Muslim Wedding Traditions: Clothing, Flowers, Food And Decorations

Embracing your own or new traditions within a wedding ceremony can be exciting, fun and memorable. Muslims weddings can offer a great deal of color, family and promise. Try observing some of these well-known traditions.

Traditions, the transmittal of an element of culture through generations, are plentiful during weddings and receptions and symbolize the family, and the wish of happiness and joy for the newlyweds. Muslim wedding traditions are abundant, fun, full of meaning and add a unique taste. Whether carrying on a family tradition or embracing a new culture, try to incorporate some of these traditions in your wedding plans.

Muslim weddings begin with marriage contracts between a man and a woman, made in front of witnesses as well as the woman's guardian. Frequently written down, though documentation isn't necessary, it has become important to ensure future events are properly completed. Within the contract is usually an agreement of payment of a dower, an amount of money payable by the bridegroom to his bride. To negate rumors and whispers of "arranged marriages," the potential bride doesn't need to be present for the contract negotiations but must provide permission for her guardian (usually her father) to act on her behalf. Once the contract is agreed upon, the planning begins.

Muslim wedding celebrations usually last three to four days with a variety of events occurring before and after the actual ceremony.

One to two weeks before the actual three-day wedding ceremony, the bride and groom traditionally hold a "dholki" (meaning drum); a party for singing, dancing and beating on a drum. Many other family members may hold a "dholki" as well to practice songs and dances for the celebration or complete plans under a festive environment.

The first night of the wedding celebration, usually the night before the couple becomes husband and wife, the "mehendi (meaning henna paint)" ceremony is held. This ceremony can either be held separately for the bride and then the groom, or combined. Usually it's the most festive part of the event, filled with noise and color and dancing. Women show off bright formal outfits and saris, while young girls are dressed in long skirts and blouse outfits called lehengas. The bride-to-be is usually dressed in yellow and has had henna paint applied to her hands and/or feet, as do most of the women on both sides of the family. The groom may receive a henna dot in the palm of his hand. Food, music, and conversation are the key to this ceremony. At joint mehendi ceremonies, the bride is escorted to a stage under a large yellow scarf held up by six female relatives. The groom arrives at the ceremony after the bride with his guests, called the "baraat". The baraat usually plays loud songs while entering the hall and is greeted by two parallel lines of the bride's family and friends. The bride and groom share a drink and enjoy the evening with friends and family.

The next day, the traditional marriage ritual, called a "nikah," is performed. It is a simple and brief ceremony. Just prior to the wedding, which can take place anywhere, the bride and groom are separated in different rooms. They may or may not be able to see each other, depending upon how conservative the families are. The bride is typically in a red "ghaagra," a pleated skirt with a long blouse embroidered in gold, her head is covered with a "dupata," that wraps around her shoulders but doesn't hide any of the multiple gold jewelry items. The groom either wears a western-style suit or a traditional "sherwarni," a long, high-collared, long sleeve coat with a turban. An officiant enters each room, asking if they consent to the marriage and are marrying of their own free will. Sometimes a representative call a "wali" will answer on behalf of the bride. The marriage contract is signed by both parties and witnesses. The officiant then brings the pair together and pronounces them husband and wife.

The groom's family hosts the "valima," or the feast, the night after the wedding. Women and men may be separated for dining on rich and elegant dishes, but the bride and groom will be brought together after dinner to sit together. Usually prayers are said over the couple to ensure joy, happiness and faithfulness. The bride's father then will give her hand to her husband and asks him to protect her. Farewells are said and the bride departs for her husband's house. As the bride first enters her new home, her mother-in-law holds the Quran over her head as the groom follows.

For the youngest wedding guests, and for those that may be experiencing a Muslim wedding for the first time, be certain to explain the meaning of each tradition. Simple cards or explanation or voiced announcements will create a nice, memorable surprise for those in attendance.

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