Arab Muslim weddings are lavish celebrations steeped in history and tradition. While the specific customs vary across countries in the Levant, from Lebanon or Palestine all the way to Morocco, there are certain cultural and religious rituals that remain the same.
“If attending an Arab Muslim wedding for the first time, be open-minded to different cultures and how they celebrate,” says Sheikh Main Al-Qudah.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Main Al-Qudah is a Houston-based sheikh and an assistant professor of Islamic studies at the American Open University. He is a scholar of Islamic jurisprudence and Muslim family law.
Here are some frequently asked questions about Arab Muslim weddings:
- How long are Arab Muslim weddings? Islamic wedding ceremonies are short and sweet, usually lasting no longer than twenty minutes. However, Arab Muslim wedding celebrations can go all night long. Bring your dancing shoes and a hearty appetite for tabbouleh, kibbeh, and baklava.
- What should I wear to an Arab Muslim wedding? If invited to an Arab wedding, dress to impress. Particularly in the west, Arab weddings are black-tie events. However, do consider how religious the couple’s families are. In more conservative gatherings, men can be seen wearing long white robes called dishdasha while women wear long robes of any color called abayas with headscarves or hijabs. It’s not expected that guests also wear these outfits.
- Is there alcohol at Arab Muslim weddings? As alcohol is forbidden in Islam, it is not typically served at Muslim weddings.
- Are most Arab Muslim marriages arranged? Nowadays, arranged marriages are very rare. In some instances, a woman’s father might meet a guy that he thinks could be a good fit for his daughter so for that reason some people view that as an arranged marriage.
- What should I give as a gift to an Arab Muslim couple on their wedding day? Arab Muslims don’t typically have registries for their weddings so it’s best to give cash to the couple on their special day.
Ahead, learn all about the most common traditions to expect at an Arab Muslim wedding.
The tolbe is a pre-wedding ceremony where the groom formally asks the bride's parents for her hand in marriage. If the families give their blessing, a short prayer from the Holy Quran called “Surah Fatiha” is recited by everyone present. This is followed by a presentation of tea, coffee, or cordial and sweets that both families enjoy together.
The katb Al-kitaab is the marriage ceremony. During the ceremony, the sheikh lays out the terms of the marriage and a contract is signed by both parties. Here, it is important for guests to dress conservatively. Both men and women should cover their arms and legs and women should wear a headscarf.
In Islam, the Maher is the dowry or payment a groom must provide to his bride. The Maher is presented during the katb Al-kitaab. It symbolizes love, respect, and courtesy towards the woman. It is something valuable she can take with her in the event of divorce.
The zaffe is the newlywed couple's grand entrance to their reception. It typically starts with the bride’s father walking his daughter to her groom. It is then followed by a troupe of drummers that play traditional, upbeat Arabic music. During the zaffe, rings are changed from the right hand to the left hand. The female attendees can be heard making a high-pitched ululation with their tongue, called the zaghrouta, which is a cheer of celebration.
In most Arab weddings, you won’t see many guests sitting down. A popular folk dance called dabke is performed by professional dancers and then the wedding guests. Guests will dance shoulder to shoulder in a circle with each other. If attending an Egyptian wedding, guests are likely to see belly dancers instead.
The cutting of the cake is a wedding tradition found in most cultures, but as with most things, Arabs kick things up a notch. Arab Muslim couples cut their multi-tiered wedding cake with a large sword passed down to the groom from his family for his wedding day. At more ornate celebrations, sparklers might even emerge from the cake.
This tradition is the final farewell to the newlywed couple before they depart their wedding venue in a flashy and highly decorated vehicle. Friends and family of the couple follow them back to their home or hotel in a parade of their own cars, playing loud music and honking all the way to announce to the world that the couple in front of them just got married.