Saturday, June 14, 2008

Emirati Weddings

Emirati weddings.

You know someone whose relative is getting married, so you are welcome.

You get very dressed up. You put on a long dress, do your hair and makeup and for good measure you throw on some bling. If you have an abaya you wear it, otherwise you bring a pashmina.

You arrive at the wedding hall or hotel at 9 o'clock at night, when the ladies-only party typically starts.

You are greeted warmly at the door by 10 or so of the bride/groom's close female relatives. They are extremely dressed up, with more makeup than you've ever seen a woman wear in your life. You are surprised at the elaborate dresses they wear, which draw attention to their figures, to say the least: cleavage is really on display, and maybe a midsection on a gown or two will be see-through. Their gowns appear custom made because they fit like gloves.

Everyone says "welcome," shakes your hands, maybe kisses your cheeks. You really do feel like an honored guest. You're glad you got dressed up; you'd feel like part of the beige-colored walls in the lobby right now if you hadn't.

You walk into a lavishly-decorated ballroom: the bride's chosen colors are maroon and pale yellow or maybe mint green, and everything from the flowers to the table clothes and the chairs has these colors. There is a stage at one end of the large room, with a maroon velvet sofa-bench positioned in front of a maroon velvet backdrop, where you imagine the bride will sit when she arrives.

You find seats with your friends at a table. Arabic coffee and tea are offered, along with fruit juices and sodas.

Hummus, moutabal, fatoush, and some sweets are passed around the table. Deliciously-cooked lamb - as in most of the carcass including the head - on rice is served on a huge platter. There's also harees, a traditional lamb/wheat dish, and other foods at your table.

At 10 or 11 o'clock, the lights go out and a spotlight shines on the far end of the room. The bride appears. She is dressed in an elaborate, white wedding gown. She walks very slowly down the center aisle, pausing to pose for the cameras. She looks nervous, but her appearance is absolutely perfect. She walks up the steps of the stage and poses for more pictures. Finally she sits down on the sofa. The guests line up and greet her on the stage and lots of pictures follow.

A little later the close, young female relatives dance before the bride on and off the stage. Are they on display for mothers of potential grooms to check out?

The music is very different from western music. It is all in Arabic, and it has a fantastic rolling drum beat that makes you wish you could dance too.

Around midnight, an announcement is made in Arabic. Suddenly there is a wave of black moving over the room. Every lady in the room is covering her head with her shayla, some adding their burqa or niqab over their faces. If you don't have a shayla or even a pashmina you will want to duck under the table, so strong is this wave of covering in this room now.

Then the groom enters, wearing the formal gold-edged garment the royal family wears over their kanduras on special occasions. He is flanked by his father and brothers and uncles. Maybe there are twenty men and some boys altogether.

Now you notice the bride's face is covered with a white cloth.

The groom and his party go up to the stage and stand by the bride and many photos are taken.

The groom's party leaves the stage and they dance among themselves close to the foot of the stage. Some of them can really dance. (The groom remains with his bride on stage.) Then an older gentleman among them suddently whips his camel stick in the air several times and all at once the men turn and leave the room.

Now the bride's face is uncovered. She and the groom chat as they greet the ladies who wish them well. Cake and other sweets, as well as coffee, are served.

The newly-weds leave together. The wedding is over.


Ilka said...

Sounds much like the weddings in Egypt, except that there are a lot with the men and women in one reception room so if a woman normally wears hijab then she either takes it off (something I just dont understand) or she buys a sparkly hijab. They do like their sequins and bling though.

Anonymous said...

Great post! That's as close as I'll ever get to an Emirati wedding

Anonymous said...

"If you don't have a shayla or even a pashmina you will want to duck under the table, so strong is this wave of covering in this room now."
That made me laugh...hope you had wonderful time.

Dieter said...

Hi Frances and Mike,

first of all this is an amazing post! I liked it very much - great writing Frances, it comes with a glimpse of "1001 night" and it reminds me of my earlier years, listening to somebody telling a fairy tale.

But it is something else that bothers me. Tim and I have already left for Switzerland. You wouldn't believe it but I'm on a 3 week leave and so I won't be able to see you before you leave for good.

I wasn't aware of that - sorry - and I really want to say "good bye" to all of the Gunnisons! It was great meeting you and we thought you were fantastic neighbours! I'm not starting with Neil Young again but I'll remember Mike's words. Wish you all the best for the future and a good start in New Hampshire!

And not to forget; send me an email once your book is published. We might still live in Al Qurm Compound, C3...

Take care

Frances Gunnison said...

Thanks for the comparison to the weddings in Egypt.
I've met Lebanese/Egyptian Muslim women who had both genders at their wedding celebrations around 16 years ago, but I think that there, like here, the trend is towards more conservative practices now.
Someone who lived here in Abu Dhabi 13-14 years ago said women would take off their abayas at UAE weddings; now they seem to be more conservative here.

Frances Gunnison said...

Anonymous of June 14th: I wish you could go to one too!
Anonymous of June 16th: Yes, I had a great time.

AUHgal said...

Great one, Frances! One thing I noticed is that Emirati women really don't dance at the wedding. It's basically the wedding party, and they seem to have a rather conservative dance that involves gathering up their dress slightly and then shuffling around the stage. Have you noticed that? I was at a wedding w/ some students of mine. The sister of a Syrian student jumped up when a song came on. She exclaimed, "I LOVE this song!!" She took off the abaya to reveal a gorgeous sleeveless and fitted royal blue dress. She jumped up centre stage and shook it like there was no tomorrow. Eyes popped out of their heads! When she sat down, both she and her sister (my student) explained how shameful it was for someone to NOT dance at a wedding in Syria (Egypt was much the same way). I've heard Yemeni weddings are also quite lively. I wonder why certain Gulf countries are more reserved.

AUHgal said...

"Someone who lived here in Abu Dhabi 13-14 years ago said women would take off their abayas at UAE weddings; now they seem to be more conservative here."

I was told that it has to do w/ the popularity of camera/video phones. Also, everyone has their wedding party taped now. I noticed that as the camera woman panned the audience veils came up, faces were hidden, etc.

Frances Gunnison said...

I think you're right re the phones and video cameras being the reason for more covering but I also think there is a trend toward more conservative practices too. Anyone care to comment on this?
At one of the weddings I went to, the young women who were dancing were like professionals they were so good at the middle-eastern dancing - they could really move their hips fast to the music.

Frances Gunnison said...

What can I say but it has been really terrific being neighbors with you and your family. Thank you for all your help starting my blog. I've enjoyed writing it so much and I'm not sure I would have actually done it if you hadn't given me a hand.
Please consider writing a German AND English blog so I can keep up with your clan's whereabouts and activities!
All Good Wishes,

Harsha said...


That was a great description!

Very enjoyable read.

American Muslima Writer said...

I'm so glad I found you again but sad that you're now out of UAE. I wish you the best in life and I hope ou continue to blog about whatever topic suits you because you have a real flair for it.

This wedding was so funny to read. I've been to Lebanese weddings and they are a wild bunch. The thought of not dancing was disapointing to me when i was told they hire professionals in uae... why watch someone else shake it if you can't too? lol.

I still wish to visit a local's wedding just to see it and eperience it.

Glad you had a place to put on a ball gown and strut your stuff too.

Frances Gunnison said...

I've been to three Emirati weddings. Of course each one was different because different families hosted them. Only at the last one did I dance, and just for a few moments. I met lovely women at each, some locals and some Arabs from other countries and some ex-pats, too. I feel really lucky to have had those experiences. American Muslima, thanks for writing and for the encouragement. I love your blog too. You have a lot to say and a unique voice. Keep writing.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly what I've heard re Emirati weddings, by an American friend married to an Emirati. She said the women don't dance because they will be judged as "loose". I thought that was really sad. "Even in a room full of ALL women???" I asked. "Yep." If the bride's friends can't cut loose and have a little fun dancing with each other on her wedding day in a room full OF WOMEN, when CAN they? Who knows. Anyway, thanks for posting, this was fun to read!

Frances Gunnison said...

Dear Anon,
Thanks for writing. I agree it's too bad the ladies don't feel comfortable dancing but I think there are a number of reasons, actually, that they don't dance. In addition to the "loose" factor, I think they do allow the closest female relatives to dance. I thought it was their chance to be seen by mothers and sisters of potential suitors. Also, reputation is everything in the Emirati culture, so I guess that makes them reluctant to do anything that might be misconstrued. Last of all, even American weddings are somewhat stiff; I think people in general feel more comfortable letting loose in smaller groups.
Regards, F.

EmaratyGirl said...

just happened to pass by your page while looking for wedding related stuff for my up-coming occassion..

there's just one bit u forgot..which is the part where the couple hold a knife together and cut the cake.. and then the cake is passed around

and no, we dont dance to get noticed.. its a happy moment for the families and usually the people dancing are close to the bride/groom..
as from my side, i usually dont because being a shy person.. but i did for my sibblings weddings.. and for one of my best friends.. and thats because seeing their close ones dance for them is really appreciative.. it shows them how happy they are for them

i saw a comment describing the dance as "shuffling".. well yes, but that just depends on the music being played.. im sure it was a slower song

anyway, it was nice to know you had a great time.. but just for the future,, it is preferred not to talk about how the women look without their covering to other people.. it is against our religion for even men to read the description of a covered women what she looks like without her covering..

as much as this may sound weird or strange to other cultures and religions.. im not up for an arguement or whatever..
it was just something i thought id let u know..