The modern-day Muslim wedding ceremony shares a lot of its festivities with those of India-dominated religions Sikhism and Hinduism, particularly as it pertains to South-Asian Muslim weddings. The three religions share a number of details for their celebrations such as the ‘baraat’ and wedding reception (‘valimah’), as a result of centuries of sharing the same land space in the regions that are today separated and known as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Like Sikhism and Hinduism, a lot of those festivities are essentially extra-curricular and the fundamental religious portion of the ceremony proves to be the core of the event. In Islam’s case, that is the ‘nikah’.
The ‘Nikah’ is the marriage contract signed by the bride and groom, and three others (to be explained), and is the only necessity in a Muslim wedding ceremony. The religion teaches its followers to be restrained and humble and the wedding ceremony exemplifies that.
The Qur’an, Islam’s Holy Scripture, has mentions of the concept of ‘mahr’, which is mandatory for a groom to offer his bride. ‘Mahr’ is an amount of money (or possessions with a monetary value) which is for the bride’s exclusive use and a portion of this ‘mahr’ is given before the ceremony, the rest is deferred and paid at a latter point. The bride must be offered an amount that would allow her to live sufficiently should the husband die or the couple divorce, as this is the purpose of the ‘mahr’ – to protect the wife should such a scenario occur. The amount is written into the marriage contract.
The ‘Nikah’ itself is officiated by a maulvi, also known as qazi, who is a religious scholar. If a maulvi is not available, a Muslim with significant education in Islamic tradition may perform the ceremony. The ritual must be witnessed by the parents of the bride and groom (the ‘wali’), and two other witnesses, often community elders. In some cases, the ‘wali’ are accepted to hold the status of witnesses too.
It is not completely necessary for the bride to be present at the ‘nikah’ in an Islamic wedding ceremony, she may give permission for her ‘wali’ to represent her.
The maulvi will often recite prayers as well as chapters from the Qur’an, most likely ‘Surat Fatihah’, the first of the Qur’an, and ‘Durud’. He will also recite the fundamental declaration of Islam, the first of six kalimahs (significant parts of a Muslim’s belief), called ‘Tayyibah’ (word of purity). The bride (if she is present) and groom will each declare their willingness to marry by repeating the word ‘qabul’ (accept) three times.
The contract itself, called the ‘nikahnama’, will be signed by the groom, the bride, the ‘maulvi’ and the two witnesses and at this point, the two will be declared married.