Everything you need to know about marriage in the United Arab Emirates
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), over 17,000 marriages are held annually. Most of these marriages are either civil or Islamic. The entire population of the country is mostly made up of Muslims; over 70% of UAE nationals follow the Islam religion. Some of the other popular religions include Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism, which makes religious and traditional marriages quite popular in the country. In the UAE, a civil marriage is performed by an authorized registrar in a court of law. It serves as a lawful union between a non-Muslim man and woman that is solemnized as a civil contract.
In most countries, religious people are required to perform civil marriage ceremonies before proceeding with other forms of ceremonies, such as traditional, religious, or secular. However, in the UAE, most marriages held in court are between non-Muslims. Muslims in the country perform their marriages and ceremonial rites in mosques according to Islam.
An Islamic religious marriage is legally binding in the country. In fact, civil marriage in the country is primarily designated for non-Muslims or citizens of non-Muslim countries. Let’s continue with the rest of the article, where you will learn everything you need to know about marriage in the United Arab Emirates.
A civil marriage ceremony is open to citizens of the UAE, visitors, and other tourists, and it is performed by a state-authorized registrar in the family court. This type of marriage is mostly performed by non-Muslim UAE nationals and foreigners. Civil marriages and religious/traditional marriages are both recognized and protected by law, but since the country widely practices Sharia Law, the majority of the population holds their marriages in the Islamic way and not in court. There are certain conditions that must be met by couples in the UAE, both foreigners and residents, before they can be solemnized as a civil contract. These are stated below:
- Both parties must have given their consent to marry of their own free will. This implies that marriage must not be forced under any circumstances through coercion, threats, and the like.
- The spouses must be at least 18 years old, as this is the minimum legal age in the country.
- Underage marriage is prohibited except where there is a provision for special authorization from the family court and parental or guardian consent.
- A declaration form must be signed by both parties stating that they are not currently in a marriage or union with anyone else other than their partner.
- Couples are allowed to apply for their civil marriage registration online, and a premarital screening certificate or parental approval are generally not required.
Civil marriages allow inter-faith ceremonies between couples, and there are some documents that are required from couples planning a civil marriage. These are stated below.
- A valid means of identification, such as a passport or Emirates ID, from both partners
- A marriage application form that has been completed and signed by both parties
- Single-status paperwork to serve as proof that either both parties are in an existing marriage
- A marriage agreement. This is a contract that states the terms of the marriage and what will happen in the case of the death of one of the spouses regarding inheritance. This paperwork is optional and depends on the couple.
Religious and traditional marriage
Religious marriages are the most popular type of marriage in the UAE. As it was stated earlier, Islam is the religion practiced by over 70% of the population, and marriages between couples who share this belief are held in the mosque. It is conducted by an imam, while marriages of Christians living in the UAE are conducted by an authorized priest and held in the church. Some families also follow the customs and traditions of their regions and communities. These families usually hold a separate traditional wedding after the religious one is concluded. The traditional wedding part involves the sharing of gifts, feasting, music, and dancing.
Most marriages held in the UAE are Islamic marriages. This is also referred to as Sharia marriage. Islamic marriages are conducted for both nationals and foreigners according to the Sharia laws where both the groom and bride are Muslims or where the groom is Muslim and the bride is from Ahl al-Kitaab, another religion such as Christianity.
Under Sharia law, a Muslim man is allowed to marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man unless there is proof of his conversion to Islam. Islamic marriages are performed by the Sharia Courts and UAE Judicial Departments or by state-authorized marriage officers known as "Mazoons" in each emirate. There are some paperwork and conditions that are required from both spouses during a religious marriage. These are stated below:
- The legal age for marriage is 18 Hijri years, and a person below that age is not permitted to get married except under special circumstances where there is an approval from the judge
- A premarital screening certificate must be submitted by both partners
- The partners must present a marriage contract, which needs to be registered in a Sharia court in the UAE
- The age of either of the spouses must not be twice that of the other. This implies that the current age of one of the partners cannot be double that of the other partner unless a judge’s approval is obtained.
- The couple must be physically present during the ceremony. A representative or an online ceremony is prohibited.
- A woman planning to get married in the UAE must obtain parental or guardian consent.
- The attendance of the bride’s father as well as two male witnesses is required. If the bride’s father is unable to make himself available, a proxy can be made available instead.
divorce or death certificate. This is to be provided by a spouse who was in a previous marriage that is now terminated due to separation or the death of the previous partner.
- In a case where the bride is Muslim and her father is a non-Muslim, a "no objection" letter from the embassy or consulate must be provided by her, stating that both parties are okay with the marriage ceremony.
- The closest male guardian on the family must be in attendance in the case where the father is dead. This is usually the eldest son in the family.
- In an Islamic marriage, both couples are expected to conduct a marital screening test, which must be done through the Dubai Health Authority, the Abu Dhabi Department of Health, and the Ministry of Health and Prevention. The marriage between a couple can be denied based on the medical screening certificate examination if one or both of the parties suffer from a transferable venereal disease or a genetically inherited blood disease.
Marriage of Non-Muslims
Foreigners and non-Muslims in the United Arab Emirates may also conduct their marriages through two major methods: the temple or place of worship in their religion and the embassy or consulate in their home country. In some cases, a foreigner may be required to file an application for an intention to marry at their country’s embassy or consulate in the UAE. If a person is prohibited by their own country from getting married, they are not allowed to conduct a marriage in the United Arab Emirates
Polygamy in the UAE
Polygamous marriages are legal in the United Arab Emirates. A man is permitted to have up to four wives or more as long as each of them is treated equally and lives well. This type of marriage is still widely practiced in the country, but polyandry is not allowed. A woman may only have one husband at a time.
Same-sex marriage in the UAE
The marriage or union of two people of the same sex is illegal in the United Arab Emirates. The country is governed under Sharia law, and a person involved in any same-sex sexual activity is liable for a capital punishment, the death penalty. However, not just Sharia law in the UAE frowns on same-sex marriages. This type of marriage is also prohibited under the civil law. Foreign cross dressers are often deported.
United Arab Emirates marriage traditions
The majority of the marriage traditions performed in the United Arab Emirates are performed according to Islamic Sharia customs. Some of these ceremonial rites are stated below:
This is a pre-wedding ceremonial rite where the groom officially goes to the house of the bride with his family members to ask for her hand in marriage from her parents. If the parents accept the request for union between their children, a short prayer is said. This is called the Syrah Fatiha, which is recited by everyone present at that moment, followed by the presentation of gift items.
This is the official wedding ceremony. During the ceremony, a sheikh draws up a marriage contract, which is duly signed by both parties. The attendees of the ceremony must all wear conservative clothing, and parts of their bodies such as thighs, shoulders, etc. must not be exposed. Sometimes, some families hold two different ceremonies for the men and the women. This is so as to allow both sexes to safely enjoy the marriage celebration according to the laws of Islam.
This is performed in Muslim marriages everywhere. Maher is the dowry a groom has to pay his bride. It represents love, courtesy, and respect towards the bride, and the type of dowry payment made depends on her and her family. She is entitled to the dowry even in the case of separation. This dowry offered to the bride may be in the form of money, furniture, properties, or other items. Also, it is used as a safeguard in cases where the husband is unavailable to perform his duties due to death or imprisonment. The Maher is a tradition that has been in existence since ancient UAE, and it is still widely practiced by couples in the country to this day.
This is equivalent to the procession in a western marriage. It is the grand entrance of the bride and groom into the reception. The entrance usually starts with the father of the bride walking her to his son-in-law. This is usually met by cheers from the guests and traditional upbeat music from multiple drummers in the ceremony. Here, the rings that were on the right hands of both partners are transferred to their left hands to signify that the marriage rites are complete and they can formally live together as husband and wife. This rite also involves a Zaghrouta, where the female guests cheer the bride and groom on by making high pitched ululations with the use of their tongues.
The henna refers to the bridal shower, which is conducted for the bride a few days before the actual wedding ceremony. During the henna, the bride is showered with various gifts from her friends and family, and a henna artist draws beautiful designs on her hands. She carries these designs all day, and the celebration mostly extends till the night.
This is usually celebrated as the concluding part of the marriage ceremonial rites. Here, friends and guests bid the couple a fond farewell as they leave the wedding reception venue in flashy vehicles. Most times, a parade is formed with other members of the family and friends, where there are multiple cars behind them to showcase their new marriage to the whole world. The newlyweds usually go on honeymoon after a while. Some may go on this vacation the day after, while other couples may prefer a week after to make preparations if they were not made before. Many couples in Dubai do their honeymoon outside the country, which takes about a week or two before they return to the UAE.
Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties
Laws and rights
The laws and rights guiding marriages in the UAE can be quite strict. Irrespective of who you are or where you come from, the following conditions have to be met before you decide to tie the knot:
It is required that the intending Couples must be at least 18 years of age; however, minors can get married if they've gotten permission from a court. Both parties must freely consent. A spouse must not be twice older than the other; in the event that this arises, a court's ruling is needed. Both parties must be Muslims; however, the man can marry a non-Muslim provided a certificate of her conversion is presented to the court, but such is not the case for the woman. It is a must for the marriage to be registered in a Sharia court in the UAE. Spouses are required to sign a declaration stating they're not married to anyone at the moment of marriage. Both parties are mandated by law to do a screening test, and the results must be presented before the court. Two male Muslim witnesses, alongside the bride's father, must be present on the wedding day; in the absence of the bride's father, a legal guardian or the next closest male is required to take his position. An objection letter from the bride's father is needed if her father is a non-Muslim. It is usually obtained from the UAE embassy or consulate.
For foreigners, a valid identity document, proof of conversion of one of the parties to Islam, a valid residence visa for both parties, birth certificates of both parties, 2 witnesses, passports and copies of the passports of both parties as well as those of the witnesses, a prescreening test certificate from the ministry of health, and finally a certificate of divorce or death of one of the spouses who has been previously married must be submitted to the court by both parties in order to validate a marriage request. Both parties are required to file an application for marriage at their respective embassies, and the marriage must be officially registered at the embassies of both parties in the UAE. A foreigner who wishes to marry a UAE woman must receive a certificate of good conduct from the UAE authorities.
UAE is known to be a Muslim country; however, it makes provisions for non-Muslims to also get married based on their religions or beliefs. Christian marriages take place in the church after all the necessary paperwork has been submitted. They are conducted by an authorized priest.
UAE laws make provision for equal rights for couples in a marriage. As strict as Sharia law may seem, both parties have access to inalienable rights under the law, and violations of such rights lead to punishment. In the UAE, both parties are entitled to mutual cooperation, rights, duties, and respect. According to Sharia law, the woman has the right to request her mahr, also known as the bride's wealth or dowry, from her husband, as it is supposed to be paid directly to her and not to her parents.
She has the right to dispose of her property; however, the husband doesn't have the right to do so without receiving her full consent. They both have the right to own separate financial assets. The man has the right to marry more than one wife. The wife and children have the right to receive maintenance from the husband. They both have the right to financial freedom. The husband has no right to touch the financial assets of the wife and must not harm her mentally or physically. The woman has the right to visit her family as well as further her education. In essence, the rights available to married couples favor the woman largely. The UAE society respects women and believes that by taking care of your wife and respecting her rights, you are bringing prosperity to yourself.
A UAE wedding is said to be the most expensive event that can happen in one's lifetime. The UAE wedding industry is growing and blooming rapidly as a result of the extravagant wedding cultures practiced by the people and is said to make about 700 million dollars annually. According to research, the average UAE wedding is said to cost around Dhs 300,000, which is about $82,000. All weddings in the UAE are expensive; however, the costs of each wedding differ from the other because of the financial capabilities of various grooms, as the cost of the wedding is borne by the groom.
The husband and wife in the UAE are obligated to perform certain responsibilities to each other and the household. The couple is tasked with the responsibility of providing for and protecting the general welfare of the family. Both parties have a duty to respect each other's opinions and give room for mutual cooperation. The wife has a duty to obey her husband, and in return, the wife and children are to be protected by society, not just by close relatives. They both have a duty to provide their children with a proper education and a conducive environment to grow up in to ensure a good upbringing. According to Sharia law, a man is obligated to treat his wives fairly if he has more than one. The woman is also responsible for taking care of the children and caring for her home like her parents' home.
The two major types of marriages in the United Arab Emirates are civil marriages and religious marriages. They are both recognized and protected under the laws of the country. Civil marriages are mostly held by non-Muslims in the country, while most Muslims conduct their marriage ceremonies in the mosque.
Polygamous relationships are legal in the UAE and quite common among citizens of the country. A man can be married to multiple women as long as he treats them fairly and equally. However, the reverse is true for women. Polyandry is illegal, and women are not allowed to have more than one partner or spouse at a time. We hope this article has provided you with everything you need to know about marriage in the United Arab Emirates.
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