I’m a bit of an anomaly in the Arab-Muslim community in that I have attended very few weddings in my life. The first time I went to a wedding I was 13 years old, and it was a sex-segregated wedding.
A sex-segregated wedding is exactly what it sounds like: a wedding where the men celebrate in one hall and the women celebrate in a separate hall. It’s pretty common in a lot of Arab cultures, which came as a surprise to me at 13 because I’d never heard of them before.
My family is Egyptian, and in Egypt, sex-segregated weddings are pretty much unheard of outside of towns and villages in the countryside. Even very conservative families will first eliminate music and dancing from the festivities before they will be willing to send people off into different rooms based on their gender.
Frankly, for a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the idea, sex-segregated weddings seem a little sad. It’s supposedly the happiest day of your life, and your father, brother, and the man you’re actually marrying aren’t even in the same room with you! Isn’t that totally sad?
Turns out, not so much.
When I talk about this with my friends who have had these kinds of weddings or are going to have them soon, the last thing they’re thinking about is whether their father is there. If anything, they’re kind of relieved. It means they won’t have a man standing over them as they try to boogey down with their friends and celebrate the happiest day of their lives. They actually feel bad that I’ll be having a “mixed” wedding, because as a Muslim woman who covers her hair, that means that I won’t be wearing a sexy dress or dancing at my wedding.
Since that first wedding so many years ago, I’ve attended a few more, and with the exception of my aunt’s, they’ve all been segregated. Here is a list of things to know if you’re planning to attend one of these celebrations, or if you’re just curious. Consider me the wedding anthropologist:
1. Sex-segregated doesn’t actually mean “no boys at all ever.”
When hijabis are not wearing hijab and a guy walks in pic.twitter.com/m7EARETvuD
— Moosa (@Moosa__IRQ) June 10, 2015
At some point, there will be men in the ladies’ room (meaning, the room the ladies party in), and it’s usually the very father, brother, and husband of the bride that I used to worry about not being able to attend to their bride relative. At one wedding I went to, we all went in knowing there would be men in the room, because they were doing the religious ceremony, for which, of course, the groom must be present. Once the religious ceremony was over, they took a few pictures and went on their way.
At another, the groom and the bride’s family made a surprise appearance in the middle of the festivities to take pictures with the bride. Therefore, if you cover, be prepared to grab your headscarf at a moment’s notice.
If you don’t cover, don’t freak out when all the ladies who do cover duck under their tables and grab their headscarves seemingly out of thin air.
2. These weddings are not conservative.
Did you think that because these weddings separate by gender that they must be run by the ultra-conservative, super-religious types? Yeah, no. Sex-segregated weddings have more to do with culture than anything else, so prepare to be shocked at what some people think is appropriate attire for a wedding. Let me just say, at that first wedding I went to, there was a woman wearing a dress that was basically a skirt bottom and a bikini top tied very, very loosely.
I saw things, you guys. They haunt me to this day.
3. Dress up!
Take it from someone who has learned this the hard way: there is no such thing as being overdressed at an Arab wedding. If it’s an Arab segregated wedding, you better believe everyone will be dressed like it’s their wedding. If there was ever a time to splurge on a mani-pedi, professional hairdo, and sexy gown, this is it. Don’t try to cut costs.
I made the mistake of letting my mother cut my hair the night before my friend’s wedding, and she, for the first time in 18 years, messed it up. I had to keep my hair up all night.
4. You may not have pictures to remember this by.
I know we live in a “pictures or it didn’t happen” world, but some of these weddings may not allow you to take photos to preserve the privacy of the women attending. I really have nothing to say about this, except that this is why you have a memory.
Make some room in there in between ad jingles and the plot of your favorite movie, because I guarantee it’ll be an unforgettable night.
The best thing about attending weddings in cultures that are different from your own is that you get to experience those cultures in a party setting. So stuff your face till you’re ready to burst, dance like it’s 1999, and most of all, tell the bride how beautiful she looks and what a wonderful time you’re having.
Tell her this a lot, because wedding planning is stressful, and after that, she has to go and live with a boy.
And I think that’s a plight we can all sympathize with.