When a man’s family makes his wishes known to the woman’s family and the proposal is accepted, numerous formalities, ceremonies, and rituals follow. The couple has to go for a blood test and receive a clearance certifi cate from designated health agencies for blood compatibility and related diseases. Islamic law does not absolutely require any specific arrangements for the marriage ceremony, and most are determined by cultural variables. Though no part of these ceremonies should violate Islamic norms, minor deviations from these norms, particularly in the area of entertainment associated with the wedding, are often tolerated. The number of parties and events associated with marriage ceremonies varies depending on the ethnic and regional subcultures and the economic status of the families involved. The following is a breakdown of some of these ceremonies. While in some families these events are conducted separately, in others they are combined and often indistinguishable. Social class, family status, circumstances surrounding the wedding, the couple’s autonomy or dependence on their parents/family, and other factors determine the variation in wedding ceremonies.
Preparation Events: In most cases, especially in modern times, the bride and groom have known each other and might have even talked about their plans, then informing their parents of their intentions. If so, the families proceed to the next stage. In most arranged cases, which were typical of past and even some current traditional families, the groom’s family makes several unobtrusive efforts to have a close assessment of the prospective bride’s personality and behavior, if she is not already intimately known by them. A groom’s mother or sisters may visit the prospective bride in social gatherings or talk to her friends and acquaintances.
Engagement: The engagement process involves the Khâstegâri (marriage request) and nâmzadi (engagement) ceremonies, either independent of each other or combined. Khâstegâri is a meeting during which the groom’s family visits the bride’s family and formally asks for a union between the young couple. The groom’s family takes different types of gifts with them for this occasion. Sweets are the most common gift for urban families. During this meeting, the bride’s family requests her to come into the guest room, thus allowing all members of the groom’s family who might not have been involved in the earlier screenings to have a brief view of her. After this ceremony and engagement, where the ring is exchanged and the conditions of marriage are negotiated (the amount of mahriyeh, where they plan to live, whether the daughter should be allowed to continue her education, etc.), the couple may begin dating each other. Among traditional families, this might be a supervised date, where an adult will accompany the couple. In modern times, especially in the cities, girls and boys have often dated each other prior to this event, and khâstegâri is simply a way of formalizing their desire to marry.
The ‘aqd Ceremony: Modern marriage is a civic contract that needs to be registered with government officials. In traditional Islamic law, marriage is a contract between individuals and does not require the involvement of any government or religious agencies. However, to be valid, the contract ( ‘aqd ) must be witnessed; customarily, witnessing takes place at a ceremony presided over by a religious authority. In the presence of the witnesses, a religiously sanctioned text is read prior to finalization of the marriage. While the cleric reads the text, two women hold a fabric above the couple’s head, while a third woman rubs two pieces of rock sugar against each other over the fabric as a way of symbolically sweetening their life. When the marriage is offi ciated and vows are exchanged, the couple starts their life together by feeding each other spoonfuls of honey or fruit jelly. Among religious conservatives, no kisses are exchanged in front of the guests—a tradition enthusiastically abandoned by Westernized, urban, educated youth. During this ceremony, the amount of mahriyeh is specifi ed, and the new couple is asked to sign the marriage documents ( aqd-nâmeh or qabâleh ). In recent times, especially in the past decade, many educated or wealthy women request a prenuptial agreement in which the man is obligated to grant the woman certain rights: guaranteeing the woman and her children the right of travel without further permission from the husband, the right to initiate divorce, the right to custody of their children, the right to family property beyond what is designated in the Shari‘a, and so on. The ‘aqd-nâmeh is to be notarized by authorities and registered. The ‘aqd procedure itself is fairly simple. However, it has historically been a festive moment for the family, involving the participation of close relatives of both families, music, dancing, and an elaborate arrangement known as the sofreh-ye ‘aqd. Literally, the sofreh is a tablecloth spread out on the fl oor, with various objects placed on it. The sofreh-ye ‘aqd is the occasion of the marital vows. Rooted in pre-Islamic Zoroastrian symbolism, containing vital elements in one’s life, it is used in most marriages regardless of religion. The items placed on the sofreh vary according to region, ethnicity, religion, and the family’s economic status. A typical sofreh-ye ‘aqd includes some of the following: various herbs and spices, representing something or guarding against evil spirits; salt; rock sugar ( kaleh qand ); rice; an assortment of sweets and pastries; bread; cheese; jam; honey; eggs; nuts; fl owers; needle and threads; and a holy book, depending on the religion of the family. A mirror is always placed on the sofreh right in front of the new couple. Many people also put a book of poems by Hâfez on the sofreh, either in addition to or in place of the Koran.
The Wedding Celebration (jashn-e ‘arusi): This is the largest and most public aspect of marriage. Once the couple is engaged, they will have a wedding party in which families, relatives, and friends are invited. The wealthier the couple, the larger, fancier, and more elaborate the party becomes. Traditionally, wealthier families held the wedding party in their own home since it was large enough to accommodate all the guests. Poorer families often arranged for their parties at a large house owned by a relative or acquaintance. Nowadays, the Western model of having the ceremony in a party hall with facilities is followed, and many hold their wedding in hotels, rental party halls, and picturesque outdoor facilities. Traditionally, the groom’s family is responsible for the expenses associated with this party. Some modern families have started dividing the costs between the two families. In the past, it was not unusual for a man to engage and wed later, thus separating the aqd ceremony from the wedding. In most cases, these days the ‘aqd ceremony and wedding celebration are either combined or are sequenced to occur on the same day.