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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Underwater engagement video in UAE makes waves online amid debate over traditions

Many couples in the social media age strive to be different when it comes to their wedding vows, sometimes at the cost of receiving online abuse

Mohammed Bin Talib and Shayma Abu Sulaiman get engaged on a dive off the coast of Al Aqah, Fujairah. Mohammed Bin Taleb
Mohammed Bin Talib and Shayma Abu Sulaiman get engaged on a dive off the coast of Al Aqah, Fujairah. Mohammed Bin Taleb

From a motorbike wedding to an underwater engagement, in the social media age couples are always searching for new and interesting ways to publicly declare their love.

While the break from tradition concerns some observers, younger generations, and particularly those with a disposable income, thrive on standing out from the crowd.

One example was a video that went viral earlier this month. It showed an Emirati man and a Palestinian woman getting engaged while on an underwater diving trip, off the coast of Al Aqah in Fujairah.

Mohammed Bin Talib and Shayma Abu Sulaiman are both dive enthusiasts and are among the founders of The Seven Emirates Diving Voluntary team, which organises clean-ups of diving and fishing sites across the UAE, so they were delighted with their engagement 16 metres under water, which came at the third attempt.

Ms Abu Sulaiman, 31, said that most people liked the idea and congratulated them, though there were some who found it odd and too distant from Emirati culture and traditions.

“It’s something unusual and unique and therefore we expected supporters and critics. Some thought that I’m Emirati and said that it doesn’t go with the country’s culture and traditions and some took it from a religious point of view and criticised my hijab,” she said.

“For us, we believe that it represents who we are and what we do. It also promotes the country’s diving sites and encourages people to preserve and protect marine life. We accept all the opinions and this won’t stop us from arranging for an underwater wedding ceremony.”

Mohammed Bin Talib and Shayma Abu Sulaiman got engaged while diving off the coast of Fujairah. Ms Abu Sulaiman said most people congratulated them but some found it far removed from Emirati tradition. Pawan Singh / The National
Mohammed Bin Talib and Shayma Abu Sulaiman got engaged while diving off the coast of Fujairah. Ms Abu Sulaiman said most people congratulated them but some found it far removed from Emirati tradition. Pawan Singh / The National

Mr Bin Talib, a 45-year-old Emirati diver from Dubai, said what is most important is to make his wife-to-be happy.

“My duty is to make her happy and I knew that this would put a smile on her face. Diving is part of our life and a passion we share together and whatever makes her happy makes me happy,” he said.

“The plan was to go under Dibba rock in Al Aqah but the current prevented us from staying still underwater so we tried another diving spot near the rock.”

After two attempts the couple finally found the right spot to fulfil their wish of having a memorable engagement.

In one tradition that remained, Ms Abu Sulaiman said she did not expect what was to come and was surprised.

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“I didn’t know that he was planning to do it and I was really happy and surprised,” she said.

Julie Zion, managing director of Julie and Romeo wedding planning agency in Dubai, said that today’s weddings may be different but most still keep traditions alive.

“Clients are always asking for really unusual designs and it's never extravagant enough. Every concept is unique and, of course, challenging,” she said.

“I don’t say people tend to move away from traditions, as it’s important to keep the culture, but times have changed. On one hand, I see more and more GCC clients asking to implement traditional Western wedding elements, on the other I see expats wanting to show their care for their GCC friends so they build small ‘kosha’ (a stage used in local weddings).”

Ms Zion said that couples with the money like to spend big on extravagant weddings, with some costing millions of dirhams as they are asked to build an entire venue from scratch.

“One wedding cost Dh1.5 million as we had recreated the entire area from floor to ceiling at short notice, and delivering it for a huge number of guests,” she said.

“A good wedding at a five-star beach property for about 150 to 200 people can start from Dh120,000 and may reach Dh250,000, depending on the kind of entertainment, décor, sound and lights chosen by the couple.”

Another wedding video that caused a sensation online, in February last year, was that of an Emirati couple who rode a pair of Harley-Davidson motorcycles from their reception at Abu Dhabi’s Al Raha Beach Hotel.

The couple ended up filing complaints against 35 people for threatening and insulting them online and said they had to cancel their honeymoon to the Seychelles due to threats levelled at them for “acting in a manner that contradicted UAE traditions and values, and for breaking the rules of hijab”.

Despite the potential consequences, another wedding planner said the desire for different and extravagant weddings has never been stronger.

“An Indian couple wanted a flower shower from a helicopter over them as they arrived to their reception and we arranged it and we are even making a couple enter as it they are floating on clouds after choosing an Under the Stars theme for their wedding,” said Rachna Chadha, the CEO of BAQAA Glamour Wedding & Events.

“I have been in the industry for 30 years and this business requires hard work, passion, commitment and personal involvement and we always try to fulfill our client’s desires but sometimes it gets challenging and undoable, as once a couple wanted to set free 1,000 white pigeons but we couldn’t arrange that due to municipality rules.”

As for the underwater couple, they are planning their similarly wet wedding ceremony for December.

“We are planning to arrange it in Abu Dhabi and will add some chairs for other fellow divers and a kosha with a two-seat chair for the bride and groom,” said Mr Bin Talib. “It’s not going to be easy but we will do our best.”