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All you need to know about an Emirati wedding

Modern-day Emirati nuptials follow centuries-old tradition over a seven-day period

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Dubai: The most-awaited wedding reception of the year — that of the Dubai’s Crown Prince and his brothers — is taking place on Thursday), three weeks after their marriages were solemnised.

Excitement has been building over the weeks since the announcement of the wedding of the three sons of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

In a religious private ceremony on May 15, Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad, 36, Dubai Crown Prince and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, tied the knot with Shaikha Shaikha Bint Saeed Bin Thani Al Maktoum.

Shaikh Maktoum Bin Mohammad, 35, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, married Shaikha Maryam Bint Butti Al Maktoum.

Lastly, Shaikh Ahmad Bin Mohammad, 32, Chairman of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation, wed Shaikha Midya Bint Dalmouj Al Maktoum.


The Emirati community has been delighted with the news, with many calling the three unions “a blessing”.

The wedding reception will take place at the Dubai World Trade Centre at 4pm on Thursday.

Gulf News takes you behind the scenes of an Emirati wedding where couples traditionally celebrate their union in a lavish ceremony with family and friends.

Seven-day affair

Known for their lavish traditional weddings, Emiratis continue to combine tradition and culture in their modern-day nuptial ceremonies, following dated rituals over a seven-day period of celebrations.

While many of the customs surrounding Emirati weddings stem from centuries old Arabic culture and religious texts, Iris Chelarescu, a wedding planner at Empire GCC who specialises in Emirati weddings in Dubai, said a few details have changed over the years. “Over time and across generations and tribes, some of these traditions have been tweaked and changed depending on regions and outside influence,” she said.


The proposal

Since the 7th century, it has been customary for marriage proceedings to start with a traditional proposal, whereby the besotted prospective groom makes his feelings and intentions known to his own mother first. His mother will then approach the mother of the intended bride to ask for her hand in marriage, explained Chelarescu. Once accepted, the females of both families will discuss and iron out many of the sensitive issues surrounding the union, including the dowry that is to be paid to the bride. “In many instances in older times and generations, families would agree a union without the knowledge of the young man and woman, matchmaking based on common family bonds and compatibility,” said Chelarescu.

The practice stems from the fact that in the Gulf culture, it is just as important for the two families to have a bond as it is for the young bride and groom. What’s more, in conservative families, it is unacceptable for a young man and woman to spend time with one another before a future union has been agreed.

“Of course in modern culture, most single people get to mingle in some form or another whether it’s through work, social circles or family gatherings before this step takes place,” said Chelarescu.

However, before signing any legal documents, the father of the bride makes sure he does his research a diligence in verifying his potential future son-in-laws reputation. Along with other males representing the family such as his sons, cousins, uncles, and brothers, the father of the bride inquires about the potential groom at the various majlis’ he attends and the local mosque in his area.

The Melcha

If everything is agreed on, the marriage is then signed off by both parties in front of male witnesses in a ceremony called the Melcha, said Chelarescu.


“This is officiated at the groom’s place by a Shaikh and it is where the union is officially declared valid.”

The men-only ceremony, which is attended by the fathers of the bride and the groom, brothers, uncles and cousins from both sides, begins the Melcha period.

This period, which can last for days or months, depends on what the families hope to achieve during this time, and how well the bride and groom have been acquainted. It starts at the signing of the contract in the presence of the Shaikh and ends at the wedding party.

“During this time, the marriage is not to be consummated, but rather it is an opportunity for the families to get to know each other — with lots of elaborate invites and dinners.”

“The groom will interact heavily with male members of the bride’s family, as will the bride with female members of the groom’s family,” explained Chelarescu.


The Dazza

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Among the wedding rituals, is the bride’s ‘Hope chest’ known as the Dazza.

Female members of the groom’s family prepare the Dazza, which includes jewellery, perfumes, prayer mat, Quran, mehr and a very extravagant trousseau — a garment embroidered in expensive lace and jewels, explained Chelarescu.

“It is during this phase where the bride and groom will really get to know one another in light of the family habits and routines,” said Chelarescu.

The Henna

AE-061023-EID BROADSHEET The women?s are drawing henna painting their hands during EID festival at Safa Park in Dubai PHOTO: VAZHISOJAN
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A few days prior to the wedding, a bridal shower called the henna is arranged for the bride. During the female only party, the bride is showered with gifts and a henna artist adorns her with the most intricate and beautiful designs. “Good henna work is considered one of the most beautiful adornments a bride can possess. Many of these henna nights also include DJ’s and dancing into the late hours of the night,” said Chelarescu.

The Wedding Day

On the most awaited day of the celebrations, two adjacent or nearby halls are rented to separate the men and the women for the grand wedding day. It is common for the guest list to range from 500-1,000 people as Emirati families are often large and the culture is highly sociable.

“The decorations and floral arrangements are a sight for the eyes. Often times, lavish table centerpieces will cost upwards of Dh2,000 per centrepiece,” said Chelarescu. With over 50 tables at most weddings, Chelarescu pointed out the budget for the floral element alone can range in the six figures.

“The women’s hall is colourful. The women take liberties to wear choice designer dresses,” said Chelarescu.

A DJ is present to play Arabic tunes while the women enjoy dancing with the bride. Often times there is a belly dancer moving to the beats of a live tabla and oud performance.


At the men’s hall, most guests wear the kandoura and enjoy traditional Emirati cane line dancing. Usually, some form of live music will also be available, and often times, famous Levant singers are flown in from Lebanon, Jordan or other Arab countries to perform.

In modern Emirati culture, the groom and his close relatives will enter the bride’s hall later in the night.

“This will usually be announced by the MC and there will be a dramatic change in the music. Women will be given time to change and wear their shaylas [head scarves] if they so desire, and the groom’s entrance is wildly celebrated with loud, high pitched ululations.” explained Chelarescu.

At a more liberal affair, the groom may dance with his new bride before they are seated at the kosha — a designated area of honour for the bride and groom to be seated in plain sight of all where they can be viewed with admiration.

“It is usually elevated on a low stage and lavishly decorated with embellishments and floral arrangements. A carefully selected loveseat is placed on the centre of the stage for the couple to be seated side by side looking out at the guests,” added Chelarescu.

Food and Drinks

Aishu Laham.
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Each step and brief milestone in this drawn-out process is usually celebrated with a hearty Emirati family meal. Traditional meals are enjoyed in gender-segregated majlis halls with traditional floor seating, where “food is enjoyed using the right hand, without the use of utensils,” said Chelarescu. Food and drinks at the wedding are abundant and delectable. Upon entrance, traditional Arabic coffee, tea and dates are passed around. Food is served in large family style dishes, including ouzi — a whole lamb, biryani, threed, rogag, salona and a variety of other traditional dishes. Traditional local desserts like lougaimat (fried dough balls dipped in syrup) are then served with more coffee and tea.

“It is considered a huge shame to not have enough food at a momentous occasion such as a wedding. Therefore, hosts will always choose to err on the side of surplus,” said Chelarescu.