bit extreme but I believe it is to protect the reputation of the lady. An engagement does not always mean the couple will get married, if during the course of their chats they determine that they are really not compatible then the wedding will be called off. The lady can then go find a more suitable fiancé with her reputation intact. Now that I think about it perhaps it was wrong of me to say this seems a bit extreme, it actually seems rather Victorian, like a Jane Austen novel, so it wasn't all that long ago that the British would be doing something similar.
[And yes, she should be able to call it off. The Qur'an states that a woman should not be forced to marry. Sadly that rule does not appear to always be applied consistently throughout the Islamic world]

-- The wedding will likely be this upcoming winter when the weather is cooler, in which case the men's celebration can be held outside. The timing of it is still to be decided and will likely depend more on the availability of halls than anything else.

-- They will not be doing anything to determine "auspicious dates" for the wedding. [The Qur'an notes sorcery and other forms of divination is a sin so few Arabs would use astrology and the like to determine favorable times, nor would they believe that certain days would be more auspicious than others]

-- The groom and his family will be paying for the wedding and related celebrations.

-- And I've already been told I'll be invited!

I'll keep updating as more news comes in over the year. I've decided to create new tag, "Qatari wedding" so that it will be easier for people to find all the posts about local weddings.

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