Wedding a blend of culture, local customs, Islamic rites

The first dance at the wedding of Ahmad Atoom and Suzanne Hamid.
The first dance at the wedding of Ahmad Atoom and Suzanne Hamid. Photo by Leila Alhaklout

My daughter, Suzanne, got married in Amman, Jordan, last week. She was born and raised in Charlotte and went to Amman, where my Palestinian husband and I have family, to study Arabic for six months.

That was almost two years ago. She ended up finding a job in her field and meeting a nice young man, Ahmad, who asked for her hand in marriage.

Many factors come in to play when Muslims from various cultures plan a wedding; on the one hand are cultural traditions, on the other are local customs, and very much in the middle are Islamic rites.

Islam, like all faiths, encourages love and marriage. The Quran says, “And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed love and mercy between you. Indeed in that are signs for those who reflect.” 30:21

While sometimes it is difficult to separate Islamic obligations from cultural traditions, the marriage ceremony (Katb Al Kitab/Nikkah) has simple requirements:

▪ The woman must be asked and she must agree (contrary to what some believe, she has the right of refusal).

▪ The bride must have a representative (Walee) present, usually her father.

▪ The groom must offer a gift of value (Mahr) to the bride (not her family).

▪ They both must agree to terms of the marriage contract (a kind of prenup but not limited to financial issues).

▪ There must be two pious witnesses.

▪ There must be a public announcement of the marriage (i.e. making it “Facebook official”).

▪ There should also be a celebration of the marriage, aka wedding.

The most important aspect of an Islamic marriage is the religious commitment made to God. However, marriage also carries with it legal rights, therefore the law of the land must be followed with respect to marriage licenses, etc. The ceremony is usually conducted privately, with close family and friends present. Suzanne and Ahmad’s Katab Al Kitab was performed at the courthouse in Amman a few days before the wedding. Jordan is an Islamic country, hence the legal and religious aspects were combined.

Couples are not permitted to be alone together or to even hold hands until the marriage ceremony takes place. Some may scoff at the idea that a couple cannot “be together” until after the commitment of marriage, but Islam, like all Abrahamic faiths, prohibits intimate relations outside of marriage.

Once the ceremony takes place, the bride and groom are married in the eyes of God. Some couples have the ceremony on the day or week of the wedding reception, while others do it months in advance. Traditionally they wait until after the wedding reception to consummate the marriage.

The Islamic ceremony is the common aspect of the wedding; the other elements are dictated by the expectations of the families, and in my daughter’s case a combination of American, Palestinian, Syrian and Jordanian customs and traditions were included.

One of the most entertaining aspects of an Arab wedding is the Zaffa, the musical procession announcing the arrival of the bride and groom. As a nod to his Syrian side, Ahmad hired some amazing Syrian Zaffa performers. Suzanne incorporated her Palestinian heritage by having olive branches from the family’s land in Palestine included into her bouquet. As she wrote “…An heirloom of my heritage. A symbol of peace between families, cultures and nations.”

The new couple will be living in Amman (for a while) where they will have the opportunity to create their own traditions on a foundation of faith. I pray they forever have love, mercy and tranquility in their lives.

Rose Hamid of Charlotte is president of Muslim Women of the Carolinas