bride and groom pose in front of a windmill at a muslim marriage ceremony.
Ayesh Photography

A Muslim marriage ceremony is a symbolic and solemn religious event between two people of Islam faith. Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with nearly a quarter of people on Earth observing the faith in 2010. Because of the widespread nature of Islam, a Muslim wedding ceremony can take many forms, depending on the culture of the couple. Middle Eastern Americans, Indian Americans, African Americans and Nigerian Americans are some of the groups in the United States with significant Muslim populations.

Like marriage ceremonies across cultures and religions, a Muslim wedding ceremony is informed by ancient traditions and laws, but adaptable to suit the couple.

Here is the meaning behind some of the most common traditions in a Muslim marriage ceremony.

Some Couples Mind the Moon When Setting a Wedding Date

Although debated and a bit arcane for many modern couples, there are some Islam devotees who won’t marry on days that have been deemed ominous by some accounts of Muhammad the Prophet. This tradition is known as al-qamar fil aqrab. These dates include Wednesday, the last few days of a lunar cycle and when the moon is in Scorpio. More commonly, dates set aside in the Islamic calendar to mourn for religious tragedies are also to be avoided.

Gender Separation Has Both Cultural and Religious Legal Roots

It’s common for a Muslim marriage ceremony to have total gender separation, not unlike Orthodox Jewish wedding ceremonies. Wedding receptions for practicing Muslim couples also frequently feature some level of gender separation, particularly among traditional or Orthodox members of the faith. The dividers may either be a physical barrier (men and women are seated in different rooms for the festivities, for example) or ensuring men and women don’t sit at the same tables, or placing a partition down the middle of the reception venue, or some other variation that prevents men and women mingling.

Some Muslim spiritual texts are interpreted to instruct women and men to occupy different areas in places of worship, while it is also commonly believed that women and men prayed separately during Muhammad the Prophet’s lifetime. Gender separation in Muslim communities endured in the following 14 centuries and remains common at religious events, like a Muslim wedding ceremony.

The Nikah Is the Heart of the Muslim Marriage Ceremony

Nikah is a sacred and binding commitment between the couple to follow Islamic law during their marriage. Imams, Islamic faith leaders, must officiate the ceremonies, which are very short and follow a few prescriptive steps.

Mahr is a mandatory gift from the groom to the bride. It’s not a dowry as it is to be used by the bride as she wishes (as opposed to her family). Some modern couples include the engagement ring as part of the gift, then the groom gives his bride a symbolic gift on the wedding day.

Nikah-Namah is a social contract between the couple, which is read in Arabic at the wedding. It’s a detailed document that is referred to in the event of divorce, so some couples will elect to have input in this contract. The couple signs this in front of their wedding guests.

Fatihah is the first chapter of the Koran and is often read as part of the wedding ceremony sermon. This is the end of the formal wedding wedding and the couple is considered married.

Savaqah is a joyous tradition of showering the bride with coins as the couple exits the mosque.