Let's Get Married - Kuwaiti Style!
All over the world, marriage is a social institution that can't be broken. Even with modern and much changed social norms, especially in Europe and the Americas, the fact that two people who wish to spend the rest of their lives together go through all the rituals of the marriage ceremony, whether it is done in a place of worship or in a civil ceremony at a government office, still it is being done, and people are still tying the proverbial knot.
Here in Kuwait, marriage is a big business, I mean that both literally and figuratively, as well. You don't have too many quiet little weddings around here, and since there are usually big extended families involved, people don't like to take chances on stepping on anyone's feet by excluding them from the festivities, so ultimately, a wedding can often end up with hundreds of guests in attendence. Even those who do, for one reason or the other, have "quiet little weddings", still, almost always, go through all the rigors of the Kuwaiti marriage tradition anyway. I don't know if you could say it's out of moral obligation, or if Kuwaitis just like to have a good party on a regular basis, because if anyone goes all out on weddings, it's Kuwaitis. Whether it's the bride and her entourage, or the guests who are attending, Kuwaiti weddings are always a good show. I am reminded sometimes of Barnum and Bailey, but that is another story!
But joking aside, marriage here in Kuwait, is a very serious and solemn business, and a very important institution in the society. According to Islam, marriage is half of religion. All people of marriageable ages are highly encouraged to get married if at all possible, and often these marriages take place at fairly early ages. It is considered a good deed on the part of the parents, if they help a child of theirs to get married, especially to protect their chastity. Rather than to let them run wild, and perhaps get into some sort of relationship with the opposite sex, which would never be allowed in Islam. They may need to help them financially as well as in other ways, in order to make things easier on younger couples, especially if they have not finished school, and do not have jobs yet. Nowadays though, there is a bit of a trend to wait until college is finished, and people are settled into regular careers, before marriage takes place. Families are much pickier, and demand far more than they would normally do in the history of Kuwait. Especially in most of the bedouin tribes, where exhorbitant sums are asked for as "maher" (dowry), sometimes reaching up to 15,000 KD and even more. Certain tribes have attempted to set limits on this, but the decision is in the hands of the family whether or not they stick to that rule.
Since Islam is the ruling religion here in Kuwait, Islamic marriage requirements must take precedence over all else, and all the marriage obligations must be fulfilled. In Islam, in order for a marriage to be considered legal, there must be an agreement between the contracting parties, ie. the bride, being represented by the bride's guardian and the groom, and included in that agreement any conditions that may be thought of should be brought to light, and recorded. The "maher" or marriage gift (dowry) must be agreed upon and paid as well. This is not "buying" the bride, but it is a gift, and it is for the bride only, not for her father, or anyone else. This maher could be money, or some other commodity, or thing which has value to the bride. But, nowadays it is basically money. This money is sometimes kept in the bank, and sometimes spent on the wedding preparations. Either way, it is the brides to do with as she sees fit.
According to Islam, in order to make any marriage legal, it must be announced publicly, except in extenuating circumstances, and it should necessarily have a party or dinner included in its celebration, which should have some happy drum playing and singing, or songs. We need to keep in mind though, that this was simple playing and singing and not like hiring a rock band to play, which wouldn't be allowed technically in Islam. That is why you see so many weddings here in Kuwait that employ what are called "tagaagaat", which literally means "the hitting, or beating women", who play a traditional type of Kuwaiti drum, and sing.
In Islam, no woman or young girl is to be forced to marry any man against her will. Islam is very specific about that , and doesn't leave any leeway in the matter, in fact, it is to the point that if she is not consulted, she has the right to cancel the wedding, or marriage, even if it had taken place already. It is also required in Islam that the two people who are possibly going to get married should see each other before they are actually married. It was and in some tribes, still is, the practice that families would marry off their sons and daughters and never let either one of them see each other until the wedding night. Islam abolished this practice and gave everyone the right to see the person that they would possibly marry.. What happens if they hate each other on sight? So, they are allowed, and in fact, encouraged to see each other prior to agreeing to marry. Although this is not to say that Islam allows them to date. it doesn't. But they may sit together in the presence of others and talk, and get to know each other better. Now it is a common practice even among the bedouin, that the marriage contract will be finalized, although the wedding will not take place for several months sometimes. During this time, they are considered "engaged" although, technically they are married legally. When the "milcha" (contract signing) has taken place, then the pair are allowed to go out together to various public places, like the movies, restaurants, and shopping. Often, this is the time when the new couple plan and arrange for their living quarters. They buy furniture together, and decorate, etc., and otherwise, just get to know each other!
This reminds me of a story that I heard, about the brother of a friend of mine, who had been married a couple of times, and couldn't stand the women that his family was marrying him to. So he told his sisters that they had better find him a gorgeous wife this time, or he would leave her in the wedding hall. So they found a suitable person, and set up the wedding. The man reminded his sisters of what he said he'd do if he didn't see what he liked. So along comes the night of the wedding party, and the man is nervous going into the wedding hall to meet his new bride. He is seated next to his bride in the usual Kuwait style, on a throne-like set-up, and he is trying his darndest to sneek a peek at his new bride. (All this is being captured for posterity, by the way, by the never forgiving video camera!) So he finally greets success in his veiwing efforts, and he is pleased by what he sees. He proceeds to grab the corners of his "gutra" (head dress) and do a kind of dance-like motion to the beating of the drums that are playing loudly. Of course, he is oblivious to how ridiculous he looks, but to his horror, sees the video at a later date, and, of course, dies of embarassment! All this simply reminding us of what we already know. I mean you wouldn't buy a car sight unseen, and marrying a wife or a husband is far more important to one's life than buying a car! Is it not?
In Kuwait, as well as all the other Islamic countries, everyone has their wedding and engagement customs and each country, group of people from that particular country and, indeed, even the individual families and tribes have their own special customs, whether they are part of, perhaps, centuries old traditions, or if they are from the traditions of a certain bedouin tribe or the other. In modern times, such practices often go according to the current fashion of practice in a particular place. For example, here in Kuwait, many of the traditional practices are not done any more, and have been replaced, instead, by new trends in marriage "coolness". Each season new and more amazing and wonderous new cool things that will amaze and awe the attending people are thought up. Sort of like the show of the century in wedding bliss.
All in all though, what it all boils down to is two people who are looking for happiness and want to try to find it together, while, perhaps, raising a family as well, if they are so blessed. Isn't that almost everyone's dream after all, no matter which country or culture they hail from?