The Islamic Marriage Ceremony
When both parties agree to marry, the families decide on a date for the marriage ceremony. The actual ceremony is usually a private affair, with just the immediate family and witnesses in attendance. The bride is represented by a guardian, called a Wali — usually her father, brother, or uncle.
What is the role of a Wali?
The word Wali means protector or supporter. In this situation it must be a person who represents the bride in the marriage negotiations. The bride's Wali must be a Muslim. If a woman's family members are not Muslim, then a Muslim man of her choosing may represent her.
The Wali is charged with ensuring that the bride's rights are not violated. To do this, he must look after her interests in the contract negotiations. Islam does not have a religious priesthood, so any trustworthy Muslim can officiate over the ceremony, provided that all other requirements are met.
At the actual ceremony, there may be a brief sermon about the importance of marriage and the rights and duties involved in it. Verses from the Qur'an that pertain to this subject may be read. Then the bride and her representative are asked if she agrees to marry the groom. She is asked to name her requested mahr and the conditions she would like to include in the contract. The groom is offered the opportunity to agree to these and request his own conditions. Once all parties agree, the marriage ceremony is concluded and witnessed, and the couple is officially married. Then the marriage is announced and celebrated in the greater community.
In many non-Muslim countries, a civil marriage ceremony is not sufficient to meet Islamic requirements for marriage. In these cases, Muslim couples often have both a religious ceremony and a civil ceremony to protect the couple's legal rights in that country. In some jurisdictions, Muslim leaders have clergy rights to perform marriages, so one ceremony fulfills both religious and legal requirements.
The Wedding Celebration
In Islam, weddings are joyous occasions, celebrated by the entire community. Since the actual ceremony is usually done privately, the public celebration is similar to a wedding reception. This celebration, called a walimah, is often observed as a wedding dinner, with food, singing, and congratulations all around.
The actual nature of the wedding celebration varies from country to country, according to the cultural norms of the couple. The Prophet Muhammad advised his followers not to be too extravagant in the wedding celebrations. Indeed, it was the common practice of the time to simply invite guests for a dinner of rice and lamb, or even just dates and milk.
Wedding Customs in the Muslim World
In many Muslim countries, wedding celebrations may take place over a series of days, accompanied by back-to-back celebrations and feasts. One common tradition is for the women to gather in the home of the bride a few days before the wedding to apply henna and prepare her for the upcoming marriage.
On the day of the walimah, it is traditional in many places for the groom and his family to travel to the bride's family home to receive her. There is often a long procession or motorcade, with honking horns and drumming. The bride and groom then travel together to the reception hall.
Men and women celebrate marriage parties separately, in accordance with the Islamic principles of modesty. Among themselves, women may dress up, sing, and dance. Guests wear their best clothing, and the women don their gold. The bride often has a series of wedding dresses: one for the henna party, and one or two for the walimah. Traditionally, wedding dresses vary in color, including red, green, or other bright colors. Some dresses include elaborate embroidery or sequin decorations. In modern times, many Muslim women wear a white wedding gown for at least part of the celebrations.
As long as people stay within Islamic limits, variations in celebrations are expected and honored as cultural expressions. The various wedding traditions reflect the diversity of the Muslim world.