Wedding dress?… Check!
In Arab society, the signing of a marriage contract is mandatory before a wedding can take place. A typical Arab pre-nuptial contract specifies the bride and groom’s contributions and outlines the modus operandi in case of divorce. Not surprisingly, getting both parties’ families to sign can involve weeks or even months of formal, friendly or fierce negotiations.
The Price of Love
A precursor to Arab marriage for the groom and his family is the bride price, which is usually proposed and paid to the bride’s father by the groom’s father or a senior member of his family. Beauty and intelligence are considered precious qualities in a bride and can bump up the price considerably. Of course, placing monetary value on someone’s daughter can be a delicate issue and one that requires tact, forethought and diplomacy. In almost all cases, bride prices are set by the groom’s family and not requested by the bride or hers, although discussions and arguments sometimes follow. Attempts to inflate the price are also viewed as distasteful and are often met with the age-old Arab saying: “Women are not like sheep or goats!”
A Dowry – a Gift for the Wife to Keep Forever
A dowry must also be paid to the bride for her personal use, and usually takes the form of gold jewellery, land, property or cash. Nowadays, the bride and groom often settle the nature of a dowry between them; shopping to chose the jewellery together, for instance. Once the dowry has been paid to the wife-to-be, it remains exclusively hers and the future husband has no stake in it. Love-struck Arab grooms-to-be often show their dedication to their future brides by surpassing what they believe the bride’s father would expect by way of a dowry. Sums vary depending on the circumstances of the groom’s family, but generosity is paramount. After all, a wife is considered one of the most important investments an Arab man can make, hence the decadent displays in jewellery-shop windows across the spectrum of Arab nations.
It goes without saying that the groom will provide, own and furnish the home in which he and his future bride will live, and that he will support, clothe and feed her. This isn’t stipulated in the marriage contract, as it is considered an absolute prerequisite to any marriage proposal.
What Does and Arab Woman Bring to Her Marriage?
A bride’s principal contributions to a marriage are her beauty, elegance, charm, virtue and talent in home-making. It’s customary for her and her family to contribute soft furnishings such as mattresses, blankets, carpets, cushions, curtains, etc. These items sometimes feature in a marriage contract but are often left to the discretion of her family, proposed by the bride’s family and agreed/argued by the groom’s. As with the dowry, generosity is key, and generally the poorer the families involved, the more difficult the financial negotiations are destined to be.
Most brides make a list of all the objects they bring to the marital home, agreed and countersigned by both families. These items remain her property and her husband cannot dispose of them in any way without her consent. A bride-to-be can also add extra clauses to a marriage contract concerning her education and right to work once married. Another unspoken rule adhered to in Arab marriages is that a wife’s salary is her personal property and hers to spend as she chooses.
The final clause in any Arabic marriage contract concerns the divorce price and is designed to cover cases where there isn’t a happily-ever-after. In Arabic society, a divorced woman is expected to return to the house of a male relative who will support her, as it is still not generally socially acceptable for a woman to live alone, whether she is single, divorced or widowed. The divorce price typically amounts to little more than pocket money, although the bridegroom is also expected to provide modest maintenance payments. The woman sets the divorce price and if a sum has been agreed on a marriage contract, and is not consequently fulfilled, the courts will see to it that it’s paid.
“If you have much, give of your wealth; If you have little, give of your heart“ Arabic Proverb