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Friday 22nd of September 2017

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It's My Wedding and I'll Have a 'Ceilidh' If I Want To!

What are the correct procedures of a Muslim wedding? Apart from those which directly concern the Nikah or marriage ceremony there are very few really. Having said that however, it is vitally important for converts to Islam to look carefully at the procedure and to establish a secure framework for themselves based within the Islamic framework, the advice of scholars and NOT on the often reckless occasions which occur and appear to be unfortunately on the increase.

Men who convert to Islam appear to be given the 'space' and time to establish themselves fairly securely within the faith as well as gaining a considerable degree of self confidence before being encouraged towards marriage. Having said that the journey towards then finding a wife can become strewn with difficulties as the Muslim community, though acutely happy to accept a convert into the fold, do not appear to show the same enthusiasm when it comes to accepting the same into the family. This is understandable to some degree as all parents seem to raise their children with certain expectations in mind and to step outside the 'norm', whether it is the family of a child who chooses to convert to Islam or the Muslim family whose child chooses to marry outside their culture. Given Islamic ideals however this response can be both disappointing and frustrating and most couples who step outside the 'norm'  may expect to have to deal with the consequences, the confrontation and bitterness such action engenders within the families. With patience, understanding and sustained diplomatic and open communication things generally settle down and close relations are eventually established or re-established. 

For women who convert to Islam the situation is somewhat different. Considerable pressure is usually placed upon them to marry quite soon after accepting Islam. In the majority of cases this happens well before the woman has settled into or feels secure in her faith and new social circle. It is usual also at this early stage that she will lack sufficient knowledge of Islam in general, and marriage in particular, which would naturally contribute to her sense of self confidence and well being. It may also be that she is experiencing confrontation from her family, friends and work colleagues. This confusing combination does not lend itself to the secure and comfortable environment deemed necessary towards the successful selection of a partner for marriage. 

For safety and security a Muslim woman convert should always be represented by a wali, a representative, who may be her father,  brother or uncle and therefore may not necessarily be Muslim but, as a member of her family, supports her and continues to care deeply about her continuing personal well being. If, through conversion to Islam, she has temporarily lost the support of her family then a trustworthy and perhaps preferably married Muslim brother and his wife, who have experience of married and family life and are as genuinely concerned for her welfare and future as they would be for their own daughter, should act as her representatives. This is a serious undertaking and should therefore never be taken lightly.

One of the most important and perhaps most neglected aspects of preparation for marriage is that of constantly seeking help from Allah for guidance towards what is best in finding and choosing a partner. The Prayer of Istikhara, Islam's special prayer for guidance is particularly important at this time.

Should someone be suggested for marriage it is the responsibility of the wali to enquire, as far as it is possible, into the suitability of the person, their background and character, family details, current circumstances and status and the extent of their Islamic commitment. Some particularly important issues that need to be established are:

  • Why does this person want to marry you, 'a convert', and is this interest particular to you as an individual or would anyone do?
  • Does this person have sufficient means at his disposal or at least have a secure job that would support a wife?
  • Has this person thought about and respect the difference in cultural background and is there a genuine willingness to make the necessary allowances for these?
  • Could marriage be one of convenience in that what is really being sought is a passport, money, property etc. 

Islam encourages prospective partners to meet and get to know each other with a view towards marriage,  within limits set out to ensure continuing modesty and mutual respect, even if these meetings do not materialise into marriage. Simply seeing someone once or twice surrounded by people, who may be more intent on this marriage taking place than you realise and in light of current trends,  is not sufficient.

While it is appreciated in this situation that all are Muslim, it must be understood that where two people from different backgrounds and cultures are meeting, very often without the safeguard of family or even close friends, it is vitally important to come to a fuller understanding of a prospective partner’s character and personality.  Vision and aspirations for the future, attitude towards and understanding of life generally and Islam in particular and its application to life in all its facets in a balanced manner are amongst some of the concerns that need to be addressed.

It is important too, that you or your representative speak to as many people as possible who know the prospective partner. Not just friends, as friendships sometimes blur vision and conceal facts, but acquaintances, those who frequent and pray at the same Mosque, fellow students or work colleagues etc,. Crucial aspects about general behaviour, character traits, relationships with others and attitude towards future responsibilities like marriage, family life, supporting and sustaining a home are important to establish.

Family background, relationships and obligations towards parents, brothers and sisters and to what extent these will affect your life, where and how you live and how you will be treated depending on your acceptance into the family are important matters which could seriously affect your life in one way or the other.

Respecting the fact that both you and the partner you choose may come from a different cultural background, keeping in mind that being born and raised in the UK has its own cultural expressions, is very important. Because of educational and environmental upbringing your potential life partner may express, understand and even implement Islam differently in some ways to you. These are issues both parties must expect and be willing and able to accommodate. Such cultural differences may also affect clear and unambiguous discussion regarding such matters as birth control, family size, the raising of children, and the degree of co-operation within the home in relation to these and other matters.

Opportunities and desires towards the continuity of study, education and work, your ongoing relationship with  your non Muslim family, should all be made perfectly clear and more particularly if you are a woman. They should also be clarified to your representative so that in the event of any misunderstandings at a later stage arbitration of the most informed and productive kind can be pursued.

Do not be in a hurry nor allow yourself to be persuaded or talked into a marriage. This is a divine institution and a life long commitment. It is YOU and YOUR heart which must feel comfortable with it irrespective of how all those around you feel. There is no reason to rush things so long as you are happy and contented with your choice. A couple of months to prepare yourself and organise you marriage is natural and though organising the niqah may not take much time you will need at least a month to arrange the civil service which, for a growing number of well established and more organised Mosques, is a pre-requisite to the niqah. If your organising skills are really sharp, both services can be carried out on the same day.

Some Muslims are of the persuasion that the civil ceremony is unnecessary and that since we are Muslim only the niqah is required. Their reasons for this may be varied and, in some instances questionable and dubious, since marriage in all Muslim countries must be registered by law as well as by performing the Nikah for religious purposes. The important thing for you to know is how your rights as a wife in the UK would be impaired, particularly in relation to position and property, should you decide not to register your marriage. Should anything happen to you or your husband English law takes precedence over Shariah / Islamic Law. If there is no legal documentation regarding your status, clearly outlined in an officially authenticated will, you may stand to inherit nothing and your status will not be recognised.

As soon as the consent of both parties is given it now falls upon the couple, with the help of family and friends, to organise your forthcoming marriage in a way which will be memorable for all concerned. Remember, if you are a convert to Islam this may involve careful and sensitive negotiations with both families and friends of both Muslim and other faith backgrounds so that all can be happily accommodated within the plans for the event.

The Mahr,  a marriage gift, is given by the prospective husband to his bride as outlined in the Qur'an 4:4 and its detail is included in the marriage contract. It is to be paid to the bride and not to any other member of her family since it also symbolises the economic independence of the Muslim woman. The marriage gift does not have to be money but could be jewelry, property or any other item/s discussed with and accepted by the bride. There is no minimum or maximum as far as the marriage gift is concerned however, it should clearly symbolise commitment and affection on the part of the husband and the aspirations and hopes of building a future together as husband and wife. In this respect it should at least adequately reflect these aspirations. 

The niqah, or marriage contract which should, if possible, be performed in an acknowledged venue by a recognised representative of the community and be witnessed by two aware and practicing Muslims. It has been known that a great many witnesses are pulled from within an already assembled crowd of worshipers or bystanders at the Mosque and are therefore unknown to the couple getting married. For the long term benefit of the marriage and in realisation of the responsibility of witnessing they should really be selected by and known to the couple getting married at the very least. They should also be signatories on the marriage contract, copies of which should be held by (1) the groom (2) the bride or her representative and (3) one retained by the Imam or organisation where the niqah has taken place.

Many marriages which take place, particularly where a convert woman to Islam is concerned who has little knowledge of the procedure, are conducted in languages other than English. In many cases they are conducted in another room or even venue away from where she is. Consequently she is not aware of the exact moment of her marriage and may feel that she has not taken part in one of the most important events of her life. While it is appreciated that her representative may consent to the marriage on her behalf there is no reason why the ceremony cannot be conducted in a language which is familiar to everybody and most importantly the bride and groom. Even if the Mosque or institution are particularly strict on segregation a small separate room which can accommodate the bride and her representative, the groom, the witnesses and a few chosen close family friends of both the bride and groom together with the Iman could be allocated for the short niqah ceremony. With sensitive diplomatic and organising skills these things can all be accommodated making the whole experience a memorable as well as blessed one. 

Finally it is recommended by the Prophet (pbuh) to have a party or walimah to celebrate the occasion with friends and family so that this new union is recognised and respected in the community. Islamic wedding parties are encouraged to be modest events and not so extravagant as to cause financial hardship to the families. On occasion the organising families may prefer to arrange separate function rooms so that their male and female guests can celebrate and socialise separately. This provides women the opportunity to remove their headscarves, sing, dance and enjoy the occasion in a relaxed atmosphere. However if this is not preferable or considered necessary by the organising family,  is too difficult or costly to organise, or it may be that it is particularly difficult where the family of one of the spouses are not Muslim and would find segregation uncomfortable and embarrassing, then men and women eat in the same hall where all concerned dress as required for public occasions.

There are no rules to say that wearing red or even white is a requirement nor do weddings have to be celebrated in stages ie. a day for the grooms family and a day for the brides family. No marquees, wedding lists or even printed invitations are required but, if that's what you feel is necessary to make your day a memorable one, it is entirely your choice - with consultation and agreement of course.

Music too is an issue that may give cause for concern in that while Muslims from some cultural backgrounds follow the Islamic allowance for music and merriment on such joyful occasions others do not and both the marriage and the wedding party are somber affairs. This said, it is your wedding and, based on the varied opinions of the scholars in Islam, there is no reason  to stop you having carefully chosen music and merriment. A  Muslim bride could have a ceilidh, a Gaelic word for music and dance, for her wedding party if she would like, as long as segregation is in place and of course the food and drink are halal. It might be a refreshing change for traditional Muslim in-laws and female non-Muslim relatives might enjoy the novelty of an all woman party. Basically Muslims are free within the bounds of what is Islamically acceptable, to organise their wedding parties according to their taste and culture.

The lead up to a Muslim wedding often leaves converts floundering. Some converts feel as if their wedding is being taken out of their hands even though it is a day they had dreamed of since they were little. A convert Muslim bride marrying from the Pakistani, Arab, far Eastern, north African or indeed the growing multiculturalism which is Islam in the UK today,  might find her hands painted in henna and her wedding dress chosen for her before she can ask herself  'Is this what I want’ and 'Do I even like it'? Perhaps she does and will really enjoy it. On the other hand she might feel too shy to tell her new Muslim in-laws that she wants to arrange her own party in her way and that her non-Muslim family may feel quite uncomfortable at a wedding party that has no connection with what they or even she is accustomed to.

It is always good, for the future of Islam in the UK and cross-cultural marriages, even if both parties are Muslim, to include any non-Muslim relatives of the bride or groom in the preparations for and choices about the wedding. Many people, regardless of faith, feel happier following convention when planning a wedding. The beauty of the Muslim convert's situation is that, if desired, there can be a mix and match from any cultural precedent as long as it falls within the Islamically acceptable framework. 

Great pleasure can be taken from designing your own dress and having it made up to your own specifications which can now include an Islamically appropriate head cover. Choosing jewelry and other accessories, as well as the things needed to start of marriage with your Mum and family, who may also have family heirlooms kept for you and your sisters for these special occasions, provide special and happy memories later. It is a time to harness the talents of all the family some of who may have hairdressing, make up, dressmaking and even catering skills and all can make their contributions to make the occasion a personal and special one.

Remember that careful and thoughtful selection of your spouse followed by a good wedding is often a very good start for a successful relationship between the married couple and their respective families and may Allah guide us all towards what is best for us, Protect us all and keep us forever in His Shade, Ameen