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Must Wedding Bells Go Ka-Ching?


When it was confirmed that I was to be married and the dates for the event set, family members went into a flurried pseudo-state of panic and anticipation. We have a wedding to plan! The dress! The venue! The guest list!

The frenzy that ensued soon began to seep into my psyche, and a few months in I was starting to panic too – but for reasons far from the above-mentioned.

For by then I had attended my fair share of weddings and, more often than not, the ostentatious pageantry that masqueraded a simple union put me off terribly. I never wanted a big do, and if I could have it my way (though most Asian brides can testify that their weddings never were about them, but their families) we would sign on the dotted line, and just mosey on along our way.

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My list of ‘don’t wants’ was longer than my tabulation of ‘wants’, and I worried incessantly that by contributing to a consumerist industry I so despised, I would fail terribly in this responsibility of ensuring that we started off life with His blessing.

Many at the time labelled me the Grinch-bride, and some may feel I exaggerate in my distaste, but the reality is that the global wedding industry is a multi-billion dollar cash-cow for those raking in the profits of nuptial bliss (read naivety). Influenced by the glamour of celebrity weddings, and pressured by the expectations of society, more and more Muslim couples are finding themselves investing as much as (and possibly even more than) their non-Muslim counterparts on the ‘big day’ – more so than on the marriage itself.

In the US alone the wedding industry is valued at $50 billion per annum with the average spent per wedding estimated at $25,600.

The UK wedding industry is estimated at a £10 billion (refer info-graphic) with a total average spend per wedding at £13,000Statistics on the average wedding spend in the UK

US$25.5 billion (Rs.1,42,596 crore) is how much is spent on weddings per year in India, with the average budget per (middle-class) ceremony estimated at US$34,000 (around Rs.19.01 lakh).

However, as expected, it is the Middle East that takes top prize for extravagance in festivities with the UAE wedding industry alone standing at $700 million annuallyThe average Emirati wedding is valued at an average US$82,000 (Dh300,940).

And all just for a few hours!

I can only imagine that what fuels this exorbitance is the delusion that the success of marital life is determined by this one evening; that this metaphorical cannon is expected to launch the newlyweds into a perpetual state of matrimonial utopia – the louder the boom, the more successful the marriage.

Many brides quell their conscience with the catchphrase you’re only a bride once!, and most grooms and parents oblige, ignoring the long-term repercussions of a dented pocket while doling out wads to overpriced wedding planners, and signing away cheque after cheque towards grandiose reception venues and exorbitantly priced (but designer!) wedding duds. All the while turning a blind eye to the damage a lavish shindig bestows on the Muslim society as whole.

Going Against the Sunnah

How far we’ve strayed from the unadulterated concept of Nikah as an act of worship, and the simplicity in the celebration of the Waleema, as dictated in the example of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Based on the hadith narrated by Anas about the Prophet’s marriage to Safiya:

Then, when we were on the road, Umm Sulaim prepared her (Safiya) for him (the Prophet) and brought her to him at night, and so the Prophet awoke the next morning a new bridegroom. Then he said: “Whoever has something, let him bring it.” (In another version, he said “Whoever has an excess of provisions, let him bring it.”) Anas continues: “And so the leather eating mats were spread out and one man would bring dried milk, another dates and another clarified butter and so they made Hais (hais is a mixture of the above three things). The people then ate of this hais and drank from pools of rainwater which were nearby, and that was the wedding feast of the Prophet.” [Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others].

No extensive planning, no frills, no fuss. For after all:

The marriage, which produces the most blessings, is that which involves least burden.” (Tirmidhi)

A Reflection of Indifference to the Plight of the Ummah

I’m never one to play the suffer with the suffering card – for each man’s provision is to be appreciatively capitalised as due – but surely an over-the-top display of wealth (whether within ones means or beyond) is a blatant expression of insensitivity to the plight of the less fortunate and oppressed over the world, particularly to the state of the Muslim ummah as it stands today?

Let the rich man spend according to his means, and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allāh has given him. Allāh puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him” [Al-alāq 65:7]. 

Big-Fat-Wedding Expectations Contributing to the Muslim Marriage Crisis

For bridal parties (not even necessarily where the bride is concerned) where keeping up with the Jones’ is the primary intent, many grooms are left in the lurch. To be able to afford these large expectations of dowry and wedding party finances, most young men – often at the beginning of their careers – must borrow from their families or even banks, leaving them to start their married life in debt, adding to their other financial responsibilities.

For most families wishing to splurge on an event to remember, it is more often than not so they don’t ‘lose face’ in the community, where all other weddings previously have been of a similarly showy ilk. By succumbing to this pressure, they are only adding to the vice by creating a harder act for other couples to follow; a never-ending vortex of materialism. Even for those harbouring genuine intent of hosting an intimate ceremony, the burden of societal duty quashes any such dream.

…but waste not by extravagance, certainly He (Allāh) likes not Al-Musrifûn (those who waste by extravagance)” [Al-A‘rāf 7:31].

Having vehemently dissected the ills of the nuptial enterprise, I would like to assure readers that although I seem to ooze anti-wedding cynicism at the rate of a melting wedding ice sculpture, I have not stubbornly planted myself at the other extreme end of the spectrum, turning up my nose at hosting any celebration at all.

It is in fact prescribed for a man to offer a feast on the occasion of his marriage and to invite people to it – an expense that is greater than the average spend, yes – yet not burdensome and wasteful. Achieving half one’s deen is no trivial milestone, surely!

Narrated Anas bin Malik:

Abdur-Rahman bin `Auf came to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and he had marks of Sufra (yellow perfume). Allāh’s Apostle asked him (about those marks). `Abdur-Rahman bin `Auf told him that he had married a woman from the Ansar. The Prophet asked, “How much Mahr did you pay her?” He said, “I paid gold equal to the weight of a date stone.” Allāh’s Apostle said to him, “Give a wedding banquet, even if with one sheep.”

Reminding us yet again, of the moderation in matters Islam so often preaches.

And those, who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor niggardly, but hold a medium (way) between those (extremes)” [Al-Furqān 25:67]. 

As for how I fared? I would like to think that our event went off simply enough alḥamdulillāh, and as the hours passed, fear after fear was allayed in the realisation why even a small-scale celebration is recommended in the first place. How else would we have been made to recognise and acknowledge the efforts of those who truly care, pitching in their favours, time, round-the-clock counselling and most importantly their sincere du‘ā’s to set us off onto our fresh start?

To be brutally honest, it is indeed very difficult to stand one’s ground, when overindulging in frills is so ingrained in one’s culture. Though I have seen many overcome this, there are many well-intentioned couples forced to pick their battles just to keep the peace with family and society. And speaking from experience, sometimes it is the ideological struggle with the self  (passing up a more expensive dress in deference to a less stunning option priced more reasonably, for instance) that serves as a jihad on its own.

Here’s hoping and praying that Allāh makes it easy for those embarking on a new life to be armed with the best of intentions, an event filled with barakah and, most importantly, a spouse that will prove to be the coolness of their eyes in both this world and the next.

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  1. Waqar

    November 19, 2013 at 8:04 AM

    I have often wondered about this. Is it possible that back in the day, another reason for more modest marriages is that multiple marriages were so much more common? In today’s society, it is uncommon for men to have more than one wife. Therefore, the greater investment in the marriage. Back in the day, multiple marriages were much more common. Therefore, less investment in the marriage ceremony. This was not limited to our Prophet (S). Abu Bakr RA had 4 wives, Umar RA married 8 women, and Hasan RA married 9 women, to name a few. It is logical that with the increased number of marriages, for the man, at least, there would be less resources for any one marriage. Also, perhaps, with the increased number of wives, there would less time spent with any one wife, as it is recorded that with multiple wives, one spends one night/ wife on a rotating basis. With less time spent with the wife, and with time being our most precious resource, there is even less of an investment in the marriage, compared to today’s largely monogamous society. Therefore, comparisons may not be warranted.

    • Zaheer

      November 20, 2013 at 1:17 AM

      While I think you have a point, in that marriage was far more commonplace in the past, I don’t think the lack of pomp and extravagance for wedding ceremonies was due to ‘less investment’ in the marriage. You’re right that there was less investment in the _ceremony_, but not the marriage itself.

      Rasulullah (s.a.w.s.) and his Sahaba (r.a.) feared Allah more, so were more invested in each and every marriage (and at large, their every action). So even though they typically married more women in their lifetime, they were more devoted to each marriage (in general) because they recognized the sacredness of Nikah.

      I do think you also have a point with being careful to draw too close a comparison – it was indeed a different age, and a different culture to the one we experience today (even in the very same cities and places where Rasulullah (s.a.w.s.) and his Sahaba (r.a.) lived). However I think it’s fair to say that our culture of wanton materialism needs to be drastically altered. It’s responsible for a great many ills, lavish wedding ceremonies being one of them.

  2. Nuraini

    November 19, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    I would like to share a personal perspective and what I observed in my non-Muslim colleagues. I have married and am divorced. My wedding was not so very fancy by local standards – simple nikah, then a large-ish feast because my parents have many friends, but it was just about the guests coming by to eat. Nice tents, great food, soundtrack, and photographer. Recyclable unlaminated invitation cards, charity, edible little gifts for the guests in recyclable cardboard boxes with no plastics. No ceremonial stuff, no parade of gift trays, no how-we-met slideshows, no staged shows etc. But, I did have an engagement ring, my mahar was my wedding ring, and we got gifts from guests. It was perfect, for me.

    I shared the above to make my next point. The marriage did not work out, for reasons different from your typical reasons for why marriages fail (this is not relevant to my point). But now that it has failed, it is incredibly difficult and painful to deal with the gifts, and to stow away my marital rings. And as I contemplate maybe in future marrying again, even when I could be open to that again, when I think about the wedding that comes with re-marrying, I could not deal with that. The symbolism of a wedding – the reception, another wedding ring, invitations, the bridal dress etc. – I just couldn’t. And I reflect on those of my non-Muslim colleagues who have gone through divorce, many of them are with partners that are effectively their new spouse and they treat them socially etc. exactly as a spouse, but they did not get married. And I wonder if perhaps they, like me, just could not go through the rituals of a wedding another time, even though they would like the marriage.

    So – quite apart from issues of wastefulness or ostentation or sustainability – perhaps there’s an additional thing to be said about simple – and I mean REALLY simple – weddings. Symbolism strengthens the bond with sentimentality, true. But when it doesn’t work out, or perhaps in historical times your spouse passes away young or dies in war or childbirth, it is easier to contemplate marrying again without so many aspects of a wedding linking you to the one who is gone. When you choose a dress, the flowers, the ring, the venue, etc. all that is the same as before, and forever spoilt. It is better to be emotionally linked to the one who is gone via memories during the marriage, which can’t be replicated when you’re with a different person. Rather than via the wedding that reflected everything you personally like.

    • tortellini

      November 19, 2013 at 10:25 AM

      Nuraini, I had this problem too. During my second marriage, I avoided the whole party, We went out to eat and I went back to my job directly afterward. Later when my heart was stronger, We had a small party for family and friends. Our marriage has lasted 24 years, Alhamdulilah it does get better.

      • Safs

        December 30, 2013 at 1:36 PM

        Same story! I’m divorced and it breaks my heart to think of the money we spent in my wedding (which according to the norm wasn’t extravagant, but still expensive). I look back and think all that money spent, sleepless nights for my parents, the arrangements made were of no use if the marriage doesn’t work. I’d rather have a small wedding, and spend the remaining energy, money, and time on learning how to remain married

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  4. grace

    November 19, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    People are now putting off marriage because they cannot afford it, why not just have a really nice anniversary party, later when you can afford it ??

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  8. Anon

    November 19, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    What is the preferred method for doing a nikkah and waleema in accordance with Sunnah? I.e. nikkah in mosque then a feast then can you do a sort of collective dua for the couple?

  9. Aysha

    November 19, 2013 at 10:49 PM

    I am from India and I can relate to this article very much. It’s funny that I came across this article , because just today my friend told me about how her sister’s in laws and husband are demanding dowry from her father. Yes, the groom demanding the dowry from the bride! It’s a sad reality in India. My friend’s father, forced by societal norms, had already paid some sum in the form of gold ornaments. But they weren’t satisfied. The oppression is unbelievable. Even though demanding dowry is outlawed in India, this is a common scene. The irony is, the husband is a lawyer. Weddings in Muslim societies are more extravagant when compared to any other community, here in India.

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  12. Shabeeb

    November 21, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    I was born in Toronto and have tons of family and friends in Toronto but was married in Virginia USA. Although my family insisted to get married in buffalo where they could manage the wedding and do the planning I was pretty adamant that I get married in Virginia so that I can dictate how the wedding went. Alhamdulilah we got married in a small place in a hotel room that occupies about 50 people. We had 30+ people and did our nikaah at Adams center. Alhamdulilah Alhamduliah the sunnah is easy and beautiful.

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  15. Omer

    December 5, 2013 at 12:35 AM

    What about all the expenses that people spend on sightseeing/travell? Thousands and thousands of dollars to tour Europe, etc. And sadly when I tell sisters that I dont think this is a good use of money they reject me.

  16. Candice

    December 5, 2013 at 7:44 PM

    I completely agree with the author. Sometimes I get the impression that people confuse a wedding with a marriage. A wedding is an event that last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. A marriage is a lifetime together.

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  18. Hamida Bithi

    August 22, 2016 at 8:25 AM

    I agree with every single point you mentioned, al’Hamdulillah.
    Jazakallah Khair for telling it like it is, because many a times we know what’s right, but we hold ourselves from expressing it.

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