Behind the Harem Doors: What the Real Life of Arab Wives Is Like

Polygamy and harems, the absence of education and legal lack of rights, glittering diamonds and hijabs – the lives of Arabic wives have so many stereotypes in the eyes of foreigners that it becomes difficult to distinguish the truth from the myths.

Bright Side decided to find out what the real life of beautiful and mysterious Eastern women is all about.

Arranged marriage

  • Half of the marriages in Arabic countries are still arranged according to the parents' will. And most people think that nobody asks the opinion of the girl. In fact, if the future bride doesn't like the groom, she can refuse his proposal.
  • The signing of a marriage contract is compulsory. Unlike the rest of the world, it's a mandatory rule in Arab countries.
  • Arabic women rarely marry men from other religions because they can be deported from their country for such a marriage. Men have more privileges in this situation and are allowed to marry Christian and Jewish girls. But in this case, the girl will not get citizenship and the children will stay with their father if they divorce.
  • The age for getting married. In most Arabic countries there is a minimum age for grooms and brides, which is 18 years old. For example, citizens of Tunisia can get married at 18 according to the law, but the average age of brides is 25 and grooms are 30. However, in some developing countries, early marriages are still popular. In Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for example, most of the girls get married before the age of 18.

Wedding ceremonies

Traditions vary in different countries, but an Arab bride and groom celebrate their wedding separately.

  • The "male wedding" can be celebrated on a different day to the wedding of the bride. As a rule, it is very simple: tea, coffee, dinner, and communication lasting not more than 4 hours in total. The weddings of brides are celebrated much more widely in a big town hall with waiters and artists.
  • The "female wedding" is an occasion to show off in diamonds, designer shoes, and evening outfits because usually all this beauty is hidden behind hijabs (or abayas) and veils. That's the reason why only women can attend such a wedding. Men are strictly forbidden here. The staff are only women, including singers, photographers, and DJs. If a famous singer is invited to the celebration, he will see neither the bride nor the guests because he will be performing behind a screen or in the next room and broadcasting the songs to the main hall.
  • The visit of the husband is announced in advance so that all the women can cover themselves with abayas. If the husband arrives with his brothers or father, then the bride is also covered with a white abaya because even the relatives of her husband can't see her beauty.
  • It is prohibited to present things related to alcohol in the Arab culture, including wine and champagne glasses. People usually present different handmade artworks that can be used in the interior of the couple's future home. It's also prohibited to present gold jewelry and silk for men.


  • Most marriages are monogamous. Not every Arab man can afford to have several wives. Islam allows them to have up to 4 wives, but each of them should be provided with a house and be given equal amounts of gifts, attention, jewelry, and so on. Having several wives is a privilege of sheiks and very wealthy people.
  • The first marriage is the most important. No matter how many wives a man has, the first "great" marriage remains, and the first wife is "senior."
  • If a man finds another wife, the other wives should accept it. They must follow the will of their man and not show any emotions. As a rule, all of the wives live in different houses and don't meet often.


  • According to the old tradition, a man willing to divorce his wife could repeat the phrase "I divorce you" 3 times. After that, his wife is supposed to stay in his house for a certain period to ensure that she is not pregnant. During this waiting time, the husband can get his wife back by simply saying, "I take you back." He is allowed to repeat this procedure 3 times. After the 3rd divorce, he is not allowed to remarry her.
  • A woman can apply for a divorce if her husband doesn't provide for her well enough. Such cases are looked through carefully in courts, and they are often fulfilled. In the Arab world, men express their love not with flowers but with gold and jewelry. For example, a husband must go with his wife to restaurants and buy her expensive gifts and clothes. If he has several wives, then an equal amount of attention and gifts should be given.
  • In other cases, it might be very difficult for a woman to get a divorce because courts often make prejudiced decisions supporting the side of the husband.

Women's rights

Despite the stereotypes, an Arab woman is highly respected by men. She shouldn't feel the need for anything.

  • Arab women were among the first who got the right to get married as per their own wish, initiate divorce, and have their own property. This happened in the 7th century when women from other countries didn't have such opportunities. Islamic laws considered the marriage between a man and a woman as a contract that was recognized as valid only when both partners showed their agreement. Moreover, at this time, a woman's right to own property and use the assets that she brought to the family or earned was introduced.
  • Weekly women's days. Once a week, all beaches, aquaparks, and beauty salons in the UAE open for women only. A man will simply not be allowed to enter any of these places.
  • However, the wife of a Muslim does everything with the permission of her husband. If she wants to go somewhere, she first must tell her husband about it and get his permission.


  • Women should hide their bodies under loose clothes. They can wear anything under these loose clothes: miniskirts, jeans, and shorts. Many fashionable girls envy the outfits of Arab beauties. But when going out, a woman must cover herself with a loose gown to the heels and hide her face behind a veil. All because her beauty is for her husband only, and other men mustn't see it. The exceptions are "female" celebrations and weddings where there are no men. Here, women can show off their designer collections. However, this custom is not followed everywhere, but women should cover their heads in almost all Arab countries.
  • Kuwait is the only Arab country where women wear European clothes outside. Still, they should be modest and appropriate.
  • Unlike Kuwait, there are countries such as Yemen and Sudan where old traditions are still on the go. Women must wear black robes hiding them fully from head to toe.

Education and work

  • If a woman wants to get an education, it's not prohibited. Many girls even go abroad to study. In Jordan, for example, only 14% of women are illiterate. In the UAE, 77% of girls enter colleges and make up 75% of the total number of students at the University of Al Ain.
  • Household chores are on a woman's shoulders. But in rich countries, this duty is fulfilled by housemaids, and the main task of a woman is giving birth to babies and raising them.
  • Careers exist. In the UAE, 2% of executives are women, 20% of administrative positions are occupied by women, and 35% of the country's labor forces are women. On the stock market of Abu Dhabi, 43% of investors are women. Also, in the United Arab Emirates, women can hold the position of a judge and work in government departments, such as the police force. More than 26% of parliament is made up of women in Tunisia. The obstacle here can only be the fact that in many Arab countries a woman cannot go to work without the permission of her husband or guardian.

Are there any other interesting facts about Arab women that you know? Please do share them in the comments!

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