x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

When a proposal comes with a knock, family asks why

There is a sense of great pride and honour attached to lineage, and every family has a story or at least one figure in their past they are proud to be related to. This is not a uniquely Arab trait.

There are some marriage proposals that one can never forget.

A recent one involved a knock on my door in my building by an elderly woman who was familiar to me as I looked through the peep hole. I opened the door, smiled and asked how I could help her.

She introduced herself as the mother of a neighbour, who lives on the same floor as me, and then without hesitation went into great lengths about her son.

"He is well mannered, kind, handsome, tall, has a good job and he has seen you over the years and feels he knows you very well," she said with a big smile. "Would you like to meet my son and give him a chance?"

It turns out her son is my next door neighbour, and yes, he is tall and attractive. I would be lying if I didn't say I noticed him carrying grocery bags or dressed in a suit as he passed by my door or we happened to take the lift together. I just assumed he must be married.

His parents live across from him in a separate apartment. I felt flattered and honoured that anyone would even take a chance like that on a complete stranger. They didn't even know my name or what I do for a living as the mother asked me these questions the day she came to my door.

It was interesting that they would even approach me not knowing anything about my background or origins. When it comes to marriages in the Middle East, or conservative communities in general, origins and family still matter. When it comes to marriage, disturbing the family tree is nearly unheard of.

There is a sense of great pride and honour attached to lineage, and every family has a story or at least one figure in their past they are proud to be related to.

This is not a uniquely Arab trait. Families in many cultures take pride in being able to trace back one's origin to great warriors, royalty, legendary artists or important historic figures. But we take it to new levels.

On my mother's side, we have a massive wall-size woven family tree embroidered with names added over the years, with family members who actually accomplished something getting special golden threads sewed next to their names.

For example, we have a very important classical music composer in our family, and we always joke that we have "music in our blood". But did any of the current generation actually compose anything? No.

It is not enough to just rely on the accomplishments of our ancestors. We all have to add or leave our own mark. I have been at many gatherings where a group would be arguing about whose family is better or "more honourable" and whose blood is more pure or blue or purple. Actions speak louder than words, and it would be nice to see some of these men actually live up to the courage and wit of their ancestors.

I recently met a specialist in Saudi Arabia who is going around and rechecking families who made a claim to a particular family name or family tree. He told me that over 40 years ago, when people were taking up nationalities across the Gulf, no one was double checking the authenticity of the claims and therefore many have added tribal names as their last names when in fact they were not even Arabs to begin with.

"Someone who went around saying he is related to Prophet Mohammed and would brag about it turned out to be originally from India with not a single drop of Arab or tribal blood in him," said the Saudi expert. "It may seem trivial to some, but family names and origins are still very important in the Arab world and especially in the Gulf, not just for marriage, but also in work, official and social gatherings."

Roots define us, and often they are even used against us. People today still discriminate and judge us based on our origins instead of our accomplishments.

As for my handsome neighbour, the potential groom, we may come from different backgrounds and stories but I was still flattered to have been asked.

But alas, I'm still single in the city.



On Twitter: @Arabianmau