GCC still lacks union of wedding standards

Weddings in GCC countries like Saudi Arabia and other predominantly Islamic nations can be just as lavish as those in the West, but there remains a big divide regarding what is expected of the men and women involved.

A recent Slate magazine article, “The Bride’s Side,” examined some of the challenges that brides and grooms must navigate in more conservative Islamic countries like Iran. The country can boast a booming wedding industry -- Tehran alone has approximately 1,500 studios that photograph weddings -- but it is at least in part because weddings require an equal number of both male and female photographers to cover the separate venues required. Gender separation is a traditional part of Islamic culture, extending to an important event like a wedding.

Other types of stricter Islamic rules, such as dress codes, might be relaxed for a wedding, but gender separation is still commonly upheld.

A 2016 National Geographic article offers an inside look at the separation that occurs at some Islamic weddings.

In the article, photographer Tanseem Alsultan talks about some challenges of shooting weddings in Saudi Arabia, including dealing with a lack of visible personal emotion in some brides and grooms and trying to cover everything that goes on at one of these complex celebrations.

“I enjoy the weddings that are truly because of respect and attraction,” Alsultan said. “And once those two happen, then it's an amazing wedding, regardless of what the culture and the society is.”

The Gulf News Journal spoke with Hammad Ahmad, imam at the Beit ur Rehman mosque in Silver Spring, Virginia, about the Islamic traditions. Ahmad studied at Jamia Ahmadiyya Canada in 2011, and has worked in Vancouver and Winnipeg, as well as Rabwah, Pakistan and Buvuunya, Uganda.

“In general, Islam teaches the separation of genders,” Ahmad said, adding that the rules are intended to prevent potentially immoral behavior based on natural attraction between a man and a woman.

“When genders mix freely, it gives rise to these types of relationships,” Ahmad said.

He said it's also a matter of respect for women.

“This really is a way in which a woman's respect and status is elevated in Islam,” Ahmad said.

Of course, the relatively libertine attitudes in the West, and even in younger generations of Muslims around the globe, can make this tradition a challenge to champion.

“We want to make sure our modern generation understands the traditions,” Ahmad said, acknowledging that, especially in places like the United States, the belief in separation faces significant pressures.

“In the West, you can't escape (mixing genders in public),” Ahmad said, encouraging individual Muslims to set personal boundaries that they are comfortable with, and that follow their own beliefs within the tradition of Islam.