The culture of those participating in a Muslim wedding dictates most of the wedding's traditions, beliefs, customs and foods to a much larger extent than the faith itself does. Islam views marriages as contractual agreements, and most traditional ones are arranged. The marriage itself is a simple affair, but the celebration afterwards, called the walimah, can be elaborate with a large feast.
Before entering an arranged marriage, many Muslim couples consult a wali or guardian to determine the fit of the marriage. Because the lives of traditional Muslims are highly segregated by gender, most marriages do not result from love, but from an arrangement. The contractual nature of the marriage requires that both parties satisfy each other. Islam believes celibacy causes unhealthy mental and physical behaviors, and yet forbids sex outside of marriage. Muslims, therefore, believe marriage an essential part of life. Men pay a dowry called a mahr to the brides themselves. She typically will retain the money in case of divorce.
Nikah: The Wedding
The actual wedding ceremony, called the nikah, is simple and the bride does not necessarily even need to be present; two witnesses may take her place. During the ceremony both parties agree to the terms of the marriage. The nikah takes place in a mosque, and participants read from the Quran, the Muslim holy book. An imam, or religious leader may provide a short sermon, and may lead the ceremony, but Muslims may perform the nikah without an imam. The groom and either bride or the bride's representatives will take the vows, and they will then be married.
Walimah: The Celebration
After Muslims marry, they must make a public announcement of the marriage. The public announcement celebration, called the walimah, can be very large and festive depending on the culture. Some brides in Western cultures dress in white while others in Asian communities may dress in red. Sometimes the couple will sit on a pair of thrones and receive gifts and money; during other walimahs, the festivities will be gender segregated. Some walimahs include huge parties with large meals, dancing and music that last multiple days, others are simple affairs with a few attendees. The groom is responsible for funding the walimah celebration.
The types of foods at the walimah greatly vary depending on the culture. The Quran describes the Prophet Muhammad slaughtering a goat and providing bread for one of his walimahs. Many Muslims who host walimahs today will provide an animal, either a sheep or a goat, if they can afford to do so. The Quran also accounts one of Muhammad's walimahs in which he did not provide meat, but instead offered dates, dried yogurt and butter. In modern traditions, the menu comprises local fare. Some include fish and chicken instead of a goat or sheep. In Bangladesh, the bride and groom drink borhani, a spicy yogurt. In India, the bride's mother gives her candies or sweet desserts before her unveiling ceremony. The couple may receive eggs as a symbol of fertility.
- Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images