June 6, 2006. Written by Paula Jones
Your essential guide to the Muslim wedding ceremony
Islam, the world’s second largest religion after Christianity, was founded by the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century AD. It is still the leading faith in the Arab world, as well as in most of the Middle East. Islam is much more than a religion: it also supplies the guiding principles of political and social life.
Muslim marriages can be conducted in different ways, depending on the culture in which they are arranged. The following information refers, in the most part, to the Asian world. Here, Muslim marriages are generally arranged by the parents, with the bride and groom themselves having the final say about who they will wed. The actual proposal comes from the woman, who contacts the man through an intermediary ‐‐ normally a male relative.
Strictly speaking, Muslim women cannot marry outside their faith. Muslim men can, in principle, marry non‐Muslims, as long as they are Christian or Jewish and their children are raised as Muslims. Alternatively, it is possible for a woman to convert to the Muslim faith by performing the Shadada, a simple ceremony in which the convert accepts Allah and Mohammed.
After accepting her offer of marriage, the groom must give the bride a Mahar (gift). Usually in the form of money or gold, it is intended as a dowry for her to use as she wishes. The engagement period lasts three months, and if the couple aren’t married by the end of this period, the engagement contract needs to be renewed. During this time, the bride can only be in the same room as her intended if her father or brother is present and she is covered.
In Islam, it is considered both a religious duty and a social necessity to get married. Thus there is a great emphasis on the religious and social dimensions of the ceremony, which usually lasts about one‐and‐a‐half hours.
The ceremony is generally a well‐attended affair, though to make it official, only two male witnesses are required. The wedding always retains a spirit of simplicity, in accordance with the tenets of Islam.
Once you’ve settled on the ideal date and approximate time you’d like to marry, you need to speak to the Iman of the mosque, or your local cleric. Arrange the Mahar, the gift from husband to wife, which is an important part of the Nikah (wedding ceremony).
There is no marriage license in the Muslim wedding (though the witnesses need to sign a ‘proof of Nikah’, which testifies that the marriage has taken place and that the bride has given her full consent). Bride and groom will not be asked to fill in any forms, as this is done by the priest.
Any male Muslim who understands the traditions of Islam may perform the wedding ceremony, although many mosques have dedicated marriage officers. In most cases, however, the Qazi ‐‐ an elder of the mosque ‐‐ will officiate in the service, as he is the most knowledgeable in the community. No female Muslim may officiate in the service.
As a Muslim wedding can take place anywhere and not just in a Mosque (though this is the preferred choice), you have a lot of scope for your venue. Think about:
People from all religious denominations can be invited to the wedding.
Traditionally, the Asian Muslim bride wears sparkling, bright clothes, with lots of jewellery and flowers. This is in contrast to the Arab Muslim bride, who traditionally wears a white dress and veil, like her Christian counterpart. Her hands and feet are decorated with henna tattoos (Mehndi).
The groom wears a simple outfit, either traditional or a western‐style suit ‐ or a combination of the two.
Guests should remember that revealing clothes are not appropriate.
After the main ceremony, the bride and groom return to the Grooms home and the ritual of Rukhsat is performed. The father of the bride will offer his daughters hand to her new husband, asking that he takes care of her. The mother of the groom may hold the holy Quran above the brides head as she enters the home for the first time as a married couple.
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