Muslim Prewedding Rituals

Robin Beth Schaer
by Robin Beth Schaer

Before a Muslim wedding, many rituals take place to prepare and purify the to-be-weds and their families. Ceremonies vary depending on the couple's culture and branch of Islam. Here's a sampling:

Henna Party

Henna (or Mehndi) parties are held for most Muslim brides in the Middle East and South Asia. They are usually celebrated a few days before the wedding with close women friends and family. Special artists create designs on the bride's hands and feet with henna paste, resulting in a deep red stain that lasts several weeks. Henna designs simultaneously protect and adorn the bride -- and the party creates a female bonding opportunity. The bride may also be perfumed with fragrant oils and presented with gifts of jewelry and silk. Similar celebrations are held for the groom in many Islamic countries.

Take a Bath

Water is used throughout Muslim countries to cleanse the couple and prepare them for marriage. Egyptian brides bathe in water drawn from the Nile before their weddings. In traditional Pakistani Punjab villages, relatives visit the groom's home before the big day to watch his ritual bath. In Morocco, the bride spends five days before the wedding purifying herself: She visits a bathhouse several times, attended by women family members. Musicians and dancers often accompany the women to the bathhouse in a colorful and festive procession.

Sharing a Drink

Among Turkish Muslims, engagement is symbolized by sharing a drink. To make betrothal official, the local Imam (religious leader) asks the couple's fathers, in front of family and friends, to repeat three times their support for the proposed marriage. Once the Imam officially pronounces the betrothal, everyone starts drinking sherbet (a drink made from ice and fruit juice) to celebrate. Sharing sherbet is associated so closely with betrothal that the term "drinking sherbet" is a common engagement announcement.

Dads Night

In many Muslim countries, male family and friends of the betrothed meet for noon prayers at a mosque on the Friday after the proposal. They conduct a ceremony called fatha, in which prayers are recited with arms outstretched to thank God and to bless the proud dads of the bride and groom. A member of the groom's party, other than his father, stands in the center and leads the service.

Tumeric Ceremony

In Bangladesh, the Gae Halud (turmeric ceremony) involves separate celebrations for the bride and groom. For the bride's Gae Halud, the groom's family (minus the groom) brings gifts of silk and jewels. The women wear yellow saris with red borders (traditional Bengali wedding colors), and the men wear long silken tunics. The bride, also dressed in a sari, sits on a platform surrounded by flowers. The groom's mother ties a rakhi (a fringed golden bracelet) around the bride's wrist as a symbol of engagement, not to be removed until after the wedding. Guests approach the bride one by one to rub turmeric on her face and on their own faces. Turmeric, a spice, leaves skin with a coppery glow, brings good luck, and wards off evil spirits. Each guest then feeds the bride something sweet, such as kheer -- rice pudding. A similar Gae Halud is held for the groom.

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