Lifting the Veil on Gulf Weddings

Shared by Helen Schrader
Category Weddings Around the World
Tags Uae Dubai Hs Celebrants Celebrant Helen Schrader Ceremony Celebration of marriage wedding couple vows husband wife love arabia arabian wedding gulf wedding

Arabian weddings are magnificent cultural affairs. While still steeped with traditional rituals, in recent times, marriage events in The Gulf have adopted global wedding trends.


Photo credit: MelRish Photos & Films

The Arabian countries of The Gulf include – Bahrain, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Yemen is the seventh country in the The Gulf and has to a greater degree maintained their traditional customs. Arabic weddings have similarities but also subtle differences not only by their particular country, but by the influence of the family. However, one tradition practiced throughout all Gulf Countries is wedding celebrations are held separately – the bride and her female family and friends and the groom with his male family and friends. Thank you to my Arab friends for all your insights! Let’s start at the beginning…

The Proposal

In the Arabian world, the marriage proposal is not just about the couple marrying, but the merging of two families. Currently, when an Arabic man decides to settle down and marry, he either sees or knows of a woman he admires and his family ‘researches’ her and her family or groom lets his mother choose a suitable wife. Regardless of the route a groom takes in approaching his soon-to-be betrothed, the woman always has a choice; she can either agree to the marriage or pass and wait for another proposal.


Photo credit: Rima Hassan Photography

The Engagement

The signing of the marriage contract or “Nikah,” is the religious portion of the marriage ceremony and the first step of the marriage process. Nikah is usually performed at home with a judge present or in a courthouse. This paperwork is completed in order to ensure the bride receives her five rights, therefore making Nikah the most important step. A bride’s five rights include: 1. The bride is entitled to a dowry or ‘Mahr’, which is decided by her family and must be mentioned in the contract. 2. She has the right to an education 3. The right to inherit 4. The right to her own money, belonging solely to her 5. The right to divorce


Photo credit: MelRish Photos & Films

‘Al Zuhba’ – the Gold Night

Al Zuhba, a very private affair, is usually the first day of a three-day celebration for the couple and involves only the families of both sides. The groom arrives with an abundance of gifts for the bride, including many perfumes and expensive oils, abayas, sheilas, clothes, and of course gold. An assortment of traditional gold jewellery, diamonds, bracelets and necklaces are also gifted to his bride. The bride then wears the gold jewellery to display the gifts her husband has given her on that day. Family members also come bearing gifts on this occasion.

Henna Night or Themed Evening

A ladies only event, filled with dancing and fun for the bride and her friends is held at the bride’s home or at an outside venue a day or two before the wedding. The bride and her guests spend a portion of time having henna applied to their hands. In recent years, brides are opting for a themed event. Popular themes are Indian and Moroccan nights where the women arrive dressed in saris or kaftans and adorned with beautiful gold. Keeping to the theme they enjoy food and music from these countries.


Photo credit: Rima Hassan Photography

Henna night is only girls, the bride and her friends. The ladies gather at her house a day or two before the wedding to dance and have fun. This night is usually themed, mostly you see the girls wear belly-dancing outfits. In times past the Egyptian tradition was for the bride to dip her palms and feet in red henna but that doesn’t exist anymore, nowadays you hire a henna artist and she comes and applies the henna onto the girls.

It’s party time! Egyptian wedding celebrations start at night usually at 10 or 11. The celebration begins with the ‘Zaffa’ (procession), usually the invitations say it starts about one hour before it really does. But they do that on purpose to make sure all the guests are there when the bride makes her entrance.

If held at a hotel, the groom waits for the bride at the bottom of the stairs. There is a music band with traditional instruments like the Tabla and Mezmar. The bride is accompanied by her father, with only the mezmar playing and the women will do a lot of ululating (Zaghareet).


Photo credit: Ego Production

Bahrain & Kuwait

For Bride’s residing in Bahrain and Kuwait, an evening of traditional songs ‘Jelwa’ is arranged after the Henna Night and before the main wedding party. The bride wears traditional attire in mainly red or green and all her family and friends surround her and sing together. When the groom arrives later, he sits in front of the bride and everyone holds a piece of coloured canvas and waves it vertically above their head while singing. Flowers and money are thrown to the couple during this celebration.

Men’s Celebration

Not to be outdone, the men have their own wedding celebrations. Most notably, one evening is spent singing, dancing and feasting often outside the bride’s home, which is completley covered in fairy lights. The men will also perform the traditional line dance of ‘Yola.’ One can imagine the ladies watching from their windows!


Photo credit: MelRish Photos & Films

Wedding Celebration

Arab wedding celebrations start in the late evening. Usually around 9 pm, one begins to see many cars pull up to the wedding venue and can observe women, veiled and completely covered, exiting the vehicles. Once the female guests enter the venue, they remove their veils and abayas to reveal gorgeously lavish gowns – think the Oscars! Mothers and sisters attending the event, take this opportunity to be on the lookout for a suitable bride for their sons and brothers.

As guests approach the venue ballroom, they come upon a table with ‘bukhoor,’ a burning amber wood infused with aromatic oils. This pot is moved around the face and body of each guest to perfume the clothes and hair. Also present is a bottle of ‘oud’, which is perfumed oil, usually applied behind ears.

Upon entering the strictly women only main ballroom, guests see rows of seating on either side of the room, one side for the close family of the bride and the other for the family of the groom. Guests proceed to greet all family members – lots of kissing! Some women give two kisses on each side of the cheek some give three on one side. All are highly perfumed - it is a heady experience!

Around 10:30 in the evening, the music stops and an announcement is made proclaiming the bride’s imminent arrival; the moment everyone has been waiting for. A traditional anthem is played while the bride walks slowly into the room. Everyone stands up and welcomes the bride and “zaghareet” or ululating, (a high pitched sound made with the tongue) is performed by the family and Egyptian waitresses.


Photo credit: MelRish Photos & Films

Bahrain In Bahrain, the Bride and Groom arrive at the wedding venue together. The groom promptly leaves; allowing space for women to dance without a male presence, returning only once the wedding has neared its end. With the groom’s departure, the bride advances to the stage, walks over to the ‘Kosha’ (a chaise longue) and seats herself. Friends and family approach the bride sitting upon the Kosha and welcome her with kisses and well wishes, while female photographers take numerous photographs.

Once everyone has greeted the Bride, dinner is served and music is played. If musicians are male, they are placed behind a screen to provide the women privacy. Female guests may dance upon the stage if permitted by the families. At midnight an announcement is made signalling the groom’s return. A wave of black occurs as the women veil themselves and cover up since men will be entering the room. A veil is also kept on the bride’s head, covering her face.

The groom enters the room (sometimes) with his father and male siblings along with the father and male siblings of the bride. The groom then advances to the stage, removes the veil from his bride’s face, kisses her on the forehead and takes a seat next to her on the Kosha. Photographs are then taken of the families with the bride and groom together. It is common to see the men throwing small notes of money in the air for the children to collect. After the cake is cut and the pictures are taken, the groom escorts the bride out of the hall. Usually it is then honeymoon time.


Photo credit: MelRish Photos & Films

Yemen Like their Gulf neighbours, the Yemenis have a three-day wedding celebration as well, though there are differences between the Sana’a in the North and the Southern regions.

In the North the celebrations start on a Wednesday with the signing of the contract, then the henna night followed by the wedding party at Friday lunch and an afternoon of ‘qat’chewing. The women from the neighbourhood arrive with their kitchen equipment to help prepare the lunch. The groom wears a traditional costume and a golden sword and arrives accompanied by drummers and a singer. There is someone present to recite Islamic blessings for the couple’s long and happily married life.

In South Yemen, in the Hadhramaut region, the man’s parents choose the bride. They then pay the bride’s family a visit and ask for their consent. The answer will not be given immediately, the bride takes one or two weeks to decide, so as not to appear too eager. Once the bride and her family agree on the bride’s dowry, the couple will meet for the first time.

Yemeni brides enjoy a henna evening with their family and friends. During the henna party, the bride’s hair is plaited and a little piece is cut off. At a separate event the groom is having henna painted on his legs and he joins his friends for music and dancing. In the late afternoon the groom and his friends make a procession in their cars to the bride’s home. The groom knocks on the door, asking to be let in, but only on the third knock will the door be opened to him. The couple then proceeds to sign the marriage contract ‘nikah’ with the sheikh.

At the groom’s house there is a dinner held with dancing for the bride’s male family members. The bride is brought veiled and completely covered to his home and is led to the bedroom with her mother. In a custom unique to Yemen, the groom will be the first one to see his bride before any of the guests. The bride’s mother leaves and they then spend the night together as husband and wife.

The following day the couple gather for a lunchtime party with their family and friends until magrib prayers.

A final quaint Yemeni custom occurs in the procession to the groom’s house. First the groom and male relatives arrive at his home followed by the bride and all the guests. The moment the bride reaches the step of his house, the groom attempts to step on her foot. If she is nimble enough to get her foot away before he steps on it, it is a sign that she will be in charge of the household. If he succeeds to step on her foot he will be in charge of the house.

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