For those planning a Nikah ceremony, you likely already know that hosting this celebratory event is one that is highly regarded within the Islamic religion. With more than 1.9 billion Muslims around the world, what makes this tradition so special is that the fundamentals of the Nikah are always the same, even though the traditions followed at a wedding can differ greatly depending on families, sects, and cultures.
For instance, though the Nikah ceremony traditionally takes place in a mosque, with the leader or imam of the mosque officiating the ceremony, today, it is common to have the Nikah either at a venue or at the bride’s house. Additionally, while the Nikah is supposed to be as simple as possible, so as not to place a financial burden on the couple, the event can become quite glamorous as people tend to mix Islamic and Western traditions.
To learn more about the Nikah tradition and how to incorporate it into your own modern-day celebration, we spoke with Imam Steve Mustafa Elturk, president of the Islamic Organization of North America (IONA) in Warren, Michigan, on the fundamentals to know.
Meet the Expert
Imam Steve Mustafa Elturk is the president of the Islamic Organization of North America (IONA) in Warren, Michigan. He has officiated hundreds of Nikahs for Muslim couples, is very active in the Muslim community, and is seen as a leader and advisor.
The Meaning of the Nikah Ceremony
The Nikah is a religious ceremony for a Muslim couple to be legally wed under Islamic law, and is when the couple officially says “I accept.” It’s a Prophetic tradition and the only permissible way that a man and woman can be married. What's more, it’s not permitted for a couple to be intimate without a Nikah, so the ceremony legitimizes the relationship in front of God. “Marriage in Islam is a blessing and it is considered a very important part of faith," says Imam Elturk.
Nikah Ceremony Requirements
A Nikah generally takes place in a mosque, a rented venue, or at home. In the event that it's held in a mosque, it’s likely that men and women will be segregated during the ceremony. In that case, the Wali (the father of the bride) can accept the Nikah and marriage contract on behalf of the bride. However, if the Nikah takes place anywhere else, segregation often depends on the couple’s culture or level of religiosity of the family. Music will also depend on where the Nikah is held: It’s uncommon to have music at a Nikah, especially if it's held at the mosque. Since it’s a religious event, music and dancing aren’t too common. However, some families might have music if the event isn’t at the mosque or have soft background music after the ceremony is complete.
With all that in mind, Imam Elturk outlines the six ceremony requirements of a Nikah ahead.
As with any marriage, someone has to propose for the Nikah process to start. Imam Elturk explains that the woman or the man can make the proposal as long as the intention is for marriage. While it's often more common for a man to propose in many cultures, in Islam, the woman (or her family) can propose, “as was the case with Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet, peace, and blessings upon him,” Imam Elturk says.
The Qubool is the acceptance of the proposal, and it's important to know that you don’t have to say yes right away. During the time between the proposal and the acceptance, the couple can meet as many times as they like to get to know each other, as long as the meeting takes place in public or within close proximity of a chaperone.
Imam Elturk always advises couples to ask questions and see if they’re compatible during this time. Once both people decide they want to move forward and make it official, the Nikah ceremony can take place.
For the Nikah, there has to be a minimum of two male witnesses that can attest to the fact that both the bride and groom say “I do” or “Qubool” of their own free will. That's because for the ceremony to take place, it must be the bride and the groom who agree, without any force from family members or anyone else.
The Mahr is an obligatory gift from the groom to the bride, that the bride or her family can request. It's typically a lump sum of money that the bride chooses, but the bride can ask for a trip, gold, or anything else she wishes. (Of course, she is encouraged to be fair and keep her future husband’s income in mind.) The Mahr is also symbolic of the responsibility the man has for providing for and taking care of his wife.
The Wali is the father of the bride who “gives away” his daughter. Imam Elturk explains that the Wali gets consent from the bride and does not give her away without her permission. If the father is deceased or there is some reason that he cannot “walk her down the aisle,” so to say, then another male guardian or relative can take on that role.
Once all the requirements are met, anyone can officiate the Nikah ceremony which involves the bride and groom repeating the word “Qubool” or "I accept" three times. Following that, the couple and the two male witnesses are required to sign the contract, which can be provided by the imam or the couple. The signing of the contract is what makes the marriage legal according to civil and religious law.
How to Plan a Nikah Ceremony
Once you and your partner have agreed to get married, planning a Nikah is similar to other events (after you have all the religious requirements in place, of course). Couples will often pick a date, decide on the venue, and figure out where they will serve food. If the Nikah will be held at the mosque, get a time and date confirmed with the imam and invite your family and friends.
If the event is not at the mosque, make sure the imam or the officiant can be at the ceremony for the wedding. Also, confirm whether he will bring a marriage contract or if you plan to provide him with one.
Next, ask two male relatives, often one from the bride’s side and one from the groom’s side, to be the witnesses. At this stage, it’s also best to decide on a Mahr before the ceremony so there isn’t any confusion or awkwardness at the actual event.
Once all requirements are met, decide on décor and seating if the event is taking place at home. Nowadays, Nikahs are heavily influenced by the all-white wedding of the West, so couples will often use whites, creams, and gold for their color palettes. Regarding seating, couples often prefer to have guests at the front of the main hall so they can face them during the Nikah. It’s also wise to have a small table nearby to use for signing the marriage document, as well as for sweets to pass out immediately after the ceremony.
Another thing to remember? Traditionally, the bride and groom do not exchange vows during a Nikah ceremony. Imam Elturk explains that the imam or officiant will often recite a chapter or a couple of verses from the Quran, the Muslim holy book, and give a short sermon (or khutba), sometimes about the meaning of marriage, the rights and responsibilities of the husband and wife, or a similar topic.
Food is a key element that you should plan for, though. It’s uncommon for Muslims not to have food at any event. The event is sometimes broken up into two parts if the ceremony is held at the mosque, so sweets may be passed out immediately after to celebrate the new union, and dinner may be held at a different location. Depending on your family and culture, the type of food may vary. Alcohol, on the other hand, is forbidden in Islam so alcoholic drinks are rarely (if ever) served at any Muslim event.