From henna to honeymoon: Wedding traditions in the Middle East

As wedding season is in full swing, here is a rundown of special customs and traditions for women in the Middle East that vary from country to country

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As wedding season is in full swing, here is a rundown of special customs and traditions for women in the Middle East that vary from country to country.

Palestine’s henna

The henna party is the Arab version of the West’s bachelorette party. “Henna usually takes place one to two weeks before the wedding night,” Nada Darwish, owner of Ciy Bride Boutique in Saudi Arabia, told Al Arabiya News.


Even though Palestinian women traditionally dress with hand-embroidered gowns known as a thawb, “brides nowadays tend to have different themes for their henna nights,” Darwish said. “It could be Bollywood, Arabian nights or any other ethnic ambiance.”


Female friends and relatives of the bride join her in the celebration, which includes food, drinks, dancing, and a woman in charge of drawing henna - a temporary skin decoration - on the bride and guests.

Iraq’s Qiran union

The Qiran union is commonly known as the lawful or religious wedding. Like most Muslim countries, Iraq requires the bride and groom to get married through a religious representative known as the Maazoun.

“The religious event is as important as the wedding night,” Darwish said, adding that the bride would wear a colorful dress.

During the ceremony, the groom joins hands with his future father-in-law to make the marriage official in the presence of two witnesses.


After the Qiran, the new couple gives out candy in special cups to family and friends to inform them of their union.

The Lebanese zaffe

The zaffe is a cultural dance that takes place at weddings in the Arab world and specifically in Lebanon.

In recent years, the zaffe has become a modern wedding tradition in Beirut, with a troop of dancers performing in anticipation of the couple’s entry.


In many weddings, the bride is carried on the shoulders of the zaffe team and brought into the party.
Saudi women-only wedding

Weddings in Saudi Arabia are celebrated in two separate halls, one for males and the other for females.

“Saudi women don’t wear the traditional abaya [cloak] during a wedding night, but extravagant and distinctive dresses as they aren’t in company of men,” Darwish said.


“Weddings in Saudi are very luxurious and expensive, and each bride wants to make her night unique.” During the wedding night, the bride and groom would only be seen together during the zaffe.

Moroccan kaftans

Moroccan weddings are among the most traditional in the region. During the ceremony, which can last from three days to a week depending on the financial situation of the couple and the region, the bride wears her best kaftans in the form of a coat or overdress, usually reaching to the ankles and with long sleeves.

“Brides [in Morocco] usually choose their dresses according to traditions, but also depending on the location of the wedding and the weather,” a Dubai-based sales executive said.


“Religion also plays an important part in the choice of the dress,” she said, adding that Muslim brides prefer to “cover the arms and shoulders.”

The bride can change her kaftans up to seven times, but usually finishes with a white one. Brides in Morocco also wear a lot of jewelry and make-up.

Egypt’s honeymoon

The honeymoon in Egypt differs from one part of the country to another. In the countryside, the newlyweds rarely travel for their honeymoon.


Instead, they stay home for the first seven days of their marriage, before receiving friends and family who bring gifts, food and other supplies.

In urban parts of Egypt, married couples commonly spend the first night of their wedding in the hotel where they celebrated their union, before travelling to resort areas such as the Red Sea or abroad.

**Addendum: A previous version of this article contained copyrighted images which were used without permission and wrongfully attributed to a false source by the author of the story, in a way which impacts credibility. Al Arabiya English regrets this mistake, the disputed images have been removed.

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