A Wedding In Qatar


A Western woman witnesses a traditional Muslim wedding in Qatar.

My boss and I were at the massive, five-star, Sheraton Hotel in Doha, Qatar. Although, we were there for work, we were also snooping. As we walked down the hallway the sound of Arabic pop music wafted down the hall. Straight ahead was another set of ornate, oversized doors, slowly closing behind a clutch of robed women.

"A wedding!" we cried in unison, rushing up to get a look inside before the door swung shut. We just caught sight of a brightly colored room–Persian rugs, lots of gold lame, exotic flower arrangements–when an old woman hobbled toward us from inside.  Dating As A Modern Muslim Woman

"Come! Come!"she said, extending her arm, palm facing down as she opened and closed her hand. We didn’t need more invitation than that. She returned to her table and slowly rearranged the folds of her ornate purple caftan, or jalabiyah. My boss thanked her for inviting us in, to which she responded by smiling and making an expansive gesture around the room. The roots of her hennaed hair were pure white and I wondered if there might be a language barrier, if she’d even finished high school. If it had even been an option for her. Schools hadn’t existed in Qatar til the ‘50s, and girls had only begun graduating from high school in equal numbers to boys since about 1975.She didn’t ask us to sit or leave, and no one had taken particular notice of us but her. I began to feel exactly as I had at so many other weddings I’d ever attended. Awkward.

We edged to the back of the room and took in the scene. It must have taken teams to concoct the topiary-like hairdos and apply the rich colors to the women’s faces. From the array of outfits it appeared we were in a cafeteria for extras from different movie sets. A distinctly Western accent interrupted my thoughts.  "Have one," a young woman said, motioning to a pile of sticky, honey-glazed deserts on the table next to where we stood. "Dinner won’t get started for hours." She was costumed and made up like a belly dancer, her long gleaming hair flowing straight down her back. In the U.S. this would have been a wildly slutty costume at a Halloween party, but among these women she looked tame.

We introduced ourselves and she told us her name was Hend, and that she’d just graduated from Duke. I asked if it was normal to invite strangers to weddings. "Oh yeah, weddings are totally public," she explained. "The more people, the better for when the bride gets here." Finding Muslim Love Online

"Where’s the bride?" my boss asked.

"At home bathing. Or maybe they started the makeup. She’ll get here around 11. Then we eat." Hend pointed to a raised platform at the front of the room I’d not noticed before.  "That balcony up there is for her, my cousin Haya, the bride," Hend said, knitting her perfectly shaped eyebrows. "I’m not looking forward to it. It’s no fun to be the bride. We’ll go up and talk to her, like in rounds, but the real party doesn’t start until after she leaves with the groom."

The groom? "I thought men and women were kept separate at weddings," I said. Had my research been a total waste of time?

"They are," she said quickly. "He’s only here for a minute for pictures. Then they leave. And of course we cover when they come in."

I was confused. Qatari women wouldn’t allow their picture to be taken. It was haram, forbidden according to the Quran.  

"They take pictures?" I asked now in disbelief.

Hend gave me an odd look. "They’re already married, you know," she said. I didn’t.

"Where is the groom?" my boss asked. "He’s probably drinking tea," she said. "Or dancing with a sword. He’ll show up around midnight." Suddenly Hend broke into a beatific smile and began to wave. "Ugh," she said through her teeth, still waving and smiling and looking across the room. "It’s Aunt Fatma." I followed her gaze to a woman who was giving her the palms down hand gesture. Come! Come! "She wants to talk to me about Abdul Azziz," she went on, smiling in one direction, dishing in the other. "It’s not like I don’t know who he is already, we grew up together. My mother better tell her soon I’m going to grad school." 

She turned to us, dropping the wave and the smile for an instant. "I have to go talk to her,” she said before disappearing. I looked at my boss. "Can you believe it?" I said. "These weddings are totally constructed to set up new marriages."

I had come to this country to learn more about my Muslim sisters and I was now more confused than ever. What My Time In Qatar Taught Me About Love