Q. I have an uncle whose daughter plans to get married in the summer, Insha Allah, and he is facing a dilemma. He wants the bride and groom to sit together for the nikah. However, a relative from the groom's side adamantly opposes this, since he fervently believes that the bride should be in one chamber and the groom in another. Your input with regard to the correct Islamic procedure would be sincerely appreciated.

A. I am answering your question based on certain presuppositions, and these presuppositions are necessary since I often quote a rule that "custom is given the weight of legal authority (al aadah muhakamah)." In certain societies, such as Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, where it is not normal for males and females who are not related to each other to interact, then the situation as outlined by the relative -- i.e. separation -- would be very much the norm. Indeed, anything else would be unthinkable. In a western society, where there is no such custom against interaction, and where the prospective bride and groom are presumably interacting with members of the opposite sex on a daily basis, it is unnatural and in fact hypocritical to ask for separate seating arrangements at the wedding.

As far as that which is Islamic is concerned, it is better that they sit together with several things in mind:

Regarding the verses about speaking from behind a curtain, note that they apply to the wives of the Prophet only, and since they are no more, and the Qur'an clearly says in addressing them that: "You are not like other women," then clearly the rulings are no longer applicable. The Islamic procedure, which may vary from society to society, has certain basic requirements:

It is not necessary to have a walimah (wedding feast) immediately after the ceremony. This can be postponed until later, either until the evening or until the next day. This is common in some countries. Going on the presupposition that the couple is from a Caribbean background, please note that I have said that an immediate walimah is not necessary, I did not say that it is wrong. In fact, it would seem better in keeping with the custom of the land.

My personal opinion regarding weddings that are done for Muslims is that the Imam / mosque officiating have the power granted by the state to conduct marriages. The reason is that a nikah has no legal authority in North America or any Western country to the best of my knowledge, and can present a problem for a woman should she, for whatever reason, want a divorce. The law of Islam is meant to fulfil both the secular and the sacral, and the authority of the state is necessary for the former to be in place. I trust that the above answers your question. Wa billah al-tawfiq.

Posted March 16, 2000