Everything you need to know about marriage in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia holds marriage and family in high regard, and over 150,000 marriage ceremonies are held annually in the country. Over the years, the customs and traditions of Arabic weddings have changed. Traditional weddings are now held in a similar fashion to Bedouin and rural weddings in modern day Arabia. The marriage process in the country includes pre-weddings, the main wedding ceremony, and post-wedding rites. It begins when the families of the couples meet and is concluded when the consummation of the betrothal is held.
This is known as Leilat al-Dokhla. Of course, all marriages held in the country are Islamic. For an Islamic marriage ceremony to take place, both partners must be consenting of their own free will, and the groom has to be welcomed into the bride’s house. This must be done while both parakeets are present and before the marriage preparations begin.
For an Arabic marriage to be legally recognized and protected by law, a civil registration must be done by the couple. The Islamic ceremony requires the couple to hold the nikah and walima, and every other event or ceremonial rite performed after that are cultural additions. There are different marriage traditions held in the country and laws for native Arabian Muslims as well as foreigners, as well as duties guiding the process of marriage. Let’s get started.
Although marriages are no longer arranged by parents or other elder family members in most parts of the world, they are still the norm in Saudi Arabia. According to general Islamic societies and conservative Arab societies, couples are not allowed to have sex or even socialize with each other before marriage takes place. The family handles all marriage arrangements, and when a young man is grown and ready to get married, the family searches for a potential bride for their son from other families.
More than half of the marriages held in Saudi Arabia are endogenous and consanguineous arranged marriages. In fact, arranged marriages are still a very popular tradition in West Asia and North Africa; however, the number of couples involved in these marriages is small compared to the percentage of Arabic marriages. Full blown endogamy is practiced in Saudi Arabia, and partners can only marry from certain religious denominations, ethnic groups, or social groups. Consanguinity was practiced too, where partners got to marry people they were closely related to.
Families often choose the wife-to-be based on her attributes and those of her family. Some of the attributes that were taken into consideration include her cleanliness, her physical looks (how beautiful she is), her behavior, her education, and any qualities she may have as a housewife. The family of the bride is also inspected to make sure they are a good fit and can be welcomed to be joined together. At first, a meeting is held between the mothers of both families and their respective bride and groom. The meeting is usually held in a public place, such as a restaurant, where they get to interact and get to know each other. Sometimes, it is held in the bride’s family house, and the couples sit side by side alongside the families, which can last up to several hours.
The current traditions are not as strict as they used to be, and men are allowed to be actively involved in the process of choosing a potential bride. A man can make his family aware of the woman he is interested in and would like to marry, so that they can check her out and start making the necessary marriage arrangements. Most times, the man and woman have met and become familiar with each other. Urban families are even more flexible these days, and a bride and groom are allowed to make the decision to get married before the bride's family is approached by the groom to get permission and ask for her hand in marriage.
Conditions for a Saudi Arabian Marriage
Saudi Arabia has some conditions that must be met before a marriage is allowed to take place. Only couples with Islamic beliefs are allowed to get married. Courts in the country abide by Sharia Islamic Law, and marriages performed in faiths other than Islam are not recognized by the law court. Muslim couples who get married in foreign countries must submit a legal marriage certificate once they are back in the country. This must be approved before their marriage is legally binding in the country. Some of the requirements for getting married in Saudi Arabia are stated below:
- Permission must be granted by the current sponsor of a woman intending to get married, and it must be presented in written form.
- A residence permit in Saudi Arabia must be provided by both partners.
- All religious ceremonies and rites must be fulfilled and agreed upon by the bride and groom
- The bride and groom must agree on the terms of marriage
- A person authorized must submit a letter of approval with the provision of at least two eyewitnesses
- A civil ceremony must take place in a Saudi Arabian family court, and the bride and groom must obtain a marriage license.
- The guardian or parents of the bride must be in attendance during the wedding ceremony
- Both the bride and groom must be present during the ceremony. If one of them is absent due to any reason, a proxy is allowed to represent them.
- A pre-medical test report must be provided by the spouses. This has to state that they are both medically fit for marriage and have no disease that can instruct the marriage.
Other religious denominations that are not of Islam are not allowed to legally get married in the country. The options available to people in this category are often limited to destination weddings or online weddings.
There are generally two ways to make a marriage legal in Saudi Arabia: either by marriage in a family court or marriage in an embassy. The latter is the option available to foreigners in the country. Foreigners are allowed to get married in the embassy of their country, and all necessary documents that have been translated by an accredited translator must be submitted during the registration process. This is available to only Muslims, as non-Muslim foreigners cannot get married in the country. Saudi Arabia has strict laws guiding marriages, and only people of Islamic beliefs are allowed. The documents to be submitted are generally the same as those of native Arabians, with the provision of a valid means of identification.
Saudi Arabian Marriage Traditions
There are some traditions that are unique to marriages held in Saudi Arabia. These traditions have been in existence for decades and continue to be widely practiced by couples getting married. Some of them are the marriage proposal, engagement, registration, nikah, and walima, as well as the honeymoon. Some of the ceremonial rites performed by couples, their families, and other members of the wedding party are stated below:
This is a pre-wedding ritual, and it is usually the first step in the marriage process. Here, the groom goes to the bride's house to officially ask for her hand in marriage from her parents as well as other elders of the family. It is a private gathering. If both families are satisfied with each other, they agree to the marriage and permit the groom and bride to get married. This is when they are officially recognized by both families as a couple, and a public announcement may follow with the necessary wedding preparations.
This is referred to as Khetbah in Saudi Arabia. There is a small ceremony held by the families, and a small number of guests attend. Most times, only family and friends are invited. The bride and groom exchange rings and profess their love for each other. The rings are placed on the right hands of each other by the couple.
It is a tradition where close male relatives from the families of the bride and groom meet together. This is usually held one or two days before the actual wedding ceremony takes place. Here. The men from the groom’s side are to make sure the bride's family is satisfied with the party being held. They have to ensure everything progresses smoothly, and if there are any disputes, they must be settled before the wedding day. It is customary for the eldest relative to wish all other relatives a happy celebration and congratulate the bride and groom on their marriage.
The henna is quite similar to a bachelorette party in western tradition. Here, a party is organized for the bride, and she is joined with her close friends and members of the family for a celebration with food, drinks, and music. The custom is for a woman to draw henna on the skin of the bride and other guests. Men also organize their own parties where everyone is dressed in traditional outfits and has a nice time.
A Saudi Arabian marriage celebration is not complete without the wedding reception. There is a popular tradition called zaffa where the couple's wedding is loudly announced by a procession. During this celebration, the wife and husband switch the rings from their right hands to their left hands. There is usually live music and belly dancers for the entertainment of the guests. Family, friends, and other attendees give gifts to the bride and say prayers for a long and happy marriage. The wedding reception usually takes several hours, and most urban receptions are held until the night.
Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties
Laws and Rights
Polygamy is legal in Saudi Arabia. According to Islamic Sharia law, Muslim men are allowed to marry up to four wives. They must be treated equally, and they must share all wealth equally. Polygamy was more common in ancient times, and people who still practice this in Saudi Arabia are quite rare. The minimum age a person can legally get married is 18 years. Any marriage held by minors is nullified under the law. Women and men, especially married couples, must dress modestly and refrain from wearing clothes that may reveal inappropriate parts of their bodies. All outfits must cover the shoulders and knees in public.
Only Muslim individuals of the Islamic faith are allowed to legally get married in the country. In Saudi Arabia, a marriage must be consensual between the two partners. It is illegal to force a woman into marriage through any means, such as threats or coercion. Any marriage held by force is invalid and not recognized by law.
In Saudi Arabia, a woman has the right to education and the right to work. There are still laws guiding the type of occupation women are allowed to have. A woman is allowed the right to work as long as her responsibilities and duties to her family are not negatively affected. A woman has the right to own and dispose of wealth before and after marriage. A Saudi Arabian woman is entitled to her own wealth and the money she earned from a legal job, and the entitlement does not change even after marriage, except that she permits her husband to have access to her wealth.
A woman can keep her maiden name after marriage. She must not be forced to change her name and can only do so based on her free will. A woman has the right to travel whenever she wants without having to ask for permission from her husband. She has the legal liberty to make decisions freely on her own, except for those that may affect her family or the lives of members of her household. A lot of emphasis is placed on free consent in Saudi Arabia, and clerics often demand verbal and written confirmations from the woman before the marriage ceremony is held.
Arab marriages are extravagant affairs with lavish ceremonies. Marriage has a high level of significance in the country, and the ceremony is one of the most important events in the lives of many Arabs. The average cost of an Arab wedding is $100,000. Some wedding ceremonies can cost up to 2 million dollars or more, depending on the financial status of the family. The elites like to go all out with their ceremonies, and hundreds of thousands of dollars are often spent on jewelry and bridal dresses.
Generally, couples who do not have a wealthy status hold small wedding ceremonies with few guests. Pre-wedding planning and expenses, such as multiple gift items, may be reduced. At the end of the day, couples spend money on things they like and can afford as long as the basic necessities of the wedding reception have been taken care of and all the guests are accounted for.
According to Saudi Arabian laws, there are certain duties that must be performed by the husband and wife toward each other and their children. A husband is obligated to provide food, clothing, housing, and other necessities for his wife. This still needs to be followed, even if the wife is wealthy. The husband and wife must both take care of their children and provide for their education and financial needs according to the laws of the country. In the case where the spouses are separated, their duties as parents to their children must still continue. A woman has the responsibility of taking care of her husband and family at large.
Traditionally, women are expected to look after their children and husband, provide them with love and affection and also prepare food for them. However, modern Saudi Arabian laws emphasize equality. The man and woman have to come to an agreement on how the responsibilities will be shared before and during marriage. These may include the primary care of the children, maintenance of the house, payment of bills, and so on.
Marriage in Saudi Arabia is not a very easy process, especially when it comes to foreigners. The country has some strict laws that must be abided by all people planning to get married. For a marriage to be legal, the man and woman must be Muslims of Islamic beliefs, and a civil registration must be held.
Arranged marriages are still very popular in the country. Marriages are not just between spouses but their respective families. It brings the two families together, and before the marriage ceremony is held, the partners and their respective families meet to assess each other. The groom’s family investigates the bride's family and also ensures she is suitable for marriage according to their standards. The bride’s family also determines if the groom and his family are perfect for their daughter and if they give him permission to proceed with marrying her.
Saudi Arabia is a wealthy country, and marriage ceremonies are usually lavish occasions celebrated with parties and the sharing of various gift items. Minors are also allowed to get married in the country without interference from anyone. The laws guiding the minimum marriage age in Saudi Arabia are very lenient compared to those of most countries in the western world. This article contains everything you need to know about marriage in Saudi Arabia.
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