Muslim Matrimonials and More


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My Friend Razia's Wedding

by Deidre Matschke

We all look forward to our wedding day and the preparations that precede it, and that is why I thought it would be an interesting idea to look at the preparations that are made in different cultures for this very special occasion. Initially I thought that weddings couldn’t be that different from culture to culture, but boy, was I wrong. Through the course of this series of articles I hope that you will discover with me how different each culture is and how we also share very common feelings when it comes to weddings.

I decided to begin the series with a look at a traditional Muslim wedding, because a very close Muslim friend of mine has decided to take the leap into marriage, and she agreed to share her experiences with me. It has been very enlightening to discover all the work and tradition that forms part of the marriage, as well as her feelings about the event.

Like any young women on the verge of her wedding, Razia is nervous and unsure of herself, but it almost seems as if there is more pressure on her because of the rituals that accompany the wedding. Possibly the most significant aspect is the immense involvement of the families in the wedding preparations. It is as if the bride and groom don’t have very much say in the whole process.

The proposal is an important gathering and includes the extended family; aunts, uncles and grandparents. This isolation seems to begin at the proposal and engagement stages. In most Muslim communities, it is accepted that if a young girl is seen in public (by her family and friends) with a specific young man over a long period of time, she is most likely to marry him. Therefore, when Razia’s fiancé decided to ask her to marry him, it was up to their families to decide whether it was acceptable or not. The young man’s parents visit the young woman’s parents and ask for permission. The proposal is an important gathering and includes the extended family; aunts, uncles and grandparents.

After permission has been given, an official engagement takes place. At this gathering, the couple exchange gifts, which include clothes, toiletries and trays of sweet and savoury food. An interesting tradition is that the young man places a sweetmeat in the young woman’s mouth. This is symbolic of the happy occasion, and it is said that because it is a happy occasion the young woman’s mouth should be sweet. The family also decides on a dowry, which the young man will give to the young woman. She can reject it and ask for more.

The night before the wedding seems to be the most significant part of the celebration, particularly for the young girl and her family. Razia is certainly looking forward to it, as it is truly a celebration and also helps the ease some of those pre-wedding jitters. Once again the parties exchange gifts which will include the necessities for setting up a home. The night before the wedding is known as "Mendhi Night". This refers to the paste that is used to decorate the girl’s arms and feet. For about a week, Razia has been putting this mendhi paste on her finger nails so that they will be a terracotta colour by the time of the wedding. On Mendhi night, Ismael will put some of the paste on her finger and begin the decoration. Then her family will continue to decorate her arms and feet in preparation for the big day. Ismael will also apply a turmeric paste to her face, this paste helps the girl’s complexion look soft and silky the next day.

For about a week, Razia has been putting this mendhi paste on her finger nails so that they will be a terracotta colour by the time of the wedding.

After this has taken place, the families eat together. A special type of milk drink, very similar to a milkshake, is made from rose syrup. It will be offered to Ismael by Razia’s brother. These visits often end up being great parties, baby powder and water are thrown at guests. These acts are expressions of young, and an opportunity to get rid of any tension that may exist between the families.

On her wedding, Razia will wear a beautiful white two-piece garment. The fabric is imported from India, and is cut into a traditional design. The top consists of large amounts of gold embroidery and beadwork, while the skirt is plain and flared. This garment is obviously designed to make the young woman feel very special on her wedding day. Razia will also wear jewellery given to her by Ismael as a wedding present. Ismael will be wearing traditional western clothing as will the rest of the party.

The actual wedding ceremony is a solely male affair and takes place in a Mosque. The ceremony consists of a Nikah, which is a reading and prayer in Arabic. The men then sign the papers stating that they are married. Razia will have three witnesses present on her behalf, they will be asked three times whether she accepts the offer of marriage. From the Mosque the men return home, where Ismael will greet Razia and put the ring on her finger to symbolise their union. After the formalities, the couple go to Razia’s mother’s house. Ismael will have to pay her sister to enter the house. He must also give money to the cook to open the pot, so that they can eat.

The most touching part of the proceedings is the moment when Razia will leave her mother’s house. She no longer belongs to her own house, but to the house of her husband. She will therefore greet each member of her family. This normally results in many tears of joy and sadness. The couple then go to Ismael’s house, where they have to pay his sister to enter. Here they are welcomed, because instead of loosing someone they are gaining a new daughter.

Even though the Muslim wedding seems to isolate some of those who are involved in it, it is never the less a very romantic event. The symbolism involved in each ritual reminds one of a time long past and the romance and beauty of traditional India.


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