After a long day at work yesterday I indulged in one of my favourite trashy pastimes: watching Four Weddings. (It was the Canadian version, if you’re interested.) For the first time in my long history of Four Weddings viewing, a Muslim wedding was featured. I couldn’t help but giggle at the annoyance experienced by the competing brides who attended and scored the Muslim marriage ceremony and wedding.
‘Why are there only men sitting there?’
‘Why aren’t they kissing?’
‘There are four kinds of rice to eat. Isn’t that a bit much?’
It was funny to watch because it made me think of all the times I’ve been at a Muslim wedding and happened to glance at the non-Muslim friends of the bride and/or groom. As polite as people are, I often sense their confusion at the order of proceedings. It’s confusing enough for Muslims, given the wide spectrum of cultural and religious views on what a wedding should involve. While weddings are universally known to be stressful and emotionally taxing to organise, there are some uniquely Muslim considerations to take into account. These include:
1.) To segregate, or not to segregate?
Even if the couple are in agreement over this one, their respective families may not be. When one family is considerably more conservative than the other, they are bound to butt heads on this issue. To give a quick overview, there are several ways a wedding can deal with the issue of male-female guests. At the less conservative end of the spectrum, males and females will be seated throughout the room, just as they would be at a non-Muslim wedding. Some will place males and females in the same room but on opposite sides, while at the most conservative end of the spectrum either a partition will be placed down the middle or the males and females will be placed in entirely separate rooms.
Confusingly, there’s also the arrangement where the groom walks his bride in to a room full of women and subsequently leaves. I always feel sorry for the groom in these cases. It must be awkward entering a room and being the only male, knowing everyone is waiting for you to leave so they can take off their hijabs and get the real party started. (‘Is he gone yet? Oh come on, get out!)This arrangement must be very puzzling to non-Muslims. It was odd to me at first as well; I always thought the point of a wedding was for the bride and groom to celebrate together, not spend the entire night apart. But I’ve come to really enjoy the revelry of all-female weddings. It’s almost like a last hurrah for the bride and a recognition of the female support she has enjoyed to get her to this point.
Knowing which segregation option to go with will be especially tricky where the guy and girl are from different cultural backgrounds because different cultures tend to have different conventions when it comes to segregation. In some cultures it’s the norm, while in others it’s a rarity. If both families are very conservative, it can work fairly smoothly. But sometimes it gets to the stage where the couple end up having two separate weddings to honour each of their cultures; it can just be easier that way. (It’s also easier in terms of splitting expenses, I’m guessing.)
2.) Music, or no music?
This might sound like a relatively trivial issue in the scheme of things, but rest assured, it’s a sticky one. The issue of whether to have music or not is rendered even more complex due to the contention over what exactly constitutes ‘music’. I’ve been at a function where the DJ almost refused to play a certain song, Islamic in content but containing instruments. I’ve heard of a family threatening boycott if there was no music and no dancing at the wedding, while people at the most conservative end have boycotted weddings where music was going to be played, even when the person getting married was a close family member.
The issue of music is closely related to the issue of segregation. If there are going to be males and females in the same room, it’s less likely that there will be people getting up on the dance floor and breaking it down. But if the wedding is completely segregated, there may just be both music and dancing. Again, this depends on the culture. In some cultures, music and dancing is acceptable even where it’s unsegregated. The latter therefore will somewhat resemble the set-up of a non-Muslim wedding, except for the conspicuous lack of alcohol.
3.) To hijab, or de-hijab?
This may sound somewhat ridiculous, but let’s not deny it: it happens. In some cultures, there can be immense pressure placed on brides and even members of the bridal party to take off their hijab on the day of the wedding. They are told that they’ll look much better, that it’s only for the one day. This is compounded by the fact that some traditional wedding attires do not easily lend themselves to fully covering up. I’ve even heard of girls being discouraged from putting on the hijab before they get married so they can look ‘nice’ on their wedding day.
It’s easy to tell people to ignore these pleas, but I understand that it’s not easy to do when they come directly from their own mothers. Obviously I don’t condone the practice whatsoever, but I feel it’s important to address the deeply embedded cultural notions underpinning it rather than simply condemning the people who follow it. One positive of coming to live in a Western country is that people become more able to separate long-standing cultural practices from Islamic practices, so here’s to hoping this is one that’s on it’s way out.
4.) To go all-out, or to keep it low-key?
This is a more general question on how much money should be spent on a wedding. Some believe it is ‘unIslamic’ to have a wedding that is extravagant, but of course it’s difficult to determine the line between extravagant and simply having an elegant and tasteful gathering. People are often gossiped about for having the whole shebang such as fancy cars, elaborate decorations and palatial function centres. Families with income disparities will often encounter issues; the less wealthy family may try to disguise the fact they cannot afford things and will go into debt to do so.
Personally, I’d never go into debt to finance my ‘dream wedding’. Some of the most beautiful weddings I’ve been to have just been held at community halls with little fanfare but lots of love. But it’s often the parents of one or both parties who’ll demand nothing but the best for their little prince/princess. The level of extravagance also depends on the social circle the parents roll in. In some circles, it’s simply expected that the parent will put on a massive show for their guests, and to not do so will mean losing face. This is compounded when the culture in question demands a number of separate parties in the lead-up to the wedding, which can potentially send expenses sky-rocketing.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and each point could warrant a post of its own. Can you think of any more? What kind of weddings do you like best?