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Muslim Wedding Ceremony Rituals

Traditional aghd ceremony at a Muslim wedding
Barbara Alessandra Photography
Robin Beth Schaer
by Robin Beth Schaer

From the United States to the Middle East to South Asia, Islam stretches across a diverse terrain of politics and culture with followers and practices as varied as the countries from which they hail. Marriage in Islam is viewed as a religious obligation, a contract between the couple and Allah. Whether you are planning a Muslim wedding or attending your first Muslim wedding, it's important to understand historic and cultural Muslim wedding traditions. Learning about these traditions can help you decide what to incorporate into your wedding or guide you on what to expect when you attend a Muslim wedding.

Practices

The only requirement for Muslim weddings is the signing of a marriage contract. Marriage traditions differ depending on culture, Islamic sect and observance of gender separation rules. Most marriages are not held in mosques, and men and women remain separate during the ceremony and reception. Since Islam sanctions no official clergy, any Muslim who understands Islamic tradition can officiate a wedding. If you are having your wedding in a mosque, many have marriage officers, called qazi or madhun, who can oversee the marriage.
Note for wedding guests: If a Muslim wedding ceremony does take place in a Mosque, you will be expected to remove your shoes before you enter the Mosque.

Meher

The marriage contract includes a meher—a formal statement specifying the monetary amount the groom will give the bride. There are two parts to the meher: a prompt due before the marriage is consummated and a deferred amount given to the bride throughout her life. Today, many couples use the ring as the prompt because the groom presents it during the ceremony. The deferred amount can be a small sum—a formality—or an actual gift of money, land, jewelry or even an education. The gift belongs to the bride to use as she pleases, unless the marriage breaks up before consummation. The meher is considered the bride's security and guarantee of freedom within the marriage.

Nikah

The marriage contract is signed in a nikah ceremony, in which the groom or his representative proposes to the bride in front of at least two witnesses, stating the details of the meher. The bride and groom demonstrate their free will by repeating the word qabul ("I accept," in Arabic) three times. Then the couple and two male witnesses sign the contract, making the marriage legal according to civil and religious law. Following traditional Islamic customs, the bride and groom may share a piece of sweet fruit, such as a date. If men and women are separated for the ceremony, a male representative called a wali acts on the bride's behalf during the nikah.

Vows and Blessings

The officiant may add an additional religious ceremony following the nikah, which usually includes a recitation of the Fatihah—the first chapter of the Quran—and durud (blessings). Most Muslim couples do not recite vows; rather, they listen as their officiant speaks about the meaning of marriage and their responsibilities to each other and Allah. However, some Muslim brides and grooms do say vows, such as this common recitation:
Bride: "I, (bride's name) offer you myself in marriage in accordance with the instructions of the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him. I pledge, in honesty and with sincerity, to be for you an obedient and faithful wife."
Groom: "I pledge, in honesty and sincerity, to be for you a faithful and helpful husband."

What Guests Should Wear to a Muslim Wedding

The couple or their families should indicate how they would like their guests to dress. Different Muslim families have different levels of comfort when it comes to what they consider appropriate clothing for a wedding. If you are attending a Muslim wedding ceremony and aren't sure how to dress, err on the side of modesty. Men and women should cover their legs and arms. Women may be asked to wear a head covering, especially in a Mosque. Women should choose dresses or tops with a modest neckline.
If you still aren't sure what to wear, ask the bride or groom.

The Bride's Wedding Outfit

In many cultures, the Muslim bride changes into an elaborate gown after the wedding ceremony is complete. Oftentimes, this gown includes pearls, gold and jewels. It is a sight to behold, especially for guests attending their first Muslim wedding.

Separating Genders

Gender separation is a normal part of many Muslim traditions, including Muslim wedding traditions. Not every Muslim couple will choose to separate the genders at their wedding, but more traditional ceremonies will keep men and women apart. During the reception, men and women may celebrate in different rooms, be divided by a partition or simply sit at different tables. In some cases, non-Muslim guests may be seated with opposite genders.
If you are at a Muslim wedding where the genders are separated, respect the custom and don't initiate interactions with someone from the opposite sex.

Walima – The Wedding Feast

Get ready for food. Lots of it. After the wedding contract is signed, it's time to feast. This is called the Walima, and it may feature traditional symbols of fertility and plenty, like fish, chicken, rice and candy-covered almonds. In some Muslim cultures, the walima lasts for two days, so make sure your clothes have some stretch to them.
Guests should also be aware that the Muslim faith forbids the consumption of alcohol. Don't expect any Champagne toasts at a traditional Muslim wedding.
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