Thursday, December 13, 2012

Weddings: An Islamic Way

On an average, I perform 15 to 20 weddings each month in this so called sin city. People always fly from different parts of the country or the world to get married. Las Vegas has become the wedding capital of the world. In most cases, the marriage ceremony is civil but some prefer to add religious rituals also. Right outside the marriage bureau are several chapels who charge quite a lot to offer their service. These chapels usually have access to local clergy belonging to different denominations. Depending on the religious orientation of the couple, they invite the priest belonging to that particular denomination. In some instance, where the groom and bride are of different religious traditions or denominations, the marriage is performed by two priests one after the other to accommodate the religious identity of each person.
I have encouraged Muslim couples to come to the masjid to get their nikah performed Islamically in addition to getting it registered at the marriage bureau. Sometimes people insist that they only want the Islamic part and do not like to register the marriage with the city. Unless I know the couple well, I refuse to perform such marriages. The reason is very simple. Our masajid do not have sufficient information about walk-in-getting-married couples.
Most of the time, these weddings are very simple and the services offered by the Jamia Masjid are free. Occasionally, the couple or their relatives would bring some sweets for the people in the masjid.
However, there are other types of weddings that are arranged in big banquet halls and fancy places. In most cases the couples’ families invite their family and friends. I personally feel that the Nikah should be performed in the masjid. People can have wedding receptions later either in the mosque if there are such facilities or at a banquet hall. This will maintain the sanctity of weddings and increase the interaction between masajid and the community. Many times people invite their non-Muslim friends to join the nikah ceremonies. The visit to masajid would indeed give such people a good exposure to Muslim places of worship. This way, we will be closer to the teachings and life style of the Prophet.
In weddings that are organized at banquet halls or hotels, some are very lavish and some are modest. Some families spend huge amount of money on these weddings.  Probably, the newly married couple would be better served if the amount of money spend on celebrations is spent on helping them settle for their future life. Yet it is an individual choice and people should never lose sight of the modesty that is recommended in Islam.
Mehr is a well-established Islamic practice and most of the time people would want the same amount of mehr for their would be wife that was given by Ali Ibn Talib, the fourth Calilph to the daughter of the Prophet, Fatima Zahra.
The mehr of the Prophet's daughter, Fatema was
1. An armor worth, 400 or 480 or 500 Dirhams.
2. One pair of cotton Yemeni Gloves.
3. Raw and untanned hide of a goat


The mehr is a woman’s right and her property and it must be paid, preferably at the time of wedding. While calculating the value of mehr in our times, people should weigh in all factors including, inflation and the cost of living etc. It should not overburden the husband nor it should diminish the value of the gift being offered to the bride.
Most of the weddings, even with lavish spending are not an expression of pomp and show. But sometimes, one finds occasional display of mixed dancing and loud music and transparent, sleeveless or tight dresses. This is when I have always felt uncomfortable to stay longer than the usual. I usually tell the host politely that I would not stay during the dancing, regardless of who is performing it. I usually leave immediately after the nikah and I often request the families to ensure that loud music inviting people to dance should not be played before the nikah just to maintain the sanctity of the Quran. I think there are better ways to display one’s excitement and happiness than showing it off with dancing where almost every curve of the body become visible to those who watch it. I fully realize the nature of the event, but again there are certain styles of happiness that people should limit to those who are eligible to appreciate it.
One can argue that people watching these people dancing should control their thought process. This is an ideal situation, but we can safely assume that each one of us is at a different level of controlling one’s looks and one’s thought process.
The wedding gifts are also important. Perhaps, a better way is to offer cash as gift rather than offering things in kind. At times, people do not find the best use of the gift in kind; the cash will help them to spend on their needs. One should not over spend on buying gifts to burden one. Those who receive the gift should be considerate toward the giver in this aspect.
The marriage sermon is very important. I avoid giving long sermons. It should explain the importance of the event, the responsibilities of the bride and bride groom towards each other and towards their families, the methodology to resolve their differences of opinions in the future if there are any and the vision of a happy and prosperous life built around love and kindness. It is an event that brings a man and a woman together and the sermon must emphasize love and compassion towards each other. Many a times, such events are attended by non-Muslims. So before the end of the sermon prayer I usually request the people to make silent prayers in their own religious traditions to acknowledge their presence and then ask all to join in loud prayers usually given in Arabic and English.
I believe that our wedding ceremonies can be an expression of our commitment to the teachings of our Prophet in a modest manner. We must always remember that this event is all about coming together of two individuals under the divine guidance, going against the general practice of living together as is generally practiced at least in the Americas and Europe. The couple must be congratulated, appreciated and encouraged for this. They are the stars of the event and the focus on the sermon and celebrations should ensure that within the guidelines set by Allah and his prophet, their happiness is given priority. It is not a time to preach but a time to celebrate.

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