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Wedding rings an ostentatious ornament in Saudi Arabia

Over the years, wedding rings shifted from a thin gold band to diamond rings spotted from miles away

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Wedding rings have become a firmly established tradition in marriages in almost all cultures today, but the exact origin of the wedding ring is unknown.

Wedding rings have been around in history for thousands of years. Some historians say that the Pharaohs were the first to invent the wedding band. Archeological discoveries, some dating back 3,000 years ago, reveal the exchange of rings made from braided natural materials.

This ancient society viewed the circle of the wedding band as a symbol of endless love between a man and woman.

Later generations considered taking off the ring as a bad omen. Another story attributed to the Greeks says that a ring was placed on the ring finger of the left hand because they believed that this finger held a special vein directly connected to the heart, the vessel from which love flows forth. The vein was coined vena amoris (vein of love).

In ancient Rome, the practice of the groom presenting a ring to his bride was reserved for the elite class and was one of the conditions to make the marriage legal. Most rings at the time were made of iron.

Unlike the Egyptians’ romantic view of the rings as symbols of love, historians believe that the Romans viewed these bands as symbols of possession. The wife now belonged to the husband.

The ring as a gift is permissible; it is the competition in how expensive, how big, and how showy the ring is which is looked down upon in Islam. Wedding rings only appeared in Saudi Arabia less than 100 years ago.

An elderly Saudi woman, Rahmah Hasan, who got married 70 years ago, said: “Back when I got married, all the women in my generation did not receive wedding rings, it was not part of our culture then. Just before the wedding, the groom would send gifts to the bride; usually gold bracelets and a necklace. When my eldest daughter got married the idea of wedding rings became commonplace, but it was only a plain gold band. Today, wedding rings have been turned into a new trend, fashion statement, and symbol of high social status.”

Several years later the wedding ring went from a thin gold band to diamond rings that could be spotted a mile away.

Diamonds are the gem of choice because of their rarity and exquisite, sparkling characteristics.

Sentiments from the West have crept into our society, such as “Diamonds are forever” or “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” dooming the groom to several years of financial debt if his family is not wealthy and willing to pay off his matrimonial bills.

Although extravagant appearances and displays of wealth are common in Saudi society, it would be an unfair generalization to assume that all Saudi brides indulge in these practices.

Some young couples are mature enough to settle for beautiful but simple rings and what matters more to them than the size of the diamond rock is the message they engrave on their rings.

Favorites have always been the name of the bride and groom and date of the wedding.

For an extra measure of creativity and uniqueness, one couple engraved “Once upon a time” on her ring and “Happily ever after” on his ring.

“From the wisdom and experience gained throughout my years, I have realized that when the bride and her family burden the groom with so many expenses and material demands, marital problems almost always arise soon after the wedding.

“When I was younger, women accepted simple gifts, they were easy to please, the marital process was facilitated for the young man, and as a result we were happier and our marriages lasted.

“When the purpose of marriage shifted from building solid families and raising God-fearing children to ostentation and boasting, the results were devastating and marriages failed,” said Hasan.

In Islam, there is no such emphasis on a wedding ring. The groom is required to pay the dowry as a gift to the wife and it must be paid to her, not to her guardians.

It is a symbol of honor and respect and to show that he is entering the marriage contract with a sense of responsibility, obligation, and commitment.

During the time of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) the gifts given in marriage varied from a ring to other pieces of jewelry to gold or silver coins to land.

There was no maximum limit placed on the value of these gifts to the wife, yet the Prophet praised the women who did not demand exorbitant amounts.

A penniless man asked the Prophet to marry him to a woman who was aware of his destitute situation yet accepted him as her husband nonetheless.

The Prophet instructed the man to give his bride something as a gift, even if it were a ring made of iron.

The man owned nothing except for the clothes on his back. The Prophet asked whether the groom had memorized anything of the Quran and the man said he had learned several chapters.

The Prophet allowed the marriage to go through on the condition that the man would teach his wife the parts of the Quran that he knew.

Over the years, Muslims adopted the idea of wearing wedding rings, without any basis in Islamic history.

Wearing wedding rings is not considered unlawful in Islam, but it is a habit introduced into Muslim culture rather than stemming from it.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.