Muslim Wedding – rituals and customs
Of all the traditions and customs in a particular culture, perhaps the most important and the one with the most fanfare is the wedding. Seen as the coming together of two souls, most cultures and religions place great importance on the rites and rituals that precede and follow a wedding.
The same applies to Muslim Matrimony. To be honest the actual formalities of a Muslim wedding may take about an hour with the main event being the signing of the marriage contract by the bride and the groom in the presence of a religious scholar, who is authorised to perform the nikaah (the actual ritual that ties the knot between a Muslim man and woman) and elders from both sides of the family.
Before these people even gather certain technicalities such as the haq mehar (the amount owed by the groom to the bride-to-be) have already been decided upon by the elders of both families. This doesn’t constitute a dowry, which is more of a traditional concept, but instead this money is to be a fail safe for the wife if the couple decide to separate at any future time.
Once the nikaah documents are signed the bride and groom are officially wed and that is the end of the religious aspect of the wedding. The only thing that remains is for the groom to host a reception, called a valima, once the marriage has been consummated.
These are the religious obligations, but a wedding in the Muslim world is hardly such a drab affair. Take for example weddings in the Indian Subcontinent. Here the preparations for a wedding in both the households of the bride and groom-to-be begin months ahead of time.
And why shouldn’t they. There is always so much to do – guest lists to formulate and cards to be printed and distributed, in the case of the groom’s household the entire home has to go through a makeover which comprises a new paint job, replacement of old furniture for new and in some cases might even mean the buying of a new car. Then there is the shopping that needs to be done.
In the Subcontinent where the trend for having most clothing tailored rather than purchasing off the rack, this is a painful undertaking which is wisely left up to the women of the household by the men. Besides the clothes that will be worn on the wedding day and the valima, there are other functions that have to be tailored for including the likes of mayyun, mehndi, dholki, etc. Oh, don’t forget the jewellery for the bride – intricate, beautiful and extremely expensive made to order stuff.
Other preparations include the booking of the marriage hall or a banquet hall in one of the 5-star hotels in the city of residence. Then there is the choice of the caterer and the number of items that will be served which need to be decided upon.
And while these preparations are in full swing, the dates for the peripheral celebrations and their preparations are also going on. For those not familiar with a wedding from the Subcontinent, this must seem a massive logistical undertaking, involving a tonne load of money and meticulous planning. And the fact of the matter is that it is.
So the time to the wedding has gotten nearer and the first of the peripheral functions – mayyun is about to take place. This is more for the bride’s family, and involves the rubbing of large doses of ubtan (a cleansing/beautifying agent) on the limbs and face of the bride to be. Gifts are brought for the family and the rituals are followed by a dinner. As for the number of guests invited, that depends quite frankly on how much the father of the bride can afford because right on the heels of the mayyun the next dual celebration awaits – the mehndi.
The mehndi is a dual celebration because the groom’s family first visits the bride’s family and then the favour is returned. Traditionally the young girls wear green, and bring with them small earthen clay dishes with henna (mehndi) with a lit candle stuck in it to each others’ homes. The henna is rubbed on both the bride’s and groom’s hands as a gesture of the beginning of a new life.
Traditionally, mehndis used to involve signing contests between the young girls from either family who used to sit around a dhol and sing popular love songs and traditional songs, each trying to leave the other breathless and stumped. These trends have changed as more western influences have come to the fore and nowadays dancing to the tune of a popular band blaring in the background is quite common. After the frivolity, a meal is served to all the guests.
There was also a time, when the mehndis were a good time for would-be mother-in-laws to point out beautiful young girls to their sons and many a new bonds used to develop because so an so went to xyz’s mehndi.
Beyond a mehndi different parts of the Subcontinent might indulge in a variety of other traditions. But generally speaking once the mehndi is done with then there is only the wedding night that remains. And here it would be wise to point an oddity of the weddings in this part of the world and that is that regardless of what time is stated on the card for the arrival of the barat (the groom’s arrival at the venue) or the nikaah or the serving of the food, you would be hard pressed to find a wedding where the timing is kept. Stories of guests turning up at the venue even before the hosts are quite common. So if you plan to go and the card says that the gathering will take place at 10 p.m. you would be well advised to leave home no earlier than 11 p.m.
The wedding night is for the bride and the groom to look their best and is reflective on the amount of preparations that were undertaken in the preceding months. This also the night for the guests to shine in their opulent best – a fashion parade of sorts is what it feels like.
The nikaah is usually read by the religious scholar with due solemnity after which it is the guests turns to congratulate the newly weds and wish them all the best. While this is happening someone from the bride’s family will have the dinner served in grand buffet style.
By the time the last guest has left and the wedding party makes it home, it could be early next morning and believe it or not there are more traditions and rituals to go through once their home!