What if no one proposes?

Hamdah Hassan investigates the culture of marriage proposal in the UAE and finds that not everyone is against a woman taking the lead.

First in a four-week series of essays by Dubai Women's College.
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'I always dreamt of wearing the white wedding gown, having a fancy wedding that everyone talked about, and having babies and a big family; I always wanted to be a successful housewife. However, deep inside I knew that my dream might not come true unless someone proposed," says Fatima Al Kaabi, a 30-year-old Emirati.

Is there another option?

In a culturally conservative country such as the UAE, a woman's proposal is considered inappropriate. It is rare that a man or his family would accept it.

Abdulaziz Al Hammadi, a marriage counsellor at the Dubai Courts, Family Guidance and Reconciliation Section, notes that a woman's proposal, including one from her parents, is considered a sensitive issue even to discuss here.

"It's hard to convince society to accept the idea of women proposing to men," he says.

Al Hammadi cites a few cases he dealt with where the father of the bride had arranged to propose by approaching the groom's family.

"This type of marriage is very rare and usually happens between very closely related families," Al Hammadi says.

Culture and tradition in the UAE can impact people's mentality and thoughts, and control their actions and how they look at things. Abdulla Hammad, a 28-year-old operations officer, thinks it is inappropriate for a woman to propose to a man.

"It is the man's job to propose, it is human nature and a man will always want to feel responsible," he says. Hammad thinks it would be disrespectful and humiliating for the man if a woman asked for his hand in marriage.

This belief is not restricted to Emirati men. Some Emirati women have a similar way of thinking and are concerned about how people would judge them, as a woman's proposal is so rare.

"It's shameful; I will never take the initiative to propose and I will not let my parents do so either," says Reem Ahmed, 26, who would find it awkward to propose. "I don't want him teasing me and telling me that I was the one who pursued him."

Unlike some Emirati women, Mona Yaqoob, an HR employee, does not mind the idea of her parents approaching a man.

"Things would be much better if a woman's parents could find husbands for their daughters," she says. Yaqoob adds that this would help to decrease the percentage of spinsters.

Rashed Al Matrooshi, a university student, agrees: "I wouldn't mind if a woman came and asked for my hand in marriage, especially if it was someone I loved and didn't have the courage to ask myself."

There are people who are willing to accept women's proposals, but with some conditions because marriage is a lifetime commitment.

"I wouldn't have a problem if a woman or her family proposed to me," says Mansoor Sultan, an engineer. He notes his main concern is to get to know the girl and her family before the marriage, and that his parents should also accept the girl.

There are many points that parents and women should consider before proposing, because rejection is most likely to happen and no one wants to be in such a situation.

"If any woman or her family decides to propose, they should find the right way to do so," notes Al Hammadi. He adds that the parents of the woman should ask a lot about the family they are proposing to, whether or not they are open-minded about such matters. He emphasises that this should be done indirectly or through someone the family trusts before they actually propose.

Parents, especially mothers, are sensitive when it comes to their daughters' marriages and will worry if no one proposes. Amna O, a mother of two daughters, rejects the idea of finding a husband for her daughters.

"If I do so, people will immediately think that something is wrong with my girls, or I want to get rid of them," she says.

Some Emirati women have taken the risk and proposed to men. Alia Saleh, a banker, was in love for four years and wondered why her loved one did not propose.

"I thought I should take the first step, so I asked my mother to approach his family, and they accepted," she says. "Sometimes a girl should stand up for what she wants and try hard to get it."

Hamdah Ali, a senior development executive, did the same with the man she thinks is the one for her.

"I met him five years ago, and we have been in a relationship ever since," she says. "He never brought up the subject of marriage, and when I finally worked up the courage and told him how I felt, he rejected me and said he is not thinking of getting married now." Despite this, Ali has not given up on the relationship.

Sultan Salem, a university student, was proposed to by a woman.

"I was speechless when my parents said that our neighbour had asked me to marry their daughter," he says. Salem was even more shocked when his parents showed interest and asked him to seriously think about the proposal. He had no intention of doing so because the proposal came from the woman.

He may soon be in a minority.

Women have altered many traditional gender roles in recent years since they started running for high governmental positions, competing in sports and owning businesses. As many women take on larger leadership roles in the workplace and in society, with moral support from their families, perhaps they should also consider taking the lead in marriage proposals. Fatima Al Kaabi would certainly approve.

Hamdah Hassan, 25, of Dubai, is a radio presenter at Noor Dubai Radio Station. She is finishing her bachelor’s degree in public relations and strategy.