Splashing out can lead to divorce

A documentary film-maker says people like to 'show off, but it's all on credit' and expenses like wedding and dowry provisions can cause a lot of conflict.

Alia Salem and Maitha Hamdan, who both study media at Dubai Women's College.
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DUBAI // When Omran al Redwan decided to get married four years ago, he braced himself for the high costs associated with a wedding, including a dowry for his wife-to-be. But, soon after getting engaged, his fiancée informed him that she did not require a mahhar, or dowry. "I thought she was so kind and that I have to take care of her for the rest of her life," said Mr al Redwan, a 27-year-old banker from Sharjah. "Now, anything she wants, I will pay for her. But, she doesn't take anything she doesn't need and I just think about her happiness."

Mr al Redwan knows that his experience is not the norm and said excessive amounts spent on weddings, including dowries, were putting immense pressure on young couples beginning their married life. "I know a lot of stories of men who have too much debt on their backs and they had many fights because of this," he said. Maitha Hamdan, a film student at Dubai Women's College, recently tackled the issue in a short documentary, The Dowry, that was screened at the Gulf Film Festival. Miss Hamdan, 22, described her understanding of a dowry as a "present for the bride from the groom".

"But, the money can cause a lot of conflict, which can even lead to people getting divorced," she said. "The average guy is taking a loan to cover the cost." Some of the women in Miss Hamdan's film questioned their worth if a man was able to pay tens of thousands of dirhams for a car, but not for her dowry. "There is an idea that is spreading in our society that everything is perfect and people like to show off, but it's all on credit," Miss Hamdan said. "Sometimes they don't even have Dh1 to show for themselves. It's out of control."

Dowries here can include an amount specifically for the bride, as well as money to cover some of the wedding costs. Hessa Mohammed, 23, from Dubai, was given Dh100,000 (US$27,000) when she got married. The amount included the cost of her make-up, hairstyling and wedding dress, she said. "This is a normal amount," she said. "Some people ask for more, because everything is so expensive." The make-up for her wedding cost Dh3,000 and her hairstylist charged Dh2,000. Two years on, her husband is still paying back the loan he took to cover the wedding costs.

"We have a child now, so we are trying to manage the costs," she said. According to Rashid al Mazroui, a 25-year-old government employee from Sharjah, his wife's family did not ask for a large sum when he got married two years ago. "I gave Dh40,000, which, compared to others, is very low," he said. Mr al Mazroui believes the average to be around Dh100,000 to Dh150,000. "Not everyone has this budget, so they are forced to take loans," he said.

Bader al Awadhi, 25, from Ajman, is yet to tie the knot, but experienced the dowry debate when his brother got married and the amount was set at Dh150,000. "In our family, we help each other, so we all contributed so that he didn't go into debt," he said. "This amount is nothing. We've all heard of amounts reaching around Dh1 million." When he does get married, Mr al Awadhi, 25, expects to give around the same amount as his brother.

"But if I was in love with someone, I would try to do whatever it took," he said. Alia Salem, a 19-year-old university student from Dubai, who is yet to be married, said she would expect a dowry of around Dh100,000. "But, for me, the most important thing is to find a good man, who should be committed to being a good father and husband," she said. "He should be religious, kind, gentle and funny - not a playboy." @Email:zconstantine@thenational.ae