Traditionally, the ideal marriage was tribal, related families encouraging their offspring to marry cousins or other relatives in order to increase and strengthen the tribe, or occasionally to marry into another tribe in order to heal rifts between families.
This might include gold, jewellery and clothing and is usually of considerable value.
After the dowry settlement comes the actual marriage contract, which is conducted by a legal or religious representative.
The bride is asked in the absence of the prospective groom if she agrees to the marriage and this question is then put to the groom.
After agreement, the groom joins hands with his future father-in-law and, with two witnesses present, the marriage becomes official.
According to Sharia law, a Muslim man may have four wives, provided that he can look after them materially and treats them equally.
This practice is now dying out, however, not only because only a few can afford it, but also because women are becoming more independent and assertive and many refuse accept it.
In fact, a Muslim woman can insert a clause in the marriage contract that restricts her husband from marrying another woman for as long as the contract is valid. Although gender roles have always been clearly defined in the Islamic world, with the man as ‘provider’ and the woman as ‘nurturer’, both man and wife are increasingly going out to work, although this is much less common in Saudi Arabia, where there are restrictions on women working, except in culturally ‘acceptable’ occupations such as medicine and teaching.
However, there’s another stage before the couple actually meet as man and wife: the wedding party.
Celebrations are segregated, with the women in one section of the house and the men in another.
Finally, on the last night of celebrations, the couple meet, accompanied by all their friends, and eventually leave on their honeymoon.
On their return, they either set up home with the groom’s parents and become members of the extended family or – as is increasingly the case – set up home by themselves.