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Ceremony: Muslim Wedding Rituals

Photo: Kimberly Reed Photography, Pittsburgh, PA

From the United States to the Middle East to South Asia, Islam stretches across a diverse terrain of politics and culture with followers and practices as varied as the countries from which they hail. Marriage in Islam is viewed as a religious obligation, a contract between the couple and Allah.

Practices

The only requirement for Muslim weddings is the signing of a marriage contract. Marriage traditions differ depending on culture, Islamic sect, and observance of gender separation rules. Most marriages are not held in mosques, and men and women remain separate during the ceremony and reception. Since Islam sanctions no official clergy, any Muslim who understands Islamic tradition can officiate a wedding. If you are having your wedding in a mosque, many have marriage officers, called qazi or madhun, who can oversee the marriage.

Meher

The marriage contract includes a meher -- a formal statement specifying the monetary amount the groom will give the bride. There are two parts to the meher: a prompt due before the marriage is consummated and a deferred amount given to the bride throughout her life. Today, many couples use the ring as the prompt because the groom presents it during the ceremony. The deferred amount can be a small sum -- a formality -- or an actual gift of money, land, jewelry, or even an education. The gift belongs to the bride to use as she pleases, unless the marriage breaks up before consummation. The meher is considered the bride's security and guarantee of freedom within the marriage.

Nikah

The marriage contract is signed in a nikah ceremony, in which the groom or his representative proposes to the bride in front of at least two witnesses, stating the details of the meher. The bride and groom demonstrate their free will by repeating the word qabul ("I accept," in Arabic) three times. Then the couple and two male witnesses sign the contract, making the marriage legal according to civil and religious law. Following traditional Islamic customs, the bride and groom may share a piece of sweet fruit, such as a date. If men and women are separated for the ceremony, a male representative called a wali acts in the bride's behalf during the nikah.

Vows and Blessings

The officiant may add an additional religious ceremony following the nikah, which usually includes a recitation of the Fatihah -- the first chapter of the Quran -- and durud (blessings). Most Muslim couples do not recite vows; rather, they listen as their officiant speaks about the meaning of marriage and their responsibilities to each other and to Allah. However, some Muslim brides and grooms do say vows, such as this common recitation:

Bride: "I, (bride's name) offer you myself in marriage in accordance with the instructions of the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him. I pledge, in honesty and with sincerity, to be for you an obedient and faithful wife."

Groom: "I pledge, in honesty and sincerity, to be for you a faithful and helpful husband."

-- Robin Beth Schaer

See More: Wedding Ceremony + Wedding Vow Ideas