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  • Nur Atiqah

Marriage in Islam

| What I knew and what I’ve learnt

Growing up, an event that every Malay family was accustomed to attending was void deck weddings. The buzz of the different families interacting and catching up with each other, the nice aroma of the various food that was available at the buffet aisle, the decorated common space with the centrepiece for the bride and groom to sit at after the walk-in. As a kid, I was only concerned with two things: the food and the “bunga manggar”, which were sticks covered with plastic confetti. Bunching them together could be compared to colourful palm trees. When my cousins and I were allowed to take one each, they would substitute toy swords as our form of entertainment throughout the reception. I was usually accustomed to seeing hundreds of people at every Malay wedding reception I had to go for. I never experienced the nitty gritty of the preparations needed for a wedding. The closest to it was during kindergarten. Even then I was too young to help out with anything and stuck by my cousins throughout the process.

More than a decade later, as I experience first-hand how Malay Muslim weddings go about with helping out my soon-to-be wed sibling, I did learn a few new things about how weddings and the process of marriage goes about in Malay Muslim families.

1. Culture vs religion (which one is more important?)

As someone who only followed to see the wedding reception, I was never fully aware of the existence of the engagement event before the wedding planning had begun. The engagement ceremony, also known as ‘majlis pertunangan’, was a custom that was mainly popularised as a Malay tradition among families. The general idea consisted of giving a few trays of gifts for the bride and groom respectively such as the engagement ring and the dowry for the bride. It would usually be held at the bride’s house, with the groom’s relatives bringing the trays to her house. The groom’s mother will also have the duty to place the gifted engagement ring on the bride. Religiously, engagement ceremonies were not of priority for the couple, with further emphasis on the marriage contract, also known as the ‘Nikah’. Different families have different views upon the balance between culture and practice during the marriage process. Some may have more traditional beliefs and would include the engagement ceremony while others may only view such an event as a waste of money which could be used for the actual wedding reception and ‘Nikah’. The newer generations of Malay Muslim couples may also view such an event as unnecessary with the continuous increase in costs of living for housing and for their future children.

2. The marriage contract process and its significance

Following up from the first point, ‘Nikah’ is a commitment and agreement between man and woman to live together as husband and wife. In Islam, marriage is a highly encouraged Sunnah for those who are capable to complete the other half of a person’s faith. It is usually carried out the day before the wedding reception or the morning before the reception. With the venue being the bride’s house as well. The process generally involves the signing of papers, with a few family relatives to act as witnesses for the signing. The groom will verbally accept his bride, officially stating that they are now married.

From my perspective, the process of ‘Nikah’ is an Islamic practice which holds a great importance in the seriousness of the relationship. It also allows for both the bride and groom to get married in a positive and respected manner with all their closest relatives surrounded by them to witness.

3. The importance of dowry and gifts

The dowry, also known as the ‘duit hantaran’ in Malay, is a sum of money which every groom is required to give to the bride before the marriage. The dowry serves as a form of security for the woman. The amount given is determined and discussed between the parents of the woman and the man. In situations such as divorce, the dowry provides support to the woman as well as to recognise the woman’s roles and rights in the marriage.

While the dowry is obligatory for the groom to provide, he should not feel stubborn nor dread when having to give such a large sum together with the other forms of gifts such as traditional clothing, bags and accessories. Besides as a form of security for the woman, the dowry and gifts also act as a form of gratitude to the wife for her sacrifices. The husband must be appreciative of what his wife is willing to sacrifice to be with him and to complete his faith.

This can be seen as Allah SWT says in Surah an-Nisa’:

“And give the women their dowries willingly.” (The Qur’an, 4:5)

“And for the benefit you receive from them, give them their dowries, as fixed.” (The Qur’an, 4:25)

In some cases, the discussion over the amount that the man gives as dowry can be a point of tension between the two families. It enforces that the amount should not be forced or be overly burdened on the groom either, to ensure that he is giving it to his wife with only gratitude and appreciation.

4. Preparations before the reception starts

Once the engagement ceremony and the dowry are settled, the planning for the wedding reception begins immediately. With the effects of COVID-19 on the general population, many Malay weddings are gradually shifting from inviting everyone they know to a void deck reception to a smaller guestlist at a ballroom or dining hall. The go-to things that a person would think for the preparations would typically be the clothes, the food caterer and the booking of the venue itself. Experiencing the year leading up to a wedding reception, I realised that there are many different small details that I have never noticed were needed for a reception. Details such as the seating arrangements, the specific fonts for every wedding favour, the specific time slots for each involved person; a wedding reception is the furthest thing from being easy.

For many couples after the engagement, they would have already begun to consider matters such as their housing, future children and the switch in their accustomed way of life. Preparing for a wedding reception requires much behind the scenes work, and impacts the physical and mental state of both the wife and husband throughout the process.

Even with all the various details and practices that a man and wife must uphold throughout the marriage process, the real duties and roles of husband and wife happen after all the celebrations. As they are each other’s half of their Islamic faith, they must be each other’s main pillar of support during tough times and tests. They must be willing to make sacrifices for each other and be considerate of each other’s thoughts and feelings too.

May everyone be blessed with a significant other who motivates them to be a better Muslim.



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