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Qatari Girls

Dating in Qatar: The taboo that a few girls dare to break.

For girls in Qatar, dating is both rare and a taboo - but that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen.

An Arab women's eyes peer out from behind her Abaya.

By Ola Deyab

Whether at work, university or even a shopping center, Qatari girls dress in the most beautifully designed abayas and designer bags. Their conservative veils and abayas like any other cultural attire act as barriers leaving many, who are foreign to the local ethos, to wonder what's behind the black clothing they wrap themselves into.

What's Behind the Abayas?

Young Qatari women have to live up to many social norms especially for behavior and conduct. The dominant religion in Qatar, Islam, embeds many of the social norms into the Qatari culture. Many of the practices that seem normal for young women to do in other societies are not in Qatar. Dating is one of these things.

In Muslim societies like Qatar's, relationships between men and women before marriage are discouraged.

“If a guy likes you and wants to get to know you, we don't call it dating, we call it engagement,” said Susan Zaghmout, an Islamic educator and a counselor. “It has to be official, through the father.”

During the engagement period, the man and woman get to know each other through phone conversations, and if they'd like to see each other, they can do so but with companions. And if feelings develop, then the union can go further.

Despite this, according to Al Jaber, a 20-year-old Qatari female, young men and women date even though its forbidden.

“It's not okay to date but some people do it anyway...”

“It's not okay to date but some people do it anyway,” she said. “There's a lot of different ways of dating.”

Al Jaber said the first step to dating is getting a phone number.

“This is how guys get to know girls not only in Qatar but in all of the Middle East,” she said.

Writing numbers on napkins or saying them out loud in malls or even following young women to their homes are ways in which young men and women begin to date.

“Girls just don't want to risk their reputation.”

Because unmarried local females cannot be seen in public with other males, meeting places are limited. In addition, females cannot be open about dating especially to their parents. Young girls tell their families that they're going to meet a friend when they're actually going to meet their partners. A girl might even skip school to meet her boyfriend. However, dating is still uncommon.

“It still a taboo,” said Al Jaber. “Girls just don't want to risk their reputation.”

Meeting the Opposite Sex

In a culture where dating is not option, there are many other ways in which women can get involved with men. One of these ways is getting engaged. A young Qatari female may receive proposals from a man who's seen her at a shop, party or just at work. However, in most cases a Qatari man proposes to a woman because his parents or another close family relative suggested her to him.

Although arranged marriages seem to be outdated and obsolete in many Western or European societies, the way it is practised in Qatar is continuing to evolve - and even use internet technology. If people haven't found a match through someone they trust, they may turn to matchmaking or matrimonial websites. Other popular options in Qatar used to find a match are through matrimonial agencies or agents (the khataaba) to find their compatible match.

If people haven't found a match through someone they trust, they may turn to matchmaking or matrimonial websites.

Om Khalifa is one of the many matrimonial agents whom people depend on to find an eligible life partner. The 47-year-old married Qatari woman has been in the matchmaking business for about 15 years, which is a business that has been in her family for generations.

Om Khalifa's matchmaking process is confidential, but her clients are predominantly women. Most women do not leave their homes because in Qatari society it is considered shameful if an unmarried woman goes to public places on her own, or with other unmarried men or women. Women are not considered able to find a suitable husband by themselves.

Although Om Khalifa encourages all kinds of marriages, she finds arranged marriages comply best with society she lives in. “We can not forget that we are Muslims, and we have to take our traditions and cultures in consideration - arranged marriages are best,” she says.

“Dating is not for marriage,” said Al Jaber, talking about why local girls date. “They're just having fun.” But it's not a fun they are willing to share. “I haven't heard of a Qatari girl who's spoken about her dating. They don't go public with this kind of information.”

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