Modern Wedding Traditions Seen Throughout the Arab World

A look into the multiple events that make up traditional Arab nuptials.
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Christina Drury
christina drury headshot
Christina Drury
The Knot Contributor
  • Christina writes for The Knot providing useful advice for couples around the world.
  • Christina works as a freelance writer with more than a decade of experience.
  • Christina works in the wedding industry as an invitation and accessory designer and makes it her purpose to keep up-to-date on all trends.
Updated Jan 18, 2023

No matter where you travel in the world, you're likely to find different cultures embrace different styles of engagements and wedding traditions. Arab weddings are not only lavish celebrations that can go on for days, they're rich in traditions. They typically take place over a few days with a number of prewedding and postwedding events that involve the bride and groom's families. Arabic wedding traditions have been passed down for many decades, though it's not uncommon to see some modern twists.

A Brief History of Arabic Wedding Traditions

The roots of Arab weddings can be found in Bedouin traditions, an Islamic wedding ceremony absent of any foreign influences. Traditionally, arranged marriages are common, but not forced, as both parties must agree to the union. The bride and groom's families are heavily involved in the planning and execution of the wedding ceremonies.

Arabic Prewedding Traditions

In the Muslim community, there is an Arab prewedding tradition called the tolbe, also referred to as a Tulba. Only the bride, groom and their families are in attendance during this event, which takes place at the bride's house. This tradition consists of the groom, along with his family, visiting the bride's home and formally asking her family for her hand in marriage. When both parents agree to the marriage, they read from the Holy Quran, enjoy a light snack together, and then the wedding planning begins.

In the past, the tolbe was a necessity. However, in modern times, many either choose to forego the tradition or carry it out more as a sign of respect rather than a true asking of the bride's hand.


Some Arabs may also choose to hold a Radwa. This is a small gathering where the men ensure the women are pleased with the event. The father of the groom will congratulate the couple formally. The radwa typically takes place within a day or two prior to the wedding.

Henna Nights

In some countries, Arab wedding traditions include a henna night. This involves decorating the bride and groom's hands. In regions where they have modernized, this has turned into a women's only party, where the guests eat, drink and dance. The bride and her attendees have their palms and feet painted with henna in intricate patterns.

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The Dowry

The Mahr, or dowry, is a tradition that's still widely honored in Arab weddings. It's a gift, usually gold, the groom pays to the bride. In the event of divorce, she keeps the gift.

Arabic Wedding Attire

The attire for Arab weddings varies depending on the event. During the katb Al-kitaab, both parties dress in a conservative manner. Arms and legs should not be exposed. Women need to wear scarves, a hijab is not necessary, to cover their hair.

If the marrying parties are honoring the traditional wedding attire, they should dress in conservative wear. This means long-sleeve wedding dresses with a hijab for women, and a kandura, a robe with a zibban cord, for men.

What Should Guests Wear?

Female wedding guests in attendance at an Arabic wedding should wear knee-length or longer dresses. They may also be expected to cover their heads. Those that follow the more traditional Arab weddings should take care to wear more conservative outfits. Men can wear kanduras or suits.

Arabic Wedding Ceremony Traditions

The katb Al-kitaab is the Arabic name for the wedding ceremony tradition. It's a quiet, short event that involves a sheik listing the conditions of the marriage. He tells the man how to honor his wife and then tells the bride how to treat and honor her husband.

Both the bride and groom sign a marriage contract at the end, as do two witnesses, usually the eldest men. Once the witnesses sign, the marriage is official. Some may also refer to this as a nikah.

Arabic Wedding Reception Traditions

The Arab wedding reception is called a Walima in Arabic. It's hosted by the groom's family. The groom pays for this, as is the tradition in Islam. It involves the married couple's families and can be an extravagant event that includes a DJ or live music, a giant dance floor and delicious food.


Most traditions Arab weddings also include a zaffe. This involves the married couple making a grand entrance to the reception. Most times, the bride's father walks her to the groom. The married couple moves their rings from their right to left hands to signal the union. The zaffe is a grand wedding reception that includes a procession of drummers. There's a lot of dancing, and guests participate in the zaghrouta.

Wedding Dance

Dabke is the word for the traditional Arabic wedding dance. Professional dancers and attendees alike participate. Most weddings don't involve many people sitting down for a long time. In Egypt, it's common for Arab weddings to have belly dancers.

Traditional Wedding Food, Drinks, and Desserts

Arabic wedding food is served in a buffet-style setup. On offer are a variety of meats, stew, salad, fruits and other sweets that honor Arab cuisine. Falafel, hummus, baklava, and baba ghannouj are among the dishes commonly served.

A wedding cake is a staple at an Arabic wedding, but the cake cutting is noticeably different than those in the Western world. The bride and groom will cut the wedding cake with a large sword. This sword is usually one that's passed down from the groom's family just for the event. Arab weddings, especially Muslim weddings, do not serve alcohol. However, Turkish coffee is usually available as are teas.

Arabic Postwedding Traditions

At the end of the Arabic marriage ceremony comes the Barmet Al-aroos. In this ceremony, the newlywed couple leaves in a highly-decorated car. Friends and family members follow behind, playing loud music and honking their vehicles' horns to announce the union to the world.

When it comes to the couple leaving the event, the timing depends on the specific region where the wedding occurs. Some ceremonies involve the guests leaving after they eat, whereas others involve the married couple leaving the reception for their guests to enjoy.

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