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I once knew a gentleman in Saudi Arabia who lived in the small town of Ayun Al Jawad, a town, give or take, four hours drive from the capital city Riyadh. Both parents had died while he was in still his teens. So it fell upon Mohamad’s oldest sister to search for a wife for her only brother, as any conversation or contact between a man and an unrelated woman is strictly forbidden in the conservative country, preventing any young man engaging in a direct search himself.
Eventually, through a network of his sister’s contacts, a potential wife was found in the locality. Both the lady herself and her family gave permission for Mohammad to call to the family home on the allotted evening, which he duly did, with his sister in-toe as the chaperone.
Now, here’s where the story starts to get really interesting.
A lady in Saudia Arabia is not permitted to show her face to a man who is not a close family member. Therefore Nadia, the lady, appeared in the living room of the house to meet Mohammad in fully black ‘burka’, inclusive of face veil, permitting Mohammad no view of his intended wife other than that of her two eyes. In such circumstances, it is normal for the young man to ask the family’s permission for their daughter to lift her veil so that her husband-to-be may view her face. But this being the first visit, Mohammad thought it a little impolite to ask for the unveiling. Therefore, he did not.
Only one more visit occurred before the wedding. And again Mohammad decided against asking his betrothed to lift her veil. Even at the wedding registration, Nadia wore full covering and face veil, as is the custom. Neither did Mohammad get to see his wife’s face at the wedding party, as wedding parties in Saudi Arabia take place along strict gender lines – one party for the ladies, and one party for the men, preventing the mixing of unrelated males and females (even at wedding parties) in accordance with religious custom.
So the first time that Mohammad got to see his wife’s face was on their wedding night.
I met Mohammad many years later when he told me the story of the meeting with his wife for the first time and the subsequent wedding. He introduced me to his four very good-looking pre-teen children, who served us dinner in the dining room of his family home, made by his loving wife for us hours earlier. As is the custom, during the visit, I never got to meet, or see, his wife.