young man and the actress Nahal Anber in Egypt

In Muslim societies purity and chastity before marriage are considered imperative. One reason women veil themselves is so that they will not tempt men and maintain their chastity and honor and the honor of the men around them. There is minimal social interaction between men and women before marriage. If two young people are interested in each other, they make arrangements to meet through their parents. Often parents have their own agenda and reject the wishes of their children. In some cases the bride and groom are not even allowed to lay eyes on each other until after they have been married.

Teenagers are generally prevented from dating or going to parties. Meetings or dates between unmarried young men and women are supposed to take place only in the presence of a chaperon, usually a relative of the young man. Among some liberal or Westernized Muslims there is more contact between young men and women and some dating takes place. The opening of shopping malls has created opportunities for flirting and dating.

In the United States conservative Muslim girls attend proms wearing pretty dresses and flowers with their head scarves. In respect to their religion and family wishes Muslim proms have no alcohol, dancing or boys. The Muslim girls celebrate prom together with other Muslim girls.

Couples that are dating are supposed to be accompanied by chaperones. Although dating is discouraged it exist in unique forms. One young Kuwaiti mall rat told Reuters that he dates with girls but keeps his distance from them in public. “We will sit together when we get to the movie theater. There it is dark and no one can see us.” The boy then went on to say, “I only date them. I will never marry a Kuwaiti girl, They are too snobbish ad materialistic. I plan to marry an American girl.”

In Egypt, young men and women often don’t have much of a opportunity to hang out together and date as their counterparts in the West do There are often social occasions attended by teenagers young men and women interact in social occasions but this does not qualify as dating. The opening of the City Center shopping mall in Qatar created opportunities for flirting and dating.

Websites and Resources: Islam ; Islamic City ; Islam 101 ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; BBC article ; Patheos Library – Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline ; Discover Islam;

Arabs: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Who Is an Arab? ; Encyclopædia Britannica article ; Arab Cultural Awareness ; Arab Cultural Center ; 'Face' Among the Arabs, CIA ; Arab American Institute ; Introduction to the Arabic Language ; Wikipedia article on the Arabic language Wikipedia

Dating in Pakistan

Unchaperoned conversation between young unmarried men and women is frowned upon. Saleem wrote in the Washington Post, “My parents never allowed me to date and generally frowned on any male friendships. Dating leads to intimacy which would be out of the question. In high school...a tight curfew ensured my good behavior.” At a party-oriented American university she said she remained true to her parents’ expectations and fended off date invitations by either pretended she was gay or saying she was busy.

An increasing number of young Pakistanis are surfing the Internet for prospective dates. Some even arrange meetings and go out on dates and get married. But if their parents find out they met over the Internet they are forced to call the whole thing off.

One man told the Los Angeles Times he met a 32-year-old woman on the Internet, When he asked her, “When will you get married” She said, “Ask Allah.” He said, “When I found her trust in God, I found that she was a true girl.”The man was in London at the time and asked his brother to meet with her in Pakistan and convey his marriage proposal. They were married a few weeks later.

“Shaadi Online” is a popular television show in which young person and their parents try to find the perfect mate, using the Internet. Some people use marriage websites to find dates rather than mates. In some cases sex meetings have been arranged over the Internet and secretly videotaped.

Choosing a Partner in the Arab-Muslim World

eharmony picture of Arab couple dating in London

Muslims are encouraged to look for a spouse on the grounds of compatibility through piety, rather than for good looks, or wealth, or prestige. People from very diverse backgrounds can be very happy together if their understanding and practice of Islam is compatible.

Marriage is a means of allying two extended families; romantic attachments have little role to play. The husband and wife are primarily representatives of their respective families in a contractual arrangement, which is typically negotiated between two male heads of household. It is fundamentally the parents' responsibility to arrange marriages for their children, but older siblings may be actively involved if the parents die early or if they have been particularly successful in business or politics. The terms are worked out in detail and are noted, by law, at the local marriage registry. [Source: Library of Congress]

Mohja Kahf, author of The Girl with the Tangerine scarf, wrote in the Washington Post about finding a partner in conservative Saudi Arabia: “I chose whom to marry. Every Muslim girl in the conservative circle of my youth chose her husband. We just did it our way, a conservative Muslim way and we did it without this nonsensical Western custom of teenage dating. My friends Salma and Magda chose at 16 or 17: salma to marry boy-next-door Muhammad, with whom she grew up, and Magda to marry a doctor 20 years her senior who cam courting from half a world a way. Both sisters...are still vibrantly married and vibrantly Muslim.”

“I held out until I was 18, making my parents beat back suitors at the door until I was good and ready. And here I am still married to the guy I finally let in the door...My cousin, on the other hand, broke off a marriage she contracted to — but did not consummate — at 16 and chose another man. Another childhood friend, Zeynab, chose four times and is looking for Mr. Fifth.”

Arranged Marriages

In the Muslim world, marriages have traditionally been and still are arranged by parents as a way of forming an important bond between families, not just the bride and groom, in such as way that both families preserve their family fortunes and help both families prosper financially, socially, and politically. Often the bonds are made within one’s kin group and has social, economic or status advantages.

Bahraini woman in a traditional wedding dress

Parents that arrange the marriages look for a good fit and compatibility between the bride and groom and their families. Love is not regarded as something that is necessary for a marriage to take place but rather is something that develops and grows after a couple is married. A women who is forced into a marriage by her male guardians that turns out to be unsuitable for her has the right to seek an annulment.

The marriages are usually worked out by parents but also may be arranged by other relatives, agents or matchmakers. The details of those worked out within families are often made by family women. It is not uncommon for the bride and groom often meet for the first time on their wedding day.

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood wrote for BBC: “Muslim marriages are frequently arranged by the parents of the young people. This is not an Islamic necessity, but parents are encouraged to do their best to see their offspring settled with good life-partners. Although divorce is allowed, the ideal is to settle down with a life-partner, and of all the things God does permit, divorce is said to be the thing He likes least. [Source: Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

“Most young Muslims live sheltered lives, and are not encouraged to mix freely with the opposite sex - and consequently are protected from the business of 'falling in love', which can lead to all sorts of heartaches, clouded judgement, unsuitable relationships, and tragic consequences. |::|

“It is forbidden in Islam for parents (or others) to force, coerce, or trick youngsters into marriage. Unfortunately, there have been cases in the UK where this has happened amongst Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs from the Indian subcontinent - but publicity and education in Islam is improving the situation rapidly. Although many marriages are arranged, it has to be with the willing consent of the couple involved, and they should be able to reject possible suitors without embarrassment. |::|

Marriage and Virginity in Islam

“A Muslim girl (and boy) is expected to be a virgin at the time of the first marriage. Obviously, this would not be the case for a subsequent marriage. “ Patria potestas” in Islam is the right recognized to the father of giving a virgin daughter to marriage to whomever he pleases. The bride price for a virgin is often at least double that of a non-virgin.

In some Muslim countries women are tested to make sure they are virgins in a pre-wedding ceremony in which an elderly woman sticks a rag into the bride's vagina. If the hymen is broken and blood appears on the rag, it is displayed as proof of virginity. In many of these same countries it is also possible for a woman to get a hush hush operation to have the hymen sewn back together if it to accidently get broken while doing gymnastics or riding a bicycle Wedding night rituals in some places sometimes still feature a manual deflowering of the virgin bride by the husbands or an elderly woman with a piece of muslin placed over the index finger and placed into the hymen. The blood-stained cloth is then displayed as a indication of the bride's purity.

Legal Muslim Marriage

young couple with a child in Saudi Arabia

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood wrote for BBC:“In Islam, a person should be properly married, and this should include both the religious ceremony and the legal requirements of the law of the land - something not of prime concern to certain Muslims. However, Muslims who marry without legal registration are putting their womenfolk at some risk, and their children are not legitimate in the eyes of the UK law - and no Muslim should wish to put his wife and children in this difficult position. [Source: Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

“In Islam, marriages are not considered to be 'made in heaven' between 'soul-mates' destined for each other; they are not sacraments. They are social contracts which bring rights and obligations to both parties, and can only be successful when these are mutually respected and cherished. |::|

“If and when such contracts are broken, either party is entitled to seek divorce. It is not assumed that a couple will remain together 'till death do us part'. Islam is realistic, and aware that many marriages go wrong and break down for all sorts of reasons. However, most marriages commence with the best of intentions, and the state of marriage is regarded as the ideal way for Muslims to live. Celibacy is disapproved, as it may lead to all sorts of psychological and physical tensions and problems. Sexual intimacy outside marriage is forbidden to Muslims, including all varieties of relationship - homosexual as well as heterosexual. |::|

“It is important, therefore, that persons getting married should do their utmost to make the partner happy and satisfied in every respect. Truly practising Muslims will keep the rules, and may only have one sexual partner in the whole of their lives. In some Muslim communities divorce is common and frequent, but in others it is strongly disapproved of and divorced women would find it difficult to find a later partner. |::|

“In Islam, it is commendable if women can be taken care of, and so efforts should be made to settle them with good husbands so far as is possible. Many Muslim marriages are very happy, sometimes even if the couple have not seen each other before the marriage, but have trusted in the judgement of their parents to arrange a good match for them. However, it is recommended that prospective spouses do see each other, and have a guardian or wali to make discreet inquiries about the intended to discern if the marriage has a good chance of success. |::|

Muslim Dowry and Bride Price

Holud wedding party henna
hand decorations in Dhaka
Dowry and bride prices have traditionally been part of the Muslim marriage arrangements. The Qur’an states: “If the intention of a husband is not to pay the dowry, the marriage is void.” This is generally taken to mean that the groom or his family must pay a bride price. The Muslim law schools generally list a relatively small amount as a minimum, and require only a portion to be paid at the time of the wedding with balance paid when the husband dies or divorces her.

Dowry and bride price customs vary somewhat from group to group and place to place. In most Middle Eastern countries, a bride price known as “mehir” (or “mahr” ) is negotiated by the families of the bride and groom a few weeks before the wedding and after the fathers have given their consent. The “ mehir” is regarded as security for the wife if something happens to her husband. The terms are spelled out in the marriage contract.

The bride price is often given to the bride not her family and is expected to be considerable value, say, a year’s salary. If a groom or his family can’t pay the sum the mehir can be treated like a deferred loan that the woman can claim any time she chooses to. In some Muslim cultures, the family of the bride has to provide the husband or his family with a dowry. This arrangement is generally based on local customs and traditions rather than Islam.

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood wrote for BBC: “A Muslim husband has to agree a financial deal with the prospective wife before marriage. This money present is known as the mahr, and is a payment made to the bride which is hers to keep and use as she wishes. The reason is that even if the girl has nothing, she becomes a bride with property of her own. If the bride later seeks a divorce which the husband does not wish for, she is allowed to return him the money and seek what is known as a khul divorce. Normally, if a divorce takes place for the usual reasons, the bride would be entitled to keep the mahr. [Source: Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

“Sometimes a bride (or her family) demands an enormous mahr. The Prophet (pbuh) set the example of modest sums, and many Muslim women generously use their money to support their husbands and families in some way, although they are not obliged to do so. If a woman has money of her own, she is not obliged to spend it on her husband or family, but a Muslim husband has the obligation to be able to keep and support his wife and children himself, at his own expense. If a wife goes out to work, or donates money, this is to her credit and is regarded as an act of charity (sadaqah). |::|

Muslim Marriage Contract

Signing the Nikah (Marriage contract)
Marriage contracts are another fixture of Muslim marriage arrangements. They are sort of like pre-nuptial agreements and are generally regarded as vehicle to guarantee certain rights to the wife. In addition to specifying a bride price, the contract can be used by a wife to spell out her expectations and demands from the marriage. She can insist on working outside the home and keeping her finances separate from husband’s. She can also establish the terms for a divorce and reserve the right not to clean the house or cook.

Azizah al-Hibri, a professor of law at the the University of Richmond told the New Yorker the concept of a marriage contract “goes back to early days of Islam, when it was understood that women entered marriage equally, unlike previous regimes, in which she was chattel.”

Marriage contracts are worked out by bride’s family and the groom’s family. The bride often has no say in the matter and must follow the wishes of her father guardian. Muslim marriage contracts are usually signed with the consent of the bride or groom but sometimes it is done without their consent even though they are bound by Islamic law to abide by it. A marriage involving a woman with the participation of male next of kin is regarded as invalid.

The marriage contract can be signed a few weeks before the wedding takes place or on the day of the wedding celebration. Usually it signed by the groom or his father and two representatives each from the bride’s and groom’s family in the presence of an imam. The bride’s father usually also signs it. In some places the contract is delivered to the bride at another location, where she signs it and repeats three times before witnesses that she has agreed to marry the groom to indicate that she is not forced into the marriage against her will.

Muslim Wedding

Muslim weddings are often held before Ramadan They can last for four to seven days and usually feature traditional music and often dancing. Guests are expected to dress in their finest clothes. Not all Muslim cultures have wedding celebrations because once a marriage contract is signed, the couple is regarded as married.

When there is a wedding ceremony it is generally not performed in a mosque because most Islamic marriages are effected by a civil contract and men and women are supposed to be separated in a mosque. Instead the ceremony and celebration afterwards are usually is held in a wedding salon, the house of the groom or the bride or one of their relatives or in the streets or a courtyard. The guests are usually neighbors and extended family members. Foreigners are often invited.

wedding in Pakistan
Preparations are made for the wedding festivities after consent for the marriage is obtained from the father. Often the festivities take place in three stages. First there is the bridal shower, where friends of the bride get together to dress the bride and put colored dyes on each other. Sometimes there is a simultaneous party for the groom at another place. Next is the official marriage ceremony held at the bride's house, with a reading from the Qur’an. The last is a reception in honor of the new couple at the groom's residence.

Many of the activities that surround a wedding are exclusively for women: singing ribald songs, cooking and preparing dishes, apply henna patterns to various parts of the body. A day or so before the official wedding ceremony there is a woman-only pre-marriage ceremony called “lailat al henna” , in which the hands and feet of bride and sometimes her guests are decorated with elaborate henna designs. The reddish-colored designs wear off after a couple of weeks.

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood wrote for BBC: “Muslim weddings vary enormously according to the culture of the people involved. Many people in the UK, for example, confuse the celebrations at a Pakistani or Bangladeshi wedding with an Islamic wedding, and assume they are the same thing. This is not so, of course, for many of the Muslims who marry are from widely different cultures - for example European, Turkish, African, Malaysian, and so on. “Secondly, it is important to realise that the 'wedding' means different things too. For many Muslims, it is the Islamic ceremony that counts as the actual wedding, and not the confirmation of that wedding in a registry office." [Source: Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

“Many wedding customs are a matter of culture and not of Islam. The bride and groom may be obliged to sit on 'thrones' on a platform, to be seen by the guests. They may receive gifts, or gifts of money. The majority of brides favour a traditional white wedding dress, but brides from the Asian subcontinent often favour a shalwar-qameez outfit in scarlet with gold thread, and have their hands and feet patterned with henna. They might also have vast feasts with hundreds of guests, usually with the males in a separate room from the females. Other Muslims have simple celebratory parties with only close friends and relatives. In some cultures there may be dancing, firing of guns, lots of noise and hilarity. Asian weddings often include pre-nuptial parties and gathering too - the whole process may last several days.” |::|

Muslim Wedding Ceremony

Kazakh wedding
The marriage ceremony has traditionally been done in private, overseen by a mullah and attended only by two Muslim witnesses or close family members. Before the ceremony the groom formally informs the father of the bride of his intention to marry his daughter and asks for permission. A mullah is learned Muslim man trained in Muslim law.

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood wrote for BBC: “The actual Muslim wedding is known as a nikah. It is a simple ceremony, at which the bride does not have to be present so long as she sends two witnesses to the drawn-up agreement. Normally, the ceremony consists of reading from the Qur'an, and the exchange of vows in front of witnesses for both partners. No special religious official is necessary, but often the Imam is present and performs the ceremony. He may give a short sermon.” [Source: Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, BBC, September 8, 2009]

The formal betrothal, the “ khitbah” , starts with prayers praising Allah and asking for His forgiveness and protection and including the words: “God is God and Muhammad is His messenger.” The bride and groom often face each other with their hands clasped, sometimes with a white cloth held over their head which signifies their purity and chastity. As the couple stand together a friend or relative of the groom makes a statement of the groom’s intent which is acknowledged and approved by a representative from the bride’s family.

The mullah asks the groom, “Have you chosen this young woman for your wife?” The groom responds, “I have. “You have heard? — the mullahs asks the witnesses. “We have heard,” they reply. The process is repeated for the bride. She is expected to answer in a soft, demure voice. She also says something like: “I offer you myself in marriage in accordance with the instructions of the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Prophet, peace and blessing be upon Him.”

Traditionally, when the witnesses are asked if they have heard they say no and the bride must say “I have” very loudly. The couple pledges their honesty, sincerity, obedience and faith. The mullah then blesses the couple and prayers are recited as the father of the bride formally accepts the groom as his son-in-law.

Muslim Wedding Party

Salar wedding in China
In many places there is wedding party or reception after the ceremony. Customs vary quite a bit from culture to culture. After the ceremony the bride is often presented to the public. Sometimes she has to sit still for hours while groups of people admire her beautiful clothes and elaborate henna patterns on her feet and hands. Sometimes there is a procession of guests bearing presents for the bride, which are then put on display at the reception. Sometimes when they arrive candy and rice is thrown on the bride.

Sometimes the bride wears a Western-style wedding dress. Most often she wears a traditional costume of her ethnic group or tribe. The groom can wear a Western suit or a traditional costume Sometimes rings are exchanged at the ceremony. Sometimes jewelry and money is tacked onto the clothes of the bride and groom. At some point during the celebration the groom may ride through the streets on a horse.

There is generally a big feast with lots of food that may last for a day or more. The featured dish at a Bedouin wedding is often a cooked camel, stuffed with a whole roasted sheep, which in turn is stuffed with a chicken stuffed with fish filled with eggs.

A band is usually on hand that begins by singing Islamic poetry and playing favorite Egyptian and Indian show tunes. After the bands gets warmed up and the party gets going they play dance music as well as audience participation songs and deliver clever lyric directed at the bride and groom and other people in the crowd. The wedding party often takes place without the married couple present. They are sequestered in special quarters and share a meal with special foods. Afterwards the couple are alone and expected to consummate the marriage. The next morning two old women are given the duty of determining if the “boy has become a king,” or in other words find out of the marriage has been consummated. If the answer is “yes” the bride is no longer regarded as a “servant” (sometimes translated as “slave”) of her father but is now a “servant” of her husband.

There are pre-wedding parties too. Reporting from Libya, Marie-Louise Gumuchian of Reuters wrote: At a pre-wedding evening party in central Tripoli, a group of Libyan women sing traditional songs to the beat of a drum as they prepare to apply henna to the bride’s hands and feet. Clapping her hands to the music as she waited for the bride to appear, 23-year-old Sarah

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons except dating Arab Couple,

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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