Marrying blindly in the Middle East


Marriage is essentially a bond or better yet commitment between two people who in some cases truly love each other. Imagine being introduced to your future spouse on the day of your marriage? This is an idea unheard of in western nations but a reality in middle eastern countries such as Yemen. Yemen follows Islamic law with reference to marriage & divorce. However, marrying an unknown person is not religiously motivated but rather cultural.

This particular practice of marrying blindly is not necessarily the norm in all marriage proposals. Yemeni culture is rich with heritage passed down from centuries of family traditions. Islamic law prohibits sexual relations before marriage making dating an unpopular ritual amongst youth. Dating and communication is turned to a blind eye when the couple is engaged however. Thus an engagement is a direction which offers individuals an opportunity to know each other before their marriage is finalized.

Marrying blindly sounds like an arranged marriage but differs as the couple are not forced to marry another. The pair being conjoined are well aware of their fate and proceed with the risk. At anytime one of the party’s can cancel or refuse with completing the arrangements.


So how do they know that they will be attracted to one another? Attraction is the most important factor when choosing a partner although we commonly refute that personality is the primary shareholder. Nonetheless how do the couples become attracted or interested in each other without being introduced?  For example,  a gentleman named Ahmed recently got married in New York and he proceeded with blind marriage.  He did not see his wife until the day of the Islamic wedding/nuptials.  Ahmed told me that he himself did not see the girl prior but his mother did.  So in this case the bride to be was described in detail during conversation and Ahmed had to visualize the image.  Also the same type of description is depicted to the brides family of how the gentleman looks like.  So there are always two sides of a story.


Others have mentioned that they were not allowed to see the girl prior to engagement but were told that she looks like the mother but were not allowed to see the mother.  Also men are told to stand outside of the house to allow the girl to see the male prior to making a decision or accepting his proposal.  There are more chances for the females to see the males through pictures or other images versus the opposite.  The most common way however is for the mother to see the girl and report back to her son with characteristics.

Yemeni mother hunting for a bride

Yemeni mother hunting for a bride

It is common for a Yemeni mother to hunt a wife for her single son.  Similar to how a lioness searches food for her cubs.  The prey being the future wife to be in this case.  It is almost always expected for young adult Arabs to marry between the ages of 18-25 especially in Yemen with more cases being younger than older.  When a man becomes of a certain age, people will begin to criticize him for being single or expect him of having extramarital affairs and committing fornication.  Women however are believed to have a disablement or even handicap if she is not wed by age of thirty.  The common phrase is “what is wrong with her” if an adult woman is not married but for a guy they will say “he has a girlfriend”.

Reputation is an important factor in the Arab community.  Yemeni parents will influence their children to wed and sometimes pressure them to save reputation.  Marrying blindly without seeing the other person comes into play because of “reputation”.  Parents that practice blind marriage do not want men to see their daughters because it will harm her reputation or chances to get married in the event he is not interested.  A man being non-interested will allow people to conclude that her beauty is lacking.  Thus the reputation being damaged and the girl becomes undesirable to others.

Sounds absurd but growing up Yemeni in America, even I have come to expect this practice.  The question people tend to ask the most is if these marriages work?  Well divorce rates in the middle east are virtually low with only 2.5 couples out of 1000 and this is on the higher end of the spectrum.  Yemen has a very low divorce rate but could be because the initial dowry was high to begin with.  Yemeni parents charge a very high dowry for their daughters marriage with prices ranges anywhere from 10,000 to even 60,000 dollars for only a dowry.  Also the marrying couple must sign an agreement that the divorcing party must pay a fee of the same amount.  So the husband will have to be either super rich in the event he marries and divorces thus divorce being relatively low in these countries.  Divorce is frowned upon because it can harm an individual’s reputation.  There is a negative stigma attached to divorced men and women. Some couples tend to stick together to save their family name from humility.

As for myself, I can speak personally that blind marriage can be intimidating but will allow two individuals to know each other from scratch.  This allows for the marriage to grow and unites a bond.  Sometimes a person becomes too familiar with the other person and marries after their relationship has already been exhausted causing for a divorce but in these blind marriages; we are starting from the beginning and making every second count.

A.K. Maleeke

4 replies »

  1. So, you agree with blind marriages then? I got confused while reading this piece… Also, don’t you think that divorce rates are low because the men can marry more than one woman and the decision to file for divorce is ultimately in the hands of the man? In other words, many of these marriages are probably not happy or healthy.


    • It could be a great marriage or it can land in divorce, its 50/50, probably just like in any relationship.

      I do not agree or disagree with the concept of marrying blindly because I grow up with this being a part of my culture. Its something my parents, siblings, and I experienced first hand. i grew up in America however and got to experience different types of relationships so it was weird when I experienced it myself but it was something I came to expect.

      In regards to divorce following Islamic law, a man & Female must have justification to divorce. Both parties can divorce if they choose however there is a stigma associated with a divorced couple (more so on the female).


  2. One more point… you mentioned reputation. You are right about that being a key factor in determining the rest of someone’s life in the Middle East, especially in a country like Yemen. Don’t you think that this is part of the problem? The fact that when a woman is divorced, she is seen as damaged goods, and her chances of remarrying someone age appropriate and socially acceptable are actually really bad. Don’t you think this is one of the reasons that divorce rates are low? The women settle to save face, so they condemn themselves to an unhealthy marriage…


    • Yes, that is definitely a possibility and I am sure a lot of woman stay married due to this fact. There is a stigma attached to a divorce woman, especially in Yemen.

      However divorce is becoming more common in Yemen. There is still a stigma however females are no longer pressured to feel they must stay unhappily married.

      Things are changing for the better, slowly but its definitely changing. I see a big difference from when I was a child to now, more women are standing up for their rights (including that in marriage).


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