Trying to explain to a non-Muslim the intricacies of the timing of the Nikah, or formal Islamic marriage contract, is an absolute minefield. I find it confusing enough myself given the vast array of arrangements people have come up with. Let’s break it down then, shall we?
1.) Nikah on the wedding day
This is the simplest and most easily explained arrangement. The religious ceremony, as with a Christian church ceremony, is conducted either on the morning of the wedding day or at the actual wedding itself in front of the guests. From this point both socially and religiously they are considered to be husband and wife.
Pros: This arrangement is very neat. Everything happens in a structured way: meet someone, get engaged, get socially and religiously married and commence a life together. There’s no confusion as to the status of the couple at any time.
Cons: Because the couple are not Islamically considered to be husband and wife up until their wedding day, they are naturally prevented from getting too close. Most obviously, this can refer to physical closeness, but it can also refer to emotional closeness. Each couple is different in their approach to how close they get before being nikah-fied, but generally there will be at least some barriers in place up until this time. Consequently, it can be a teeny bit awkward to suddenly remove these barriers on the wedding day and have to assume the roles of husband and wife. Couples at the most conservative end of the spectrum will never have spent a moment alone together up until this point, but within moments, bam, they’re married, and expected to get very…errr, close.
2.) Nikah the week before the wedding day
This is an interesting one to explain. The Islamic marriage contract is signed, and the married couple jaunts off to a mini honeymoon…and then come back for their actual wedding day.
Pros: I’m no expert on this matter, but from what I understand there is Islamic precedent for having the celebration after the marriage has been consummated. (Sorry to use such an awkward word, but really, nothing else would do.)
Cons: It’s a bit of an awkward situation for all parties concerned. I know people who’ve gone to hotels or short breaks away after their nikah, and when they come back for their wedding day, no one quite knows how to treat them.
3.) Nikah at some point before the wedding day
I’m never quite sure how people decide on the timing of this one. Some people do it two months before the wedding, some two years. It really just depends on the circumstances of the couple. For example, if a guy and girl are seeing each other but aren’t yet in a financial position to live together, they will often opt to do the nikah just to make everything Halal, thus leading to the tongue-in-cheek term ‘Halal dating’.
Confusingly, the nikah is sometimes referred to in these cases as an ‘engagement’ when in fact the couple are religiously considered to be husband and wife from the time the contract is signed. Even more confusingly are the mixed messages on the Facebook relationship status front. Some of these couples will change their status to ‘engaged’, while some will change their status to ‘married’ despite the fact that they are not living together and that their wedding is still to come. I always sorry for non-Muslims who seem to be left hanging in these situations and are left to comment confusedly on photos asking, ‘is this your wedding or engagement?!’ To make things just that extra bit confusing, a lot of couples also have an engagement party prior to doing the nikah, which means they in fact end up having at least 3 parties: an engagement party, a party once they’ve done the nikah and finally, the wedding.
Pros: An obvious pro is that the couple now get to do, erm, couple stuff. They can go out together without worrying about causing a scandal and get to know each other in a much more intimate way, thus easing their way into their married life to come.
Cons: Being married Islamically but not living together puts the couple in a weird sort of limbo. Some parents react to this limbo by cracking the whip and forbidding them from going out alone together, while others treat them as if they’re semi-married.
I’ll have to go into this in another post in some detail, but there’s a lot of social stigmas and taboos around what is acceptable to do while you’re in this limbo stage. For now, I’ll just say that it adds a lot of confusion to a simple state of affairs.
4.) Removing the wedding day from the equation entirely
Sometimes people will skip the wedding and just go for the signing of the contract, followed by commencing their married life together. This can be very confusing for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Is there a wedding to come? Are they married socially as well as religiously now? I’ve even heard of people who have lived together as husband and wife for months after the Nikah, and then decide to have a wedding celebration just for the heck of it. This almost mimics the situation of de facto couples who then get married, except that in this case the couple are Islamically married from the time they lived together and the wedding itself is just a (delayed) celebration of this marriage.
Pros: Weddings are stressful. Enough said.
Cons: Once again, social confusion abounds. ‘When’s the wedding?’ can get awfully tiresome to hear.
That’s it for now, folks. When did you do your nikah in relation to your wedding, and how did you decide?