February 11, 2006
On Arab Weddings, Female Grooming and Ablutions
After spending the better part of six hours preparing for the wedding of a friend the other day, my entry into the wedding venue later that evening was almost totally overshadowed by how tired and irritated I was feeling. The length of the preparation and the reasons for it probably require a separate entry. Grooming, makeup etc were each respectively interrupted by prayers making for some absurd situations (such as praying 'Asr, the third prayer of the day with one eye fully made up and the other plain and bereft, somewhat reminscent of an injured pugilist). Nevertheless I was very proud of myself for timing it all impeccably, hairdressed after ablution in between 'Asr and 'Maghrib, makeup before 'Isha prayer and nails polished (nail varnish blocks water from reaching the nails and hence invalidates the prayer) after.
As we entered the hall (a grand structure embellished by so many chandeliers and faux gold fittings that would have been impressive had they not been so grossly gauche) we were met by female attendants who took our abayas and confiscated all mobile phones with camera capabilities (obviously since we were all potentially unscrupulous agents of perverse men who got off pics of female guests). If the phones were not voluntarily surrendered, the butch cloakroom attendants performed a full body search, bless them, probably the most fun they were going to get out of that evening.
As fellow guests disrobed, everything from haute couture simple black gowns to ridiculous feathered monstrosities were exposed. As we made our way into the main seating area, the loud shrill voice of the wedding singer split the air and drowned out our greetings to the mother of the bride. On the dance floor teenagers and young girls danced in the traditional fashion, generally got in your way and stepped on the train of your dress as you made yor way to your seat. As friends arrived I settled and released a premature sigh of inevitable boredom, these weddings are at least six hours long. As we guzzled down funjan (cup) after funjan of strong coffee and stole moments of silence between songs to chat I noticed the racial division of labour. The staff serving the coffee and hors d'oeuvres were Filipino, cleaners and cloakroom attendants were Egyptian and the members of the band indigenous black (still regarded an inferior category). The latter were interesting, almost entirely made up of pre-pubescent girls, they had no instruments other than hand held drums or duff. As this was still a somewhat conservative family, the band only used instruments deemed permissible in Islam. It was rather ironic hence, when Daniel Beddingfield came on as accompaniment to the bride's arrival and walked down the red carpet, (the gossip being she insisted on this concession since it was her wedding and if they weren't going to allow it she wasn't going to get married and I'm an only daughter anyway so there) we all breathed a sigh of relief as his soothing tones mollified the wild ones shrieked out by the 'religious' band. Not all agreed however as a friend of mine left the hall in civil disobedient objection and returned only when the song was over, missing the highlight of the wedding.
The bride turned out exquisitely but as she came down the stairs under a spotlight all on her lonesome the absence of a groom by her side made the whole proceeding distinctly hollow. It was more like playing brides and bridesmaids than a real wedding. Before you start pitying the groom for missing this magical moment, his bride's procession was all captured on camera. Despite the efforts of the camerwoman to keep the camera trained on the bride, several guests reached for their bags or skimpy shawls to cover their faces, leaving, bizzarely, many other parts exposed, anonymity supposedly more sacred than modesty.
The bride seated herself and we proceeded to get wasted on chocolates and coffee as we voyeuristically beheld the guests dancing. As the evening progressed dancers grabbed their friends and whirled around like dervishes as if with male partners in rather erotically charged moves and steps. All halal and pure of intention of course as were all of the outfits. None dared breach the navel to knee ban. The only sins comitted were those of fashion - many drowned as they went overboard labouring under exagerrated attempts to bedeck and bejewel.
By the time dinner (breakfast?) was served we were all nauseous on sugar and caffiene. We made our way into the dining area (built on a floor of transparent marble atop an artifical lake) and proceeded to merely pick at obscene amounts of food, all suffering from a sense of anti-climax. The bride was only there for half an hour, she sat alone in her butterfly shaped chair and none of us even knew if she was happy. She had met the groom on the night the contract was signed and the wedding registered so literally, this was not even her wedding night. That had passed quietly some weeks ago. We picked up our abayas and dropped each other off, all deflated and not really in the mood for postmortems. What the hell was that all about anyway? So much had been done to make that wedding happen in such a way that all female guests would not have to suffer any offences to the separation law, that they would be able to wear whatever they wanted and exhibit the natural vanity and decorative qualities that they all so crave and are of which they are deprived. But a senes of futility hung in the air. Had we just witnessed the holy union of two people?
I stumbled into my room wanting only to sleep, head swimming with visions and ears still ringing. As I closed my eyes the call for dawn prayer resounded. I opened them again and heavily made my way to remove my makeup and wash for prayer before I noticed. I still had nail polish on and my carefully devised plan had missed one detail. There was no varnish remover in the whole house.
Posted by bint ash-shaitan at February 11, 2006 03:56 PM
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(nail varnish blocks water from reaching the nails and hence invalidates the prayer) liya kalima: al-hamaqa. Legalistic hamaqa. Saudiyah.....
On the other hand in the context of Saudiyah:
(obviously since we were all potentially unscrupulous agents of perverse men who got off pics of female guests) sadly this makes sense.
This does require some comment:As this was still a somewhat conservative family, the band only used instruments deemed permissible in Islam: should read, binti, permissible in the uniquely Saudi view of what's permissible in Islam. I personally despise given 'ubdan 'abdelwahhab the right to say what's acceptable.
For all the nit-picking, good work. Give me a Maghrebine wedding any day (even allowing for the horrible habit of the using bizarre echoey synths to play chaabi).
Posted by: The Lounsbury at February 11, 2006 11:08 PM
Even more sadly L, the ubdan Abdul Wahab definition if what is permissible music wise has spread to other parts of the Gulf and North Africa. A plethora of Islamic munshideen has arisen the most popular of which being Ahmed Abu Khatir of the Emirates (a post about these serene young handsome rock stars is in the making). Re your point about uniqely Saudi view of Islam, the whole post should be read through that disclaimer.
As to legalistic hamaqa, I'm afraid there is no monopoly on that, as you can see from my meticulous mind numbing efforts, it triggers OCD in the most rational and balanced of us.
Posted by: Bint at February 12, 2006 05:25 AM
Bah, bloody narrow-minded wahhabite rotted fools. However, for the innocent, I would suggest editorial clarity on this being Saudi madness. I find it eternally frustrating that so many Westerners have Saudi/Khalije as their image of the region..... turns me murderous.
Music: I don't know Abu Khatir, maybe I should listen to him. However, I unsurprisingly have have a prediliction for Rai.
I look forward to a post about young handsome rock stars. I presume Khaliji? No Rachid Taha? (On the other hand is Rachid handsome?)
Posted by: The Lounsbury at February 12, 2006 02:35 PM
Oh Rachid is delicious. Has that whole Russian doll thing going on and that smile. Much prefer the hair without white dye though.
Yes, most are Khaliji but there are some Egyptians and even a new entry at number one from Azerbaijan via The Royal Academy of Music in Regent's Park. Bukhatir is actually quite good, if you are into harmony overkill.
Posted by: Bint at February 12, 2006 05:09 PM
what does "[t]he bride turned out exquisitely" mean in this context? ya'nii - what are the notions of "exquisite" wedding dress in riyadh these days? if it's a rather traditional family - do the guests pay respect to that in their own choice of gowns? does the islamicization of society also show in fashion - are there more "arab" dresses en vogue?
what kind of food is served?
also - during all those hours ... what do the women actually DO? can't imagine everyone dancing - however "modest" the music may be ... do women introduce their daughters of age themselves or do those girls just parade around?
how much are those places venues for young women to network? does one actually meet any new people or do already-set networks stay amongst themselves? how are seating arrangements done? are guests mixed?
so much for now.
Posted by: raf* at February 12, 2006 05:46 PM
"islamicization of society"?
It may be my Maghrebine instincts, but wearing neo-traditional or traditional costumes doesn't strike me as 'islamicisation'
Posted by: The Lounsbury at February 12, 2006 06:11 PM
the islamicization of society had been accompanied by a traditionalism - including the "return to arab/islamic dress" and a scorning of "western garb". maybe not in the maghrib - i wouldn't know.
so, what i said is "islamicization accompanied by traditionalism", NOT "traditionalism equals islamicization".
Posted by: raf* at February 12, 2006 06:29 PM
Not in the Maghreb. The fashionable in society always stuck with traditional caftans, etc. Or neo-traditional. I suppose the Levantine weddings are rather different. I only attended high society ones, and indeed those were quite Westernised, yes.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at February 12, 2006 07:13 PM
In a sense both L and raf are correct (I so do hate playing the diplomat but I am afraid they are). In the Maghreb and Sudan for example traditional dress is favoured during weddings and is more garish and expensive the more high class and/or non-traditional the family is. (There is a thriving trade in Sudanese women's thobes in Geneva and London). In Saudi Arabia and bilad ash-sham more modern gear is favoured. Hence the bride was exquisite in the same sense that a Western bride would be, white dress embroidered with gold leaf etc..
The food was a mixture of generic Arabic dishes and some random Western ones (a rank lasagne being one) but there was a separate buffet for Gulf dishes (kabsa e.g).
The women who don't dance sit, drink coffee, gossip and generally get bored shitless.
Young girls are introduced but for the large part stay within familiar gaggles, tables are reserved by family names, if the guests are not family they are led to tables reserved for friends of a common background (eg college colleagues etc)so there is little mixing, not that desirable in any case as it woud limit clique's freedom to gossip and bitch, half the fun of these extravaganzas in the first place.
Interestingly re L's point concerning garb, it just strikes me now that for men traditional dress is much more popular in Gulf countries. I wonder if that is because the traditional female gear is boring or because more modern gowns are a refreshing anti-thesis to the black abaya. Hmm
Posted by: Bint at February 13, 2006 08:06 AM
First, for those of you in l-Jazirah, perhaps some comment on this amusing FT article: Saudi lovers suffer blues over red roses by the ever observant Roula Khalaf.
Second, re modern gear - well you should google caftan marocain. Nothing unmodern about Maghrebi chic. There are even plunging neckline versions. But let me refrain from indulging in nationalist passions.
There is an interesting sociological dynamic going on. Levant, Khalije - white wedding silliness. Maghreb, neo-traditional to the T (although men are sort of 50/50 on suits versus djellaba-seroual-tarbouch outfits; I personally like the djellaba chic. Have to get a kicking selham one day, live out my Wali fantasy Wali Bou Lounsbury).
Posted by: The Lounsbury at February 13, 2006 01:40 PM
More absurdity. Some even fly their flowers in freshly on private jets from less anal parts of the Gulf. To go even more down the road of the laughable, students at primary and secondary schools today were warned that if any one of them wore red tomorrow, there would be an immediate suspension.
You'd think it was one of those countries were people fell in love and took loving partners all the time..
Posted by: Bint at February 13, 2006 03:36 PM
But it also quoted a sociologist who said that since Islam preached love all the time, why should one particular day be devoted to celebrating love?
So much one could do with that. Since we are supposed to love and honour the country all the time, why is there a National Day? Since we are supposed to be spiritually cleansed and restrain desires of the flesh all the time, why is there a Ramadan? Actually, why pray at all. The non- sequitur possibilities are endless.
Posted by: Meph at February 13, 2006 04:10 PM
Bint: Some even fly their flowers in freshly on private jets from less anal parts of the Gulf. That is, anywhere else.
Meph: Actually, why pray at all. The non- sequitur possibilities are endless.
Ah. Please, why restrain yourself?
In any case, we've got a rich field of commentary. The sociology of overdone wedding dresses, why white euro style ones versus chic caftans. (Reminds me I have to negotiate caftans with the woman)
The theology of celbrating love or why pray at all.
Lots of things.
(Never mind I believe Bint should have treatise on the Levantine Vamp in Airports. If only for me.)
Posted by: The Lounsbury at February 13, 2006 08:07 PM
quoting l: Never mind I believe Bint should have treatise on the Levantine Vamp in Airports. If only for me.
and cough*me*cough. with e-mail address and/or phone-number. not for me, of COURSE ... they're for ... a friend.
Posted by: raf* at February 14, 2006 05:23 AM
Oh come on now, all you need to do is hang out around Solidere land.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at February 14, 2006 03:41 PM
Ya Wali Bou Lounsbury, treatise would be forthcoming if I didn't already have caged Levantine banaat coming out of my ears. Maybe when there is more distance and I am not as traumatised I can draw one up with objectivity, at the moment severly compromised- don't want to touch off the bey.
Ya bey (so many titles, maybe I should start demanding that I be called sit el banaat as opposed to the plebian bint), L is right, you'll do fine without me, in fact, am surprised you're not beating them away with a fly swat what with you being a Levantese bey and all..
Posted by: Bint at February 14, 2006 05:02 PM
L- Self restraint is not one of my virtues, am afraid that bint ash-shaitan is much better endowed where that is concerned.
Posted by: Meph at February 14, 2006 05:06 PM