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Your essential guide to the Muslim wedding ceremony
Islam, the world’s second largest religion after Christianity, was founded by the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century AD. It is still the leading faith in the Arab world, as well as in most of the Middle East. Islam is much more than a religion: it also supplies the guiding principles of political and social life.
Muslim marriages can be conducted in different ways, depending on the culture in which they are arranged. The following information refers, in the most part, to the Asian world. Here, Muslim marriages are generally arranged by the parents, with the bride and groom themselves having the final say about who they will wed. The actual proposal comes from the woman, who contacts the man through an intermediary ‐‐ normally a male relative.
Strictly speaking, Muslim women cannot marry outside their faith. Muslim men can, in principle, marry non‐Muslims, as long as they are Christian or Jewish and their children are raised as Muslims. Alternatively, it is possible for a woman to convert to the Muslim faith by performing the Shadada, a simple ceremony in which the convert accepts Allah and Mohammed.
After accepting her offer of marriage, the groom must give the bride a Mahar (gift). Usually in the form of money or gold, it is intended as a dowry for her to use as she wishes. The engagement period lasts three months, and if the couple aren’t married by the end of this period, the engagement contract needs to be renewed. During this time, the bride can only be in the same room as her intended if her father or brother is present and she is covered.
What happens at a Muslim wedding?
In Islam, it is considered both a religious duty and a social necessity to get married. Thus there is a great emphasis on the religious and social dimensions of the ceremony, which usually lasts about one‐and‐a‐half hours.
The ceremony is generally a well‐attended affair, though to make it official, only two male witnesses are required. The wedding always retains a spirit of simplicity, in accordance with the tenets of Islam.
Planning your Muslim wedding
Setting the date
- The Muslim calendar works on a lunar cycle, so there are no fixed days for weddings. However, it is forbidden to marry on the two days of Eid, which occur after the feast of Ramadan, and the Day of Pilgrimage. It is also impossible to marry on the Day of Ashura, which falls on either the 9th or 10th day of the Islamic first month (Muharran).
- You can marry at any time of the day.
- There is no fixed notice period required before marriage, as, in Islam, there’s no registrar system.
Once you’ve settled on the ideal date and approximate time you’d like to marry, you need to speak to the Iman of the mosque, or your local cleric. Arrange the Mahar, the gift from husband to wife, which is an important part of the Nikah (wedding ceremony).
There is no marriage license in the Muslim wedding (though the witnesses need to sign a ‘proof of Nikah’, which testifies that the marriage has taken place and that the bride has given her full consent). Bride and groom will not be asked to fill in any forms, as this is done by the priest.
Any male Muslim who understands the traditions of Islam may perform the wedding ceremony, although many mosques have dedicated marriage officers. In most cases, however, the Qazi ‐‐ an elder of the mosque ‐‐ will officiate in the service, as he is the most knowledgeable in the community. No female Muslim may officiate in the service.
Booking your wedding venue
As a Muslim wedding can take place anywhere and not just in a Mosque (though this is the preferred choice), you have a lot of scope for your venue. Think about:
- How many people the venue will accommodate.
- Whether it’s possible to take tape recordings, videos and photos of the event
- Flowers and ornaments. These are not allowed in the mosque, but the bride and groom are decorated with flowers for the service. If you’re opting for a wedding in a hotel or venue other than the mosque, you have more freedom and can decorate with flower arrangements, streamers and banners. However, it is always advised to speak to the co‐ordinator of your venue and community leaders about appropriate decorations.
Guests at Muslim weddings
People from all religious denominations can be invited to the wedding.
Muslim wedding wear
Traditionally, the Asian Muslim bride wears sparkling, bright clothes, with lots of jewellery and flowers. This is in contrast to the Arab Muslim bride, who traditionally wears a white dress and veil, like her Christian counterpart. Her hands and feet are decorated with henna tattoos (Mehndi).
The groom wears a simple outfit, either traditional or a western‐style suit ‐ or a combination of the two.
Guests should remember that revealing clothes are not appropriate.
On the big day
- The marriage ceremony itself is called the Nikah. The bride and groom are separated, either in different parts of the hall, or in different rooms. Guests are traditionally also separated by gender, although in Western cultures they may be mixed.
- The marriage party listens to a marriage sermon given by the Muslim officiating at the service. This serves to solemnise the marriage. There are no particular specifications so the marriage ceremony is very much up to the Qazi performing the ritual. Some recite the Fatihah (the first chapter of the Koran) and the blessing or durud.
- Traditionally, there is no service sheet, although, in recent years, texts have been supplied.
- The marriage documents (contract and certificate) are filed at the mosque and the local government. The ceremony ends with a prayer (Duoa) for the bride and groom, their families, and the Muslim community at large.
- You can throw confetti, but it is more traditional to shower the bride with coins, a ritual known as Savaqah.
- A marriage banquet, or Walima, follows the ceremony, served to the men and women separately. After the meal the couple are seated together for the first time, their heads covered by a dupatta and prayers are read.
After the main ceremony, the bride and groom return to the Grooms home and the ritual of Rukhsat is performed. The father of the bride will offer his daughters hand to her new husband, asking that he takes care of her. The mother of the groom may hold the holy Quran above the brides head as she enters the home for the first time as a married couple.
Your First Muslim Wedding Ceremony? Here’s What to Expect.
A Muslim wedding is a beautiful and soulful event that marks and celebrates a couple’s dedication to the faith. If you’ve never attended a Muslim religious ceremony, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the basics of a Muslim marriage ceremony so you’ll know what to wear and what to expect.
Here’s what to expect at your first Muslim wedding ceremony and reception.
Dress respectfully in the mosque and at the reception.
Muslim houses of worship are solemn places where members of the faith gather daily to pray. As such, men and women will want to dress modestly for a Muslim wedding ceremony. Generally, long pants or longer dresses and skirts are most appropriate. Folks of any gender should avoid showing your bare arms as well. Women might be expected to cover their heads too, so bring along a scarf.
For the reception, the same clothing rules apply, but you most likely won’t need to keep your head covered.
You’ll have to remove your shoes in the mosque.
If you’re invited to the Muslim wedding ceremony, be prepared to remove your shoes before entering the sacred part of the mosque. There will likely be a rack where you can place your shoes and retrieve before you leave. You’ll be asked to do this so that you don’t track dirt inside the mosque where believers pray on the carpet.
Men and women will sit separately during a Muslim wedding ceremony.
The Muslim marriage ceremony features gender separation within the mosque. Wedding receptions will likely have some form of gender separation as well, but to a different degree. For example, there might be separate rooms for men and women to celebrate, a partition between the reception venue, or men and women might simply be grouped at different tables. If you’re not an observant Muslim, your hosts might seat you at a coed table with other non-Muslims, though.
Muslim wedding ceremonies are short and sweet.
The average wedding ceremony is less than an hour, but Nikah, a muslim marriage ceremony, will still likely be the shortest you’ve attended. There are three main parts:
Mehr is a ceremonial presentation of gifts, money or other meaningful offering to the bride, from the groom. Many times the bride’s engagement ring is considered part of the mehr. At this time, the bride and groom are not able to see each other. Next, both bride and groom need to consent to the marriage by saying qubool hai three times each when asked by the Imam (religious officiant).
Nikah-Namah is the Muslim marriage contract that the bride and groom sign in front of their guests. It’s read aloud in Arabic during the wedding ceremony and is signed at this time as well. Verses from the Koran are read during a short sermon and the couple is officially wed.
Savaqah is the last part of a Muslim wedding ceremony. As the couple recesses from the ceremony, the bride is showered with coins in celebration.
Mingling between genders is generally frowned upon.
If this is your first Muslim wedding, you might need to retrain your reflex to make new friends on the reception dance floor. Don’t dance, shake hands, or initiate physical contact with a Muslim person of the opposite gender, unless they prompt the interaction.
A Muslim wedding ceremony can be representative of various cultures.
Islam is a very popular religion and close to 25 percent of the world’s population are observers. As such, a Muslim wedding simply means the couple are members of the faith, but doesn’t dictate the culture of the couple. Americans with roots in the Arabic world have sizable Muslim populations, but so do South Asian Americans, African-Americans, and Nigerian Americans. However, the Muslim faith is practiced by just about every ethnic group in the United States. This could mean that your first Muslim wedding might also be your first Nigerian wedding, or your first Indian wedding as well, which would add more and different social expectations.