Whether at work, university or even a shopping center, young Qatari females dress in the most beautifully designed ebayas and designer bags. Their conservative veils and ebayas like any other cultural attire act as barriers leaving many, who are foreign to the local ethos, to wonder what’s behind the black clothing they wrap themselves into.
Behind the ebayas
Young Qatari women have to live up to many social norms especially for behavior and conduct. The dominant religion in Qatar, Islam, embeds many of the social norms into the Qatari culture. Therefore, many of the practices that seem normal for young women to do in other societies are not in Qatar. Dating is one of these things. In Muslim societies like Qatar’s, relationships between men and women before marriage are discouraged.” If a guy likes you and wants to get to know you, we don’t call it dating, we call it engagement,” said Susan Zaghmout, an Islamic educator and a counselor. “It has to be official, through the father.” During the engagement period, the man and woman get to know each other through phone conversations, and if they’d like to see each other, they can do so but with companions. And if feelings develop, then the union can go further.
For Al Jaber, a 20-year-old Qatari female, young men and women date although forbidden. “It’s not okay to date but a lot of people do it anyway,” she said. “There’s a lot of different ways of dating.” Al Jaber said the first step to dating is getting a phone number. “This is how guys know girls not only in Qatar but in all of the Middle East,” she said. Writing numbers on napkins or saying them out loud in malls or even following young women to their homes are ways in which young men and women begin to date. Because unmarried local females cannot be seen in public with other males, meeting places are limited. In addition, females cannot be open about dating especially to their parents. Therefore, young females tell their families that they’re going to meet a friend when they’re actually going to meet their partners. A girl might even skip school to meet her boyfriend. However, dating is still uncommon. “It still a taboo,” said Al Jaber. “Some girls don’t want to risk their reputation.”
Meeting the opposite sex
In culture where dating is not option, there are many other ways in which women can get involved with men. One of these ways, it’s getting engaged. You’d be surprised by the number of proposals a young Qatari female receives from a man who’s seen her at a shop, party or just at work. In most cases, a Qatari man proposes to a woman because his parents or another close family relative suggested her to him.
Although arranged marriages seem to be outdated and obsolete in many Western or Europeans societies, many people still practice it in Qatar in the most modern ways. If people haven’t found a match through someone they trust, people depend on matchmaking or matrimonial websites. Other popular options in Qatar used to find a match are through matrimonial agencies or agents to find their compatible match.
Om Khalifa is one of the many matrimonial agents whom people depend on to find an eligible life partner. The 47-year-old married Qatari woman has been in the matchmaking business for about 15 years, which is a business that has been in her family for generations. Om Khalifa’s matchmaking process is confidential, but her clients are predominantly women. Most women do not leave their homes because in the Qatari society, it is considered a shame if an unmarried woman goes to public places on her own, or with other unmarried men or women. Therefore, women are not seen by others to be able to find a suitable husband by themselves.
Although Om Khalifa encourages all kinds of marriages, she finds arranged marriages comply best with society she lives in. “We can not forget that we are Muslims and we have to take our traditions and cultures in consideration; therefore, arranged marriages are best,” she says.
“Dating is not for marriage,” said Al Jaber about the reason why local girls date. “They’re just having fun.” Yet, young females are not public about their private life especially if they’re dating. “I haven’t heard of a Qatari girl who’s outspoken like they keep it on the down low. They don’t go public with this kind of information,” said Al Jaber. She, however, sees the Qatari society opening up to the practice of dating, but she doesn’t believe it will ever be incorporated to or conventional in the Qatari culture.
The next step
In many societies where dating is ordinary, people commonly use it as a way to meet their ideal partner. On the other hand, in Qatar where dating is a taboo, most people find it as a way to break the rules. In this conservative Muslim society, there’s no room for rare and insignificant practices like dating that have very little impact on the local population. Western practices have always found their way into traditional societies, dating could be just one of those common influences that appeal only to the young generation.