The Islamic Marriage Ceremony and Beyond
Once a couple has accepted each other as a marriage partner, there is much to plan. This article describes the components of an Islamic wedding with the intention of providing those who are about to marry with an idea of what they can expect and the meaning of each event.
First of all, they need to consult their families and set a date! The couple should discuss their wishes and expectations with both families before setting to work, deciding upon a budget, and organising all that is required. Do you wish to hold the nikah at home or at the masjid? Will you require a separate civil ceremony? Who will you invite? Where will you hold the Walima? All this, and more, requires careful consideration.
Al-Nikah: the Islamic Marriage Ceremony
The nikah is a simple ceremony in which a man and woman declare their commitment to one another as husband and wife. It is a holy contract to which both must agree and it is considered an act of worship (ibadah).
In the very simplest form of the ceremony, there is the Al-Ijab wal-Qubul (offer and acceptance) only, when the Wali (woman’s guardian in marriage) offers the bride to the groom, who then accepts. The Wali may say: “I give you my daughter/the girl in my guardianship in marriage in accordance to the Islamic Shari'ah in the presence of the witnesses here with the dowry agreed upon. And Allah is our best witness.”
The husband-to-be replies with: “I accept marrying your daughter/guard giving her name to myself in accordance to the Islamic Shari'ah in the presence of the witnesses here with the dowry agreed upon. And Allah is our best witness.” The ceremony is then complete.
However, Islam encourages its followers to announce a marriage and to celebrate this wonderful relationship between a man and a woman. The nikah is also a social activity. The Prophet (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “Declare this marriage, have it in the mosque and beat the drums.”
Despite being a religious ceremony, the nikah does not need to take place in a mosque. That is a matter of personal choice. However, you will be required to hold a separate civil ceremony. Sometimes, men and women sit separately at the nikah. They may be in a separate room or there may be a partition between them. Again, this is a matter of preference.
All that is required for nikah is:
the consent of both parties;
two witnesses (Ash-Shuhud ), who have attained adulthood and are good Muslims of sound mind (usually two males or a male and two females); and
the payment of mahr (dowry or marriage gift) by the groom to the bride. Mahr will be discussed in greater detail later in this article.
Also important to the nikah, but not required by law, are:
the presence of the bride’s legal guardian (wali);
a written marriage contract (Aqd-Nikah) which is signed by the bride, groom and witnesses;
a responsible person to officiate the ceremony, most often an Imam;
a sermon (Khutba-tun-Nikah) to bless the marriage
The marriage contract documents are recorded with the mosque and registered with local government, thus fulfilling the civil obligations of the marriage. Without this, the marriage would not be recognised under British law and the legal rights of the spouse, such as inheritance, would not be valid.
The marriage sermon (Khutbah-tun-Nikah) is a way of blessing the marriage and begins by praising Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Taala سبحانه و تعالى). “There is none worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is His servant and messenger”, the Muslim confession of faith, is then declared. The main body of the sermon comprises three verses from the holy Qur’an (Quran 4:1, 3:102, 33:70-71) and one hadith:
“By Allah! Among all of you I am the most God-fearing, and among you all, I am the supermost to save myself from the wrath of Allah, yet my state is that I observe prayer and sleep too. I observe fast and suspend observing them; I marry woman also. And he who turns away from my Sunnah has no relation with me.” [Bukhari]
The ceremony draws to a close with Du’a (prayer) for the bride and groom, their families, the local Muslim community and the Muslim community as a whole (ummah).
It is written in the Qur’an that mahr must form part of the marriage contract. The groom gives mahr to his bride as a demonstration of his commitment to her and to providing for her. It can take the form of money, property or possessions. There is no set amount, although moderation is recommended, and the gift is agreed between the bride and the groom.
“And give the women their dowries as a free gift, but if they are pleased to offer you any of it accept it with happiness and with wholesome pleasure.” [Qur’an 4:4]
The groom may pay the mahr before he marries, at the time of marriage, or at a later date, as agreed with his bride. The mahr can even be postponed indefinitely. However, it will become payable immediately in the case of divorce or death. The amount and method of payment is written into a contract, which is signed by the bride, groom and their witnesses. Following this, the Aqd-Nikah is announced to all who attend the nikah.
Traditionally, mahr would reflect the social status of the bride’s family. However, these days, the giving of mahr is seen mainly as a symbol. No one wants to begin married life burdened with debt and, equally, Islam does not wish to prevent men from getting married simply because they cannot afford an expensive dowry.
Walima: the marriage banquet
The wedding banquet (Walima) is traditionally held by the groom after the nikah has taken place. It may take place immediately following the nikah, on the following day, the following week or at a future date, but the purpose of the banquet is for family and friends to share in the groom’s happiness on the occasion of his marriage and to give thanks to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Taala سبحانه و تعالى).
The Prophet Muhammad (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم) encouraged Muslims to accept invitations to attend marriage ceremonies and marriage feasts: “…and he who refuses to accept an invitation to a marriage feast, verily disobeys Allah and His Prophet”. [Ahmad & Abu Dawood]
The Walima need not be wildly expensive. Islam emphasizes moderation and it is sensible to keep this in mind. Beginning married life with a huge debt, or to burden the families with debt, owing to an extravagant Walima, is unlikely to give you the best start. It is an occasion to celebrate the happiness of the newlyweds and competing with what you may have experienced at a friend or relative’s Walima will most likely lead to escalating costs and detract from the occasion. The Prophet (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “The best wedding is that upon which the least trouble and expense is bestowed.” [Mishkat]
The Walima gives family members and friends the opportunity to congratulate the happy couple: the bride is congratulated by the women around her and by her family and friends; the groom receives the congratulations of men. The newlyweds are also presented with gifts. It is believed that gifts given willingly will strengthen the relationships between people. Therefore, it is important to keep gifts affordable. The Prophet (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “Exchange gifts, strengthen your love of one another.” [At-Tirmizi]
A mangni (engagement ceremony) may take place once the couple has accepted each other for marriage. It is provides an opportunity for the two families to come together and for the couple to exchange rings, if they so wish. The outfit of the bride-to-be is traditionally provided by the groom’s family.
It is traditional for the bride to hold a mendhi ceremony, usually at home, shortly before the wedding. The groom’s family provides the henna, which is applied to the bride’s hands and feet. Following the application of mendhi, the bride does not leave the house until the nikah. Her wedding clothes are also provided by the groom’s family.
It is not a religious requirement for the bride and groom to exchange rings in marriage; however it has become tradition. Gold jewellery is acceptable for women only, although silver rings may be worn by men or women.
The wedding night
Anticipation of the wedding night can be a cause of wedding day nerves for most newlyweds, but do try not to let any apprehension spoil your special day. If you know what is expected on this special night, you can reduce the feelings of uncertainty. The Prophet Muhammad (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم) has described for us ways in which the wedding night can be fulfilling and enjoyable.
The Sunnah encourages the groom to place his hands upon his wife’s head and to pray for her. In the words of the Prophet (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم): “O Allah, I ask You her goodness, and the goodness of the inborn dispositions which You have given her, and I solicit Your protection from her evil, and the evil of the inborn dispositions which You have given her.” [Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah]
It is preferable that the groom leads his wife in two raka’at (units of prayer) before asking of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Taala سبحانه و تعالى) what they wish for themselves. The Prophet (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم) suggested: “O Allah, bless my wife for me, and bless me for her. O Allah, unite between us in good, and if You separate us, separate us in good.” [Abu Shaybah]
The groom should treat his bride with kindness and it is the Sunnah to offer her something to eat or drink. Foreplay is essential: take time to kiss and touch. The Prophet said: “One of you should not fall upon his wife like the way an animal does, let there be a messenger between them.” [Daylami]
Nakedness is allowed but, to preserve modesty, it is preferred if the couple is covered by a sheet, as described by the Prophet (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم): “Verily Allah is modest and discreet and He likes modesty and discretion.” [Ahmad, At-Tirmithi and Abu Dawud]
Take things slowly and gently. Listen to each other and discover what feels good. Like most things in life, sex gets better with practice, so take comfort in the fact that you will soon discover what your partner likes and dislikes. When a woman loses her virginity it may be a bit painful and there may be some blood, but this is not always the case. If you ensure that there has been sufficient foreplay before intercourse, this should make penetration more comfortable.
It is a Sunnah to pray before intercourse: “In the name of Allah. O Allah, keep Satan away from us, and keep Shaytan away from (the offspring) that which You grant us.” [Bukhari]
You are free to have intercourse in any position you choose and as often as you choose.
After sex, couples are advised to bath or shower (ghusl) or, at the very least, wash themselves (wudhu). The Prophet (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم) also said: “If one of you had intercourse with his wife and then wants to come to her again, it is better for him to perform wudhu, for it gives him vigor to come again.” [Muslim]
More information on intercourse can be found in our article on marital etiquette. This also covers what acts are considered haram.
This article has provided an overview of the most important elements of the occasion of marriage. Many communities have their own traditions and perhaps different ways of doing things, which you will learn of as you go about your planning. Do not forget that relatives will prove to be a mine of information and of great help to you at this exciting, yet busy, time.