My interest in wedding customs applies to every country, tradition and religion. To me, it’s all fascinating and there’s something to learn from every place and time.
That’s why I found it so interesting that Muslim weddings have few specific requirements at all, other than signing the marriage contract. This contract, called a ‘meher’ (sometimes transliterated as Mehr, Mahr, and other versions) is a statement specifying a gift, sometimes money or almost anything that the groom gives the bride. Modern couples approach it simply as a wedding gift.
The groom may use an engagement ring to symbolize the meher, or sometimes a sum of money is given, small or large, or perhaps some other useful gift, even land, or a commitment to pay for an education. seen as
The meher is noted in the wedding certificate, called the nikkha, and the couple has witnesses sign it, like a marriage license. But the nikkha is the religious custom, like the Jewish ketubah, not to be confused with a state marriage license. The officiant, whether an Imam or other spiritual leader, should also sign the civil paperwork, but that need not be part of the ceremony. Interesting to also know that Muslim weddings do not have to be held in a mosque.
Historic note: the meher was considered the bride’s security and guarantee of freedom within the marriage. I hope that doesn’t surprise you – remember that the extremist views we hear about, are just that, extreme, and do not represent most people.
After those few requirements, the wedding simply unfolds depending on the traditions of the specific country of origin. And of course, there are many American born Muslims, too, so expect those wedding to look like any other typical American wedding.
If the country of origin is, for example, India, then a bride might use mehndi on her hands and feet, along with other women in the family. You could see a dramatic entrance of the groom on a horse, and lots of music and dancing. The traditions are a varied as the countries themselves. World-wide there are over 1.25 billion Muslims. From China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Arab countries of North Africa and the Middle East, as well as many African nations… that’s a lot of people, and that’s a lot of variety of customs and traditions.
In the United States, according to a 2016 estimate, there are 3.3 million Muslims, which is only about 1% of the total U.S. population. American Muslims come from various backgrounds and are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States. They are your neighbors, maybe a doctor, or serving in our military, and there are many well-known sports stars, too!
You may see a Muslim bride wear a hijab (head covering) and in a modest, although gorgeous, wedding gown… or not! Not all Muslim women wear the hijab, just as not all Jews wear a kippah (yarmulke), nor all nuns wear a habit.
If you are invited to a wedding where one or both partners are Muslim, women guests should certainly dress up, but remember to dress more modestly – so pull out that cocktail dress or gown with sleeves, it will be more appropriate. Expect lots of speeches at the reception. There will be lots of food, but probably no alcohol. Put your wedding card in its envelope and your preconceptions away, and enjoy yourself!