I am writing to obtain information on Muslim customs, particularly as concerns the marriage ceremony. A friend of my wife and mine is to be married in less than a fortnight, and we have been invited to his wedding. I am a Roman Catholic, my wife is an Anglican, and I must confess that we know very little of the Muslim faith.
While I found your web site to be most informative, and the information in the essay by Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah to be helpful, I have several questions which remain unanswered.
For example, in reading his essay I found that the colour red is not permitted for Muslims, and so I presume that we, too, should not wear red. Also, that my wife's arms and legs should be covered before entering the Mosque. Should her head be covered as well?
When attending a Christian wedding, a gift is usually made to the betrothed couple; is this permitted/expected for Muslims as well? What, if anything, is recommended, or traditional?
I am a photographer, and usually carry a camera with me. Is photography permitted before, during or after the marriage ceremony?
Is there anything that we should know in advance, knowledge of which would save us from committing a gaucherie, or committing an action which might be taken as offensive?
I do realize that I am making a somewhat large, and probably most unusual, request. However, any information which you can provide us with would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you very much for your enquiry. Generally speaking, it seems that this kind of information would be hard to come by unless one happens to have Muslim friends with whom matters of this kind could be discussed in an informal manner. We also appreciate the fact that other people who find themselves in your situation would also like to have these simple yet important questions answered in order to save themselves from either personal or public social/cultural embarrassment. Who would not like to avoid the disasters of "gaucherie" and faux pas particularly when you are appreciative of the generosity of the host who may come from a different religious and/or cultural backgrounds.
With regards to your specific questions, my brief answers are as follows:
(1) Your question about dress basically deals with colour and covering. Perhaps a better way to learn about these things would be to try to get a general idea as to what the Islamic requirements are in relation to the dress code for Muslim men and women. You may be a bit curious as to how the Muslim's hijab/veil system comes to play its role in the general scheme of the Islamic social system. For instance you can click here for more information. For further in-depth study you can click here.
Generally speaking, a Muslim woman is required to cover her whole body except for her face, hands and feet. And the minimum requirement for a Muslim man is to cover his body from the navel down to and/or covering the knees. However, as we all know, Muslim men tend to cover much more than the legal minimum in their daily lives -- especially at weddings when they all appear to be somewhat overdressed ;-)
For non-Muslim guests, the Islamic dress code does not apply in the same way that it applies to Muslim adherents. However, as a matter of courtesy and deference to the social/cultural norms of the hosts, the guests might be well advised to avoid exposing their arms and legs in a fashion that is normal in our modern-day western society. In fact, it would actually be more offensive for a female guest to wear a low-cut top and mini-skirt than anything else. As for the headscarf (commonly referred to as Hijab) many European ladies are used to wearing it. I think that most Muslim hosts will generally be found to be tolerant enough to accommodate non-Muslim ladies appearing without headscarfs. Actually it would be considered quite thoughtful and respectful for the lady guests to don a headscarf, particularly when they are being admitted into places like mosques etc. In this connection, one important thing to remember is that footwear must be removed before entering such places, although these days, if you are attending ceremonies in places like banquet halls, where people do not sit on the floor, you may wear shoes.
With regards to wearing red, Muslim males are forbidden to wear this colour, whereas Muslim females have always been allowed to wear red. Non-Muslims, however, are not expected to adhere to these restrictions.
(2) As to your question about gifts, all I can say is that any useful gift would be appropriate. Muslims exchange gifts all the time. So the general rules of etiquette, decent presentation, etc. also apply here. Generally speaking, I suppose, wedding gifts at Muslim weddings are not all that different from wedding gifts of non-Muslim people. However, it must be remembered that Muslims will neither give nor receive products which contain alcohol or intoxicants or pork and pork products. Nowadays, Muslims also take advantage of the modern-day tradition of signing up with a gift registry.
(3) As for photography, generally speaking, it is permissible these days. However, there is a segment of the Muslim community who interpret the law in a way that makes it forbidden, but by and large, bridal photography seems to have become an integral part of the ceremony. However, it would be prudent and courteous to enquire with the people in charge beforehand as to whether or not photography would be permitted during the ceremony and so on.
(4) As to avoiding embarrassing
acts or situations, perhaps something that needs particular mention is
that males will not be permitted to kiss the bride or other females. These
days the husband and wife and male and female family members all sit together.
However, people who are very strict about observing purdah, which is a
strict form of segregation, and is supposed to be an orthodox interpretation
of the Islamic injunctions regarding the Hijab, do separate the men from
women. For instance seating arrangements in a banquet hall might provide
for two sections -- i.e., one for men and one for women. Click
here for more information on this.