Wedding customs can vary greatly between different cultures, including traditional ceremonies. Unfortunately, many Westerners rely on stereotypes when it comes to Middle Eastern dating and wedding customs.
It’s important to note that Arab marriage traditions have evolved significantly over the past century. Arab marriages are traditional and elaborate celebrations, with shared customs in the Levant region, which includes Lebanon, Palestine, and Morocco, despite some local variations due to culture and religion.
Traditional Arab Wedding Customs
This article explores the traditions, customs, and rituals that take place at Muslim weddings, particularly in the Middle East, with a focus on traditional Arab weddings. Before we start, we suggest you check out our take on planning a multicultural wedding in UAE to know the rich diversity of Muslim Weddings!
Tolbe or Tulba is a customary tradition in the Middle East where the groom formally asks the bride’s parents for their blessing before the wedding. If the families approve, the attendees say the opening prayer from the Holy Quran, also known as “Surah Al-Fatiha.” Afterward, the two families sit together and share a gift of tea, coffee, or pastries.
2. Kitb Al-Kitaab
The “katb al-kitaab” refers to a traditional marriage ceremony where the sheikh responsible for the Nikkah of the couple outlines the terms of the marriage. Both parties must agree and sign a contract. During this ceremony, guests are politely requested to dress conservatively, covering their arms and legs, and women with fashionable attire are requested to wear a headscarf.
In Muslim culture, the Mahr is a dowry that the husband pays to his new bride, and it is presented during the katb Al-kitaab ceremony. This payment is a symbol of the husband’s affection and appreciation towards his wife. If they ever get a divorce, she will have something valuable to take with her.
During the zaffe, the bride and groom have a spectacular entrance to the celebration, accompanied by traditional Arabic music played by a group of drummers. Additionally, on the wedding day, the bride’s father traditionally accompanies her.
During the zaffe, the rings are moved from the right hand to the left hand as the female attendees cheer with a high-pitched ululation called the zaghrouta to celebrate the union of the couple.
If you’re visiting an Arab Muslim wedding, you should expect plenty of dancing. One well-liked folk dance, called dabke, features both professional dancers and wedding guests joining in. The dance involves forming a circle and dancing shoulder to shoulder.
6. Cake Cutting Ceremony
Wedding cake cutting is a common tradition in many cultures, but the Arab world has a unique approach. Muslim Arab couples use a large sword, which has been passed down through the groom’s family, to cut into their multi-tiered wedding cake. Some couples even use sparklers to add more extravagance to their celebration.
7. Barmet Al-Aroos
This is the last opportunity for guests to bid farewell to the newly married couple as they depart in a beautifully adorned bridal car. Typically, the couple is accompanied back to their lodging destination or home by a caravan of their own cars driven by friends and family, who play loud music and honk their horns to announce to onlookers that the couple ahead of them has just said YES! To each other and are going to start their married life.
FAQs about Muslim Traditional Wedding Customs & Rituals
1. In what ways do Muslim weddings vary across different regions and cultures?
Muslim weddings vary greatly depending on the region and cultural and ethnic norms. As the second-largest religion worldwide, with diverse populations across the globe, there are countless ways in which Muslims celebrate and perform weddings. Some cultural and traditional nuances, games, or customs may take place depending on whether it is a South Asian, East Asian, North African, or Arab wedding.
People incorporate cultural traditions into Muslim weddings to add beauty and diversity, even if the traditions do not necessarily originate from Islam itself. This results in unique and beautiful celebrations that showcase various customs and ways of celebrating.
2. What are some of the most important ceremonies of a Traditional Muslim Wedding?
Muslim weddings typically involve a Nikah/katb Al kitab (the signing of a marriage contract), a Mahr presentation (a gift, usually monetary, from the groom to the bride), and a Walima/Valima (reception). The timing of the Nikah and Walima can vary based on the couple’s preferences and plans, with some couples having them on the same day while others separate them by months.
In some Muslim cultures, the time period between a Nikah (marriage contract) and Walima (wedding feast) is seen as a time when the newlyweds can spend time alone together without a chaperone, similar to the Western concept of dating.
3. Do Muslim weddings serve alcohol?
A short answer to this is NO, as alcohol is prohibited in Islam. When you are invited to a Muslim wedding, please be aware that the menu served will be halal which means that alcohol will not be served.
4. What is suitable to wear in a Muslim Arab Wedding as a guest?
It’s suggested to wear modest clothing such as longer pants and skirts and avoid showing bare arms regardless of gender. If the wedding ceremony takes place in a mosque, be prepared to remove your shoes before entering the sacred area. Brides at Arab weddings might wear long-sleeved wedding dresses with a hijab. Female guests might need to cover their heads, so it’s advisable to bring a scarf.
5. Is it customary to bring gifts to Muslim weddings?
Muslim weddings typically welcome and value gifts. A conventional gift that guests may consider is cash, which can be presented to the couple during the wedding reception.
6. Is there a traditional practice of separating men and women at Muslim weddings?
At Muslim weddings, events such as Walima may require seating separation by gender, with men and women at different tables or even in separate rooms. As a guest, it’s important to be mindful of this. In certain Muslim weddings, the groom and men are in a separate room from the bride and women, with no interaction during the ceremony.
Afterward, the couple may join together in one location, or the traditional custom is for the groom to go to where the bride and women are seated. In some situations, there is no gender segregation and all activities take place in a single location such as a hall, ballroom, venue, or space.
7. What is the duration of Arab Muslim weddings?
Islamic wedding ceremonies typically last only 20 minutes. However, Arab weddings can continue throughout the night. If you’re attending an Arab wedding, be sure to wear comfortable shoes for dancing and come with an appetite for delicious foods such as kibbeh and baklava.
8. Do a majority of Arab Muslim marriages involve arranged marriages?
Nowadays, arranged marriages are rare. Sometimes, a woman’s father may introduce her to a man whom he thinks would be an appropriate match for her. However, this is not the same as a traditional arranged marriage.
9. Are South Asian Muslim Weddings Similar to Arab Traditional Weddings?
South Asian Muslim weddings are different from traditional Arab weddings despite the similarity in religion. The customs and rituals vary depending on the region one lives in. Thus, for a South Asian Muslim wedding, there are unique customs and rituals.
10. What are the customs in a South Asian Muslim Wedding?
There are a few rituals of South Asian Muslim Weddings that differ from Traditional Arab Muslim weddings. Some of the different rituals and customs are,
1. Mehndi or Henna Ceremony
A mehndi or Henna ceremony is a traditional pre-wedding ceremony in South Asian cultures. During this event, the bride, female family members, and bridesmaids get henna designs on their hands. Some brides also have a Mayoon similar to Haldi, in which ladies of the house apply oil and turmeric paste to the bride-to-be before the wedding.
The Nikah ceremony is a contract signing for Muslim marriages, much like the Katb al Kitab in Arab culture. This contract serves both as a religious and civil agreement, recognized legally by the government in Muslim-majority countries. Usually, the Nikah ceremony takes place in a mosque.
The groom will make a grand entrance to the ceremony with lots of excitement. Typically, he will ride in on a white horse while accompanied by drummers and guests.
The Walima is a wedding reception hosted by the groom’s family and may be held at a later date.
The Rukhsati is the traditional departure of the newlywed couple from the wedding venue to their new home.
We hope that this article has provided you with a clear understanding of the customs, rituals, and traditions associated with traditional Arab weddings. If you require professional assistance with planning your wedding, please visit our website, and avail the best event management services in UAE.