Muslim Matrimonials and More

Wedding Customs Around the Muslim World


A Ribnovo Wedding

The inhabitants of the town of Ribnovo are Bulgarian-speaking Muslims, sometimes referred to as "Pomaks," or "people who have suffered." The Pomak Muslims are estimated to number approximately 250,000, dwelling mainly in the Rhodope Mountains of South Bulgaria and North Greece. They are believed to have converted to Islam in the late 1300s, but they have suffered persecution since the time of the Bulgarian rebellion against the Ottoman Caliphate in 1912. Bulgarian and Greek authorities have tried to erase the Islamic cultural heritage by changing place names, banning written material in Turkish, prohibiting the repair of mosques or schools, and confiscating waqf lands. They have forced many Pomaks to convert to Christianity. Pomaks are not allowed to buy land or even to travel outside the country. As a result, some Pomaks are redefining themselves as Bulgarians. Nevertheless, in many towns such as Ribnovo, the people have preserved their distinct customs and religious practices. May Allah grant them strength and guidance.

Our thanks to Nikah Consultants and Kael Alford for the content of this page.

Note from the Editor: Some of these photos show women in less than a full state of hijab, though still modestly dressed. In the past I have received one or two comments from people saying, "Why do you post photos of women without hijab?" In response I would like to point out that there are many parts of the world where Islamic codes are not fully practiced, including most of the Muslim countries. Most of us are confronted with much more blatant scenes every day, but we continue to move about in the world because we have needs. These articles also serve an important educational need, that of informing us about the situation and customs of Muslims around the world.

Boys light torches before the wedding

The night before the wedding ceremony, boys lead processions through the village streets by torch light.

Bride-to-be leads a dance

Nabie and her husband lead a "horo" dance in the school yard in a pre-wedding celebration attended my almost all of the families in the village.

Bride is painted for the ceremony

Seventeen-year-old Nabieh, from the village of Ribnovo isolated in the Bulgarian Rhodope mountains, is painted for her wedding ceremony.

Girls gather outside the bride's home

Girls and women gather before the collection of gifts outside the bride's home. The bride's dowry is displayed publicly along with the gifts which the bride and groom give to wedding attendants in exchange for gifts of money.

Girls wait to see the bride

Girls wait to see the bride outside the home where she is being prepared for the final public event of the two-day wedding ceremony. Touching among women of Ribnovo is intimate and comfortable.

Bride's face is painted

Nabieh's face is painted white and decorated with colorful sequins in a private rite attended only by close female friends and family members.

Bride is presented to the village

Nabieh is presented by her new husband, Zaim, and her mother and grandmother to the members of the village who have been waiting patiently to see her. She is not permitted to open her eyes until she has been blessed by the Hoja. After the blessing, she will present the guests of the wedding with handmade gifts which she and the woman in her family have been sewing and embroidering for the past months.

Nabieh's parents, sisters and grandmother will say a tearful goodbye to her on the night she is married. Though she will not leave Ribnovo, she must move to the house of her husband's parents because she is now a member of his family.

More About the Pomak Muslims:

The Pomak economy is based on agriculture. Their major crops include rye, barley, corn, flax, potatoes, tobacco, and hemp (a fibrous plant useful for making ropes or cords). Raising animals such as cows, goats, and sheep is also very important. Pomak women are renowned for their excellent weaving abilities. Many Pomaks also earn their income as migrant workers. The Pomak diet primarily consists of bread, potatoes, and beans. They also enjoy yogurt, various cheeses, and lamb and goat meat.

The Pomak farmers live in rural villages that are surrounded by their fields and pastures. Most of the people live in two-story dwellings. The upper floor is used as living quarters, while the lower floor serves as a stable for the animals. The houses were traditionally constructed of stone, wood, and clay, with sloping slate roofs. Recently, however, some Pomaks have begun to build homes out of brick or cinder block, with ceramic tile roofs.

The Pomaks face discrimination and persecution, and are often deprived of legal rights. Many have had their land taken without any form of compensation, and freedom of movement is restricted. They generally cannot buy land and are unable to get government jobs or business licenses. Greece denies Muslims passports, and if a Pomak travels abroad without one, he or she is not allowed back into the country.

Traditionally, Pomak marriages are arranged between the families of the prospective bride and groom. The wedding occurs when the couple reaches their mid- to late teens. Before marriage, the bride prepares her own dowry, which consists of household items and clothing. Although Islamic law allows a man to have as many as four wives, polygamy was never frequent among the Pomaks, and is currently prohibited by Bulgarian and Greek law.


All photos copyright Kael Alford

Kael Alford
American University in Bulgaria
Blagoevgrad 2700, BULGARIA


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