An Indian wedding is the biggest event in anyone’s personal life. Everything else, including childbirth, fades in comparison. Add to that the melting pot of our multi-religious and multicultural nation. Every community has marriage customs that are unique and some that reflect other customs in the country. Islamic weddings are no exception. Here are some unique and some inspired wedding customs followed by Indian Muslims.
Before the Nikaah
Ishtikhara and Imam zamin
Once the wedding is fixed, the elders of the family or an Imam take the Almighty’s blessings for the union. This is called Ishtikhara. After this, the groom’s family visits the bride’s home, and the groom’s mother ties a gold or silver coin wrapped in silk on the bride’s arm. This signifies her acceptance in their family and wishes her good luck and prosperity.
Manjha or Ubtan
Quite like other such marriage rituals in India, the manjha ceremony takes place just a few days before the wedding. Dressed in yellow, the bride has a unique paste of turmeric, sandalwood, rosewater, khus and other herbs smeared on her by friends and family. It is a light-hearted evening with some homes even allowing folk songs to be sung. After this ceremony, she is not to leave her home till the wedding day.
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This is the pre wedding night that Western culture celebrates as a bachelor night or a hen do. Muslim weddings also celebrate it as the last night of singlehood for the bride and groom to be, separately. But without any people who take off clothes for a living! Nonetheless, things do get daring without them as well. Aliya, a new bride, recalls her ratjagga, “The entire family stayed up talking, singing, and just enjoying. And believe it or not I also managed to smoke my first cigarette and get a few puffs. That’s really scandalous in my family, so it was definitely a moment I will remember forever.”
Marriage is a contract in Islam and the nikahnama outlines the details of this contract with duties and responsibilities.
The maulvi goes first to the bride to get her consent. The bride’s consent is given first priority and she is asked thrice to ensure that she is absolutely certain of the union. Thereafter the groom is asked for his consent. Once both agree, they sign the nikahnama and are married. The nikahnama also has within it a gift from the groom to the bride called mehr. This is considered the bride’s right in Islam and is her property. It is decided as per the economic standing of the groom.
Related reading: Indian weddings and the art of tracing lineages
After the Nikaah
This ceremony has been romanticised by movies such as Nikaah. Once the bride and groom say yes to the wedding, they see each other through their reflections in the mirror. A dupatta or chadar is placed on them and gives them a first glimpse of one another in traditional arranged marriages. The Holy Quran is also there to bless them. Afreen had a traditional Kashmiri wedding with the arsi mushraf ceremony. She recalls it fondly, “Not only was it a divine blessing with the Quran, but seeing my husband for the first time in that mirror was both surreal and spiritual. He still teases how red my cheeks were out of shyness! But it really was a special moment that marked the beginning of the most special relationship of my life.”
Just like the vidaai, rukhsati is an emotional moment for the bride and her family. She steps out of her parental home into the new home of her husband. The bride’s father gives her hand to his new son-in-law, asking him to care for her and protect her. She enters her new home with her mother-in-law holding a Quran over her head to bless her first steps into the house.
This is the reception given by the groom’s family to celebrate the union. It is usually held a day after the wedding and is also a celebration of the marriage being consummated. The groom’s family throws a lavish feast for friends and family, and the bride is also introduced to many in his extended family. The newlyweds are showered with gifts and blessings by all. The walima is one of the biggest events in the marriage ceremony with the bride and groom’s families and friends coming together to wish the couple the best and join them in their time of joy.
After the walima, the bride returns to her home for a day. She spends a day with her family. The husband goes to his in-laws’ house on the fourth day after the wedding, to escort his wife home with him, and live happily ever after.
There are, of course, many other rituals that make a Muslim wedding, each adapted to the region the bride and groom belong to. Like Hindu weddings, joota churai is also practised in Muslim weddings in India where the bride’s sisters steal the groom’s shoes and ask for money to return them. Muslim weddings in India are colourful and celebratory occasions with two families coming together to bless the newlyweds and announce their union to the world. And of course the cherry on the cake is the delicious food!