DUBAI // Nasser al Ali beamed as he stood on the steps of the lavish reception area in his starched white kandoora, a ceremonial black and gold bisht, or cloak, draped around his shoulders. He had lots of company.
Standing in three rows were 47 other men, all of whom were about to embark upon their married lives. The mass wedding was organised by the Marriage Fund and paid for by the Union Co-operative Society in Dubai, which spent Dh500,000 (US$136,000) on the event. Mr al Ali, who works with Sharjah Police, showed no signs of pre-wedding nerves as he and the other grooms waited for hundreds of guests to arrive at Al Boom Tourist Village, where the celebrations were taking place. Many had opted to take part in a mass wedding because of the high cost of hosting their own parties.
"It's too expensive to get married and take a loan," said Mr al Ali, 23. "If you save your money from the beginning it is better." He had considered getting married for the last two years and finally decided to tie the knot when he met his future fiancee, a 19-year-old student from Dibba. Since becoming engaged in December, they have got to know each other better, talking on the phone and occasionally meeting, always with a family member present. His bride-to-be will move to Sharjah, where they will live with his family, in the next couple of months.
"I am too happy at the moment," Mr al Ali said, as he waited for the arrival of around a dozen male members of his family. "My whole family is proud and excited." Traditionally, Emirati weddings take place after the couple sign their marriage contract, with separate celebrations held for the bride and groom. For Mohammed al Jallaf, who works for the Army, the celebration had extra meaning as he and three of his closest friends were celebrating their weddings on the same night. Like many of the other young men, Mr al Jallaf, 25, was introduced to his future wife by a family member. He too will move into his family's home next month with his new bride.
That practice, he said, helped young couples to experience the reality of family life together for the first few years of marriage. Mr al Jallaf's father has already passed on some key pieces of advice for married life. "He said, 'Be patient, don't rush and think before you do anything'," he said. "Right now, I just feel really happy. You're getting married, so of course you feel happy." Seated on the plump semicircular sofas in the reception area was Adel al Mehairi, 29, from Sharjah. Like the other men gathered in the hall, he said the high cost of holding a wedding reception had prompted him to apply to the Marriage Fund when he heard that a mass ceremony was being organised.
Spending Dh200,000 "for one day is too much", he said as the other grooms nodded in agreement. "It is good for us to have it for free, not to pay Dh1." As the guests began to arrive, there was a flurry of activity in the reception hall as the grooms straightened their kandooras and made sure their ghutras, traditional head scarves, were on correctly. Each groom was allowed to invite up to 15 family members.
As the sun went down, the glittering lights went on and music began to play as members of a singing group outside the hall lined up, facing each other and waving their canes, while youla performers moved in the middle, twirling their replica rifles in the air. Sheikh Rashid bin Hamdan Al Maktoum, a member of Dubai's ruling family, arrived to greet the grooms later in the evening before the crowd moved to the opulent Rashid and Latifa Ballroom. The grooms then led their guests into the vast hall, where a fountain bubbled under huge chandeliers, for the meal marking the final stage of the celebrations.
By 10pm, as the party started to wind up, the 48 grooms and their guests began to depart, including Mr al Ali - not quite a married man, but ready to start the next stage of his life. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org