The Mukathiya or Shari’a [Archives:1999/06/Culture]

February 8 1999

Mukthiya or shari’a is an integral part of most marriage ceremonies in Sanaa, as well as in a number of other areas in the country. This is the name of the woman who beautifies the bride and teaches her some facts of life. In the West, families discuss different aspects of reproduction and sex-related facts with their children at an early age. In traditional societies, this is shunned until very close to the marriage date. Here enters the shari’a.
Families, especially rich ones, still stick to this old tradition and assign the woman with advising the bride on certain health and sexual habits. She also advises her not to let her husband touch her until he gives her a certain amount of money or golden ornaments.
This woman is professional and has no other work to do. She seizes the opportunity of marriage festivals to sell combs, rings and other ornaments to women attending the ceremony.
Low income families may not invite the shari’a to their marriage festivities because they may not afford her fees, which could reach 2,000 rials a day. Marriages usually las for three days, which mean that her fee could rise to 6,000 rials. Rich families often pay a flat fee of 10,000 rials.
Today, the tradition of shari’a is withering away except in old Sanaa, Hajja and Thula. Most brides prefer to go to modern salons for beautification, and schools, friends, families usually fill-in the information the bride needs to start a family.
I have asked a number of girls in Sanaa whether they prefer having a shari’a come to their house when they get married or going to a salon.
Many said they preferred the shari’a. First, this is done at home, giving the girl and her friends more privacy. Second, it does not exclude getting modern cosmetics and other services. Third, the shari’a accompanies the bride to her husband’s house.
Educated girls felt less at ease with the shari’a than the less educated ones. Some even described the shari’a tradition as obsolete.
As a general summary of the survey, it is clear that the shari’a service will not continue in its traditional format. The need for some kind of moral support by the young brides who are not adequately informed in the facts of life will make the shari’a an indispensable person.
By: Khayriya Al Shibibi,
Yemen Times.