The Middle East is the origin of the three main religions in the world, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Historical facts reveal that Christianity dominated the Middle East in the period around the 1st century until the Muslim conquest occurred in the 7th century AD. There are diverse traditions and beliefs prevalent in the Middle East Christianity, which differs from other parts of the world. Presently, Christianity is only 5% in the Middle East population from a whopping 20% in the 20th century (Spierings, 2019). Although history reveals unknown facts concerning Middle East Christians, the predominant religion in the areas is Islam as approximately 20% of the global population of Islam lives in Middle East (Anson, 2017). Therefore, their marriage customs involve Islamic practices and traditions. The Middle East comprises of 17 countries, which influences different marriage relations and practices depending on the government regulations and country of origin. However, most Muslim people globally conform to the Islamic practices and laws specified in the Quran during marriage ceremonies.
Crocco, Pervez, and Katz (2009) assert that Middle East regions are predominantly known for laws that control the dress codes of travelers within the nation. The ideas resulting from the Quran teachings, which require women to dress modestly, include wearing a headscarf. Women traveling to Middle East countries regardless of their customs require wearing or at least being in possession of a lightweight headscarf. Women, who do not conform to the preferred dress code, which include wearing a long hijab, gain unwanted attention from grown men, and grinning from teens.
As a monotheistic religion, Islam is believed to function as an extension of both Christianity and Judaism. The belief starts from the understanding that Muhammad, God’s prophet sent to man, is the last prophet. Muslims hold that Adam was the first prophet, then came John the Baptist, Jesus, and lastly, Muhammad in that order. There are three main groups of Muslim religious groups comprising of the Sunni, the Shia, and the Ahmaduyya. The Sunni forms the large following then comes the Shia, and lastly, the Ahmadiyya who form the smallest sect of them all. Most Muslims term the Ahmadis as a heretical (Hunt, 2018).
Motzafi-Haller (2016) suggests that the two main sects of Islam, which comprise of the Shia and the Sunni, conflict in the Middle East. Although the sects are in agreement with the fundamental tenets and teaching of the Quran, they differ in different aspects. The main difference is on the person, who led the Muslim community after Prophet Muhammad’s death. The main schism between the sects was the Siffin Battle. As years passed by, additional challenges occurred as the sects now differ in culture, beliefs, and practices (Ostovar, 2018). The two communities depict a significant number of conflicts over the years. The Sunnis’ community dominates most part of the Middle East.
However, Kaynak, (2015) suggests that Shia is categorized into three main groups consisting of the Zaidis, Twelvers, and the Ismailis. The Twelvers are the most influential and largest group among the Shia sect members, which comprise of approximately 88% of the Shia people (Reiss, 2011). Approximately 95% of the Shia population in the Middle East resides in Iran, with 55% and 65% residing in Iran and Bahrain respectively (Momani, 2015). Similarly, the Zaydi Muslims form approximately 40% of the Yemen population (Cora, Derderian, & Sipahi, 2016). The Zaydi’s Muslim sect emerged out of Shia Islam in the 8th century. The name Zaidi originated from Husayn Ibn ‘Ali,’ a man they recognized as their fifth Imam. Husayn gave the sect the name of his grandson. Zayid’s Islamic jurisprudence comprises approximately 40% of Yemen Muslims (Canefe, 2018). Zaidis differ from the other sects, as they do not believe in Taqiyya, religious dissimulation.
Moreover, Schroeder (2019) views that the Alawis also termed as the Alawiyyah, the Nusayriya, or the Alawites, refers to a syncretic sect from the Twelver branch from the Shia Islam. The Alawis predominantly reside in Syria where they revere Ali ibn Abi Talib, also known as Ali. The sect holds that Ali is the first Imam in the Twelver school, but is seen as Ghulat by other Shia Islam sects. Ibn Nusayr is also believed to have founded the religion during the 9th century when it was fully established. Hence, the Alawites sometimes might be referred to as the Nusayris, where they are called the نصيرية, Nusayriyyah in Arabic. Despite its use, in recent time, the time has been used to depict contempt. Similarly, Ostovar, (2018) use of terms such as Ansari, Ansarriyyah in Arabic, have received a belief of mistransliteration where it is called the Nusayri.
Modern research confirms that 11% of the Syrian population consists of Alawites with few of them residing in Northern Lebanon and Turkey (Kaynak, 2015). The village of Ghajar in Golan Heights also reports the existence of the Alawites population. The main confusion arises between the Alevis, who are mainly based in Turkey and the Alawites. Most towns and coasts in Syria comprise of dominant groups of the Alawites, but some are Ismailis, Christians, while others are Sunnis. The traditional resident of the Alawites is the An-Nusayriyah Mountains through the Mediterranean Coast in Syria (Reiss, 2011). Tartus and Latakia form the region’s main cities, which forms part to the resident of the large Alawite’s around Homs and Hama. Historically, the Alawites are known to conceal the details of their religion to non-initiated Alawites among other nonbelievers. The main focus of the Alawite belief system comprises of three aspects of one God. Approximately 12% of Syria population comprise of Alawites, who prefer life in the larger cities with statistics holding that 2.6 million people of the 22 million Syrians are Alawites (Momani, 2015).
Ultimately, Cora et al. (2016) assert that the last and the smallest group of syncretic Islam are the Alevism. The heterodox group uses the combination of traditions used by the Sufi, Shia, the locals, and the Sunni. The ideas thrive on the teachings of the Twelve Imams, named Ali, a descendant of Saint Haji Bektash Veli, a 13th century’s Alevi. The Alevis mostly reside in Turkey among the ethnic community of the Kurds and the Turks. Canefe (2018) holds that approximately 10%-25% of the population, which translates to 10 million to 25 million, comprises of the Alevi’s Islamic brand. Their practices involve the use of cemevi halls as opposed to the use of mosques as a place for worship.
Moreover, Spierings (2019) men and women are allowed to take part in worship ceremonies involving dancing, music, and wine. They also fail to meet the five days requirement by Muslims' requirement of five days salat and prostrations in a daily manner for five days. Common practices involve bowing twice before their spiritual leaders. Events such as Hajj and Ramadan are seen as acts of true pilgrimage. Ostovar (2018) argues that the Alevis possesses similar traits prevalent among the Twelver Shia Islams, but fail to follow Taqlid towards Marja as an emulation source. Some of the similarities involve the Ahl al Bayr, the commemoration of the Karbala, observation of the Morning Muharram, and the Ashuras observed during the day. There are some elements prevalent among Alevis that are adopted from tariqa, Bektashi.
Anson (2017) suggests that the Quran holds that Muslim couples are like clothing to figurative mean that they should comfort and protect one another. The husband and wife relations should involve a show and concealing the human body because the couple is made for one another. Most matters of marriage are derived from the Quran, as Islam believes that the sacred text presents the wishes of Allah to his followers, Muslims. Muslims hold marriages with high esteem, as it is the preserve of religion. Hunt (2018) views that Muslims believe that the constructive and productive nature of the family helps create good and righteous people in the society. Equally, families encourage and compete with members to create good works that serve Allah, God.
Similarly, Hunt (2018) emphasizes that single women travelling alone require bringing a ring that resembles a wedding band. Carrying a photo of a man, who would pass as their husband to be is also vital. The pseudo wedding band helps the single female remains off the market. However, having children is also a valuable aspect in Middle East countries, when asked, one can gracefully address the question with inshallah, which means that you are open to the idea, but God’s will is the ultimatum of it.
Despite the different groups of Muslims and contradicting beliefs, Motzafi-Haller (2016) demonstrates that Muslims believe in Polygyny. However, there are some restrictions that come with polygyny while polyandry is highly discouraged. According to Chapter 4 Quran Verse 3, it shows the number of women that a man can marry and the conditions for marrying the women (Anson, 2017). According to the Quran, marrying more than a man can take care of is considered an injustice to the parties involved. The verse that says, “…but if you are unable to justly deal with more than one wife up to four, you should not marry them,” confirms that the Prophet allows multiple wives so long as the husband will not falter his duties (Schroeder, 2019). The groom must kiss the bride three times and one time on the cheek and the forehead respectively (Crocco et al., 2009).
Although polygamy remains an acceptable practice among Muslims, Spierings (2019) asserts that recent times have recorded a decline in the practice. Muslim countries such as Tunisia and Turkey have made polygamy illegitimate. However, over 150 countries, including the Middle East and countries in Africa still maintain their legibility. The 20th century incorporates significant changes to the Islamic culture, including the rise of feminist movements, which has caused a significant reduction in the number of polygamous marriages. Changes in the economic landscape involve strategies that champion women empowerment with the existence of practices such as family planning (Crocco, Pervez, & Katz (2009). Resultantly, polygamy registers decline as a viable and acceptable marriage practice in the Muslim world.
Further, Cora, Derderian, and Sipahi (2016) assert that Islamic laws forbid homosexual relations. However, the most condemned parties are homosexual males based on Quran teachings. Similar, interfaith partners and marriages are highly restricted, especially among women. However, the laws are less strict when a Muslim man desires to marry a non-Muslim woman. Errors in the Islamic Jurisprudence principle school that adheres to Sharia’s regulations by Alex B. Leeman confirms that a Muslim woman should stick to marrying a Muslim man (Canefe, 2018). However, a Muslim man can marry only a Jew or a Christian woman. The only limitation is that the woman should be a non-Mormonist, non-Jesuit, and non-Catholic.
According to Quran (5:5) and (60:10) believing women need to maintain their chastity, and the ones lawful to them. The lawfully given man to a chaste woman is the one, who has released dowry and married the woman. The verse discourages fornication and acts involving paramours’ secrets (Reiss, 2011). Similarly, believing Muslims are discouraged from marrying non-Muslim believers because Allah will judge them. However, the changing times report Muslim scholars, who have moved from the Sharia laws. The scholars reinterpret and re-examine the traditional beliefs towards Sharia interpretations. Islamic scholars present their interpretations with approved and established methodologies, which are extensively rejected by most orthodox Islamic scholars (Momani, 2015).
In conclusion, marriage and religious customs in Middle Eastern countries continue to change with time. The Islamic faith, especially in Middle Eastern countries has maintained most of their practices. For instance, single women to wear marriage bands and headscarf when visiting Middle East countries regardless of their region. The discourse depicts the desire for the extensively Islamic nation to maintain most of its sacred obligations outlined in the Quran. Equally, discouraging holding hands and kissing in public places ensures they observe their religious obligations. Despite the strict observation of religious practices, the changes in the social landscape and increased desire for feminists seem to corrupt the good culture of the Middle East countries. Practices such as homosexuality are highly condemned and recent scholars are seeking to provide new methodologies on Quran interpretations. If observed, the increased desire for independence, especially on women might change the religious aspect of the Muslim society in Middle East countries. However, Sharia jurisprudence on religion and marriage practices seen in Middle East countries remain strong in ensuring the society adheres to the teachings and practices of Allah.