Behind the Harem Doors: What the Real Life of Arab Wives Is Like

Arranged marriage

  • Half of¬†the marriages in¬†Arabic countries are still arranged according to¬†the parents‚Äô will.¬†And most people think that nobody asks the opinion of¬†the girl. In¬†fact, if¬†the future bride doesn‚Äôt like the groom, she can¬†refuse¬†his proposal.
  • The signing¬†of¬†a¬†marriage contract¬†is¬†compulsory. Unlike the rest of¬†the world, it‚Äôs a¬†mandatory rule in¬†Arab countries.
  • Arabic women rarely marry men from other religions¬†because they can be¬†deported from their country for such a¬†marriage. Men have more privileges in¬†this situation and are¬†allowed¬†to¬†marry Christian and Jewish girls. But in¬†this case, the girl will not get citizenship and the children will stay with their father if¬†they divorce.
  • The age for getting married.¬†In¬†most Arabic countries there is¬†a¬†minimum age for grooms and brides, which is¬†18¬†years old. For example, citizens of¬†Tunisia can get married¬†at¬†18¬†according to¬†the law, but the average age of¬†brides is¬†25¬†and grooms are 30. However, in¬†some developing countries, early marriages are still popular. In¬†Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for example, most of¬†the girls get married before the age of¬†18.

Wedding ceremonies

Traditions vary in different countries, but an Arab bride and groom celebrate their wedding separately.

  • The ‚Äúmale wedding‚Ä̬†can be¬†celebrated on¬†a¬†different day to¬†the wedding of¬†the bride. As¬†a¬†rule, it¬†is¬†very¬†simple: tea, coffee, dinner, and communication lasting not more than 4¬†hours in¬†total. The weddings of¬†brides are celebrated much more widely in¬†a¬†big town hall with waiters and artists.
  • The ‚Äúfemale wedding‚Ä̬†is¬†an¬†occasion to¬†show off in¬†diamonds, designer shoes, and evening outfits because usually all this beauty is¬†hidden behind hijabs (or¬†abayas) and veils. That‚Äôs the reason why only women can attend such a¬†wedding. Men are strictly forbidden here. The staff are¬†only women, including singers, photographers, and DJs. If¬†a¬†famous singer is¬†invited to¬†the celebration, he¬†will see neither the bride nor the guests because he¬†will be¬†performing behind a¬†screen or¬†in¬†the next room and broadcasting the songs to¬†the main hall.
  • The visit of¬†the husband¬†is¬†announced in¬†advance so¬†that all the women can cover themselves with abayas. If¬†the husband arrives with his brothers or¬†father, then the bride is¬†also¬†covered¬†with a¬†white abaya because even the relatives of¬†her husband can‚Äôt see her beauty.
  • It¬†is¬†prohibited to¬†present things related to¬†alcohol in¬†the Arab culture, including wine and champagne glasses.¬†People usually¬†present¬†different handmade artworks that can be¬†used in¬†the interior of¬†the couple‚Äôs future home. It‚Äôs also¬†prohibited¬†to¬†present gold jewelry and silk for men.

Polygyny

  • Most marriages are monogamous. Not every Arab man can afford to¬†have several wives. Islam allows them to¬†have up¬†to¬†4¬†wives, but each of¬†them should be¬†provided with a¬†house and be¬†given equal amounts of¬†gifts, attention, jewelry, and so¬†on.¬†Having several wives¬†is¬†a¬†privilege of¬†sheiks and very wealthy people.
  • The first marriage is¬†the most important.¬†No¬†matter how many wives a¬†man has, the first ‚Äúgreat‚ÄĚ marriage remains, and the first wife is¬†‚Äúsenior.‚ÄĚ
  • If¬†a¬†man finds another wife, the other wives should accept¬†it.¬†They¬†must follow¬†the will of¬†their man and not show any emotions. As¬†a¬†rule, all of¬†the wives live in¬†different houses and don‚Äôt meet often.

Divorce

  • According to¬†the old tradition, a¬†man willing to¬†divorce his wife could repeat the phrase ‚ÄúI¬†divorce you‚ÄĚ 3¬†times.¬†After that, his wife is¬†supposed to¬†stay in¬†his house for a¬†certain period to¬†ensure that she is¬†not pregnant. During this waiting time, the husband can get his wife back by¬†simply saying,¬†‚ÄúI¬†take you back.‚Ä̬†He¬†is¬†allowed to¬†repeat this procedure 3¬†times. After the 3rd divorce, he¬†is¬†not allowed to¬†remarry her.
  • A¬†woman¬†can apply¬†for a¬†divorce if¬†her husband doesn‚Äôt¬†provide for her well enough. Such cases are looked through carefully in¬†courts, and they are often fulfilled. In¬†the Arab world, men express their love not with flowers but with gold and jewelry. For example, a¬†husband must go¬†with his wife to¬†restaurants and buy her expensive gifts and clothes. If¬†he¬†has several wives, then an¬†equal amount of¬†attention and gifts should be¬†given.
  • In¬†other cases, it¬†might be¬†very difficult¬†for a¬†woman to¬†get a¬†divorce¬†because courts often make prejudiced decisions supporting the side of¬†the husband.

Women’s rights

Despite the stereotypes, an Arab woman is highly respected by men. She shouldn’t feel the need for anything.

  • Arab women were among the first who got the right to¬†get married as¬†per their own wish, initiate divorce, and have their own property.¬†This happened in¬†the 7th century when women from other countries didn‚Äôt have such opportunities. Islamic laws considered the marriage between a¬†man and a¬†woman as¬†a¬†contract that was recognized as¬†valid only when both partners showed their agreement. Moreover, at¬†this time, a¬†woman‚Äôs right¬†to¬†own property and use the assets that she brought to¬†the family or¬†earned was introduced.
  • Weekly women‚Äôs days.¬†Once a¬†week, all beaches, aquaparks, and beauty salons in¬†the UAE open¬†for women only. A¬†man will simply not be¬†allowed to¬†enter any of¬†these places.
  • However, the wife of¬†a¬†Muslim does everything with the permission of¬†her husband.¬†If¬†she wants to¬†go¬†somewhere, she first must tell her husband about it¬†and get his¬†permission.

Clothes

  • Women should hide their bodies under loose clothes.¬†They can wear anything under these loose clothes: miniskirts, jeans, and shorts. Many fashionable girls envy the outfits of¬†Arab beauties. But when going out, a¬†woman must cover herself with a¬†loose gown to¬†the heels and¬†hide her face¬†behind a¬†veil. All because her beauty is¬†for her husband only, and other men mustn‚Äôt see¬†it. The exceptions are ‚Äúfemale‚ÄĚ celebrations and weddings where there are no¬†men. Here, women can show off their designer collections. However, this custom is¬†not followed everywhere, but women should cover their heads in¬†almost all Arab countries.
  • Kuwait is¬†the only Arab country where women wear¬†European clothes¬†outside.¬†Still, they should be¬†modest and appropriate.
  • Unlike Kuwait, there are countries such as¬†Yemen¬†and¬†Sudan¬†where old traditions are still on¬†the¬†go. Women must wear black robes hiding them fully from head to¬†toe.

Education and work

  • If¬†a¬†woman wants to¬†get an¬†education,¬†it‚Äôs not prohibited. Many girls even go¬†abroad to¬†study. In¬†Jordan, for example, only¬†14% of¬†women are illiterate. In¬†the UAE, 77% of¬†girls enter colleges and make up¬†75% of¬†the total number of¬†students at¬†the University of¬†Al¬†Ain.
  • Household chores¬†are on¬†a¬†woman‚Äôs shoulders. But in¬†rich countries,¬†this duty is¬†fulfilled by¬†housemaids, and the main task of¬†a¬†woman is¬†giving birth to¬†babies and raising them.
  • Careers¬†exist.¬†In¬†the UAE, 2%¬†of¬†executives are women, 20% of¬†administrative positions are occupied by¬†women, and¬†35% of¬†the country‚Äôs labor forces are women. On¬†the stock market of¬†Abu Dhabi, 43% of¬†investors are women. Also, in¬†the United Arab Emirates, women can hold the position of¬†a¬†judge and work in¬†government departments, such as¬†the police force. More than¬†26% of¬†parliament is¬†made up¬†of¬†women in¬†Tunisia.¬†The obstacle¬†here can only be¬†the fact that in¬†many Arab countries a¬†woman cannot go¬†to¬†work without the permission of¬†her husband or¬†guardian.

Are there any other interesting facts about Arab women that you know? Please do share them in the comments!