Q. Are there any hadith that describe the procedures for a nikah that the Prophet or a companion may have performed? And why is it necessary to have the bride and groom repeat the shahadah even though both of them are already Muslims?

A. There are no "mu'akkadah hadith" on the subject. There are several reasons for this -- but one of the most cogent is that mentioned in "Hashiyat al Rawd al Murbi; Sharh zaad al mustaqni" wherein the commentator remarks that the aspect of marriage is basically an exchange contract. Even though the reason for which he pointed this out is not directly related to your question, the issue we focus on is that in contractual arrangements, conditions are always admitted, and these change with time and place, hence there is no hard and fast sunna. There is too the fact that in the hadith books, there is hardly, if ever, any mention of a particular way based on our cursory survey. However, if we must define a "sunna" method for the performance of a wedding ceremony, then we trust that what follows offers enough material.

In the well-known hadith related by Sahl b. Sa'd, when a woman proposed to the Prophet (s) and he opted out of it, a companion asked for her hand, and could offer nothing except teaching the woman that which he knew of the Qur'an. Whereupon the Prophet simply said: "I marry you to her for what you know of the Qur'an." There is none of the later agglutination of asking for the two parties to recite the shahadah, no mention of formal proposal and acceptance (ijab and qabool), and no formal testification of witnesses.

One of our personal theories too for the lack of any hard and fast method is that the marriage in Islam is a continuation of something that was already there. In fact, when a family became Muslim, there was no new contract of marriage, thereby showing that it was in a form known to the society, an ddeemed acceptable in Islam. Certain rules may be extrapolated from the Qur'anic vocabulary and the hadith in general, and it is upon these that the muhaddithoon and fuqaha make their rulings.

I will only present what is deemed relevant in our modern, western society. First of all is that the term used in the contract must be unambiguous. In Arabic, the jurists insist on such terms that are derived from NaKaHa (the root for marriage), or ZaWaJa. In English this would be "wed" or "marry." One would not, for example, enter a contract by saying: "I will live with you" -- and we think the reason for such is quite clear. The Qur'an refers to the marriage contract as a "mithaqan ghaliza" (4:21), which we may functionally translate as "a most binding covenant."

There are certain sunna which are applied in terms of generality, simply for the fact that they are found in the chapters on marriage in the hadith books. There is a hadith that says: "Every important matter that does not begin with "al hamdu lillah" is incomplete." Based on this, the scholars deem that the beginning that is usually common for the khutba is stated. This hadith (abridged below for brevity and relevance), which is related in the chapter on marriage in Abu Daud, Ibn Majah, Tirmidhi, Darimi, Nasai, and also in Ahmad is: "Inna al hamda lillah, nahmaduhu, wa nasta'inuhu, wa nastaghfirhu, wa natubu ilaihay, wa na'udho billahi min shururi anfusinaa, wa min sayi'aat a'amaalinaa. Man yahdillah, falaa mudillah lahu, wa man yudlill, fa laa mudilla lahu. Wa ashadu an laa illaha illallah, wa ashadu anna Muhammadan abduhu wa rasuluhu." (This is then followed by Q4:1, 3:102, and 33:70).

It is reported that if Imam Ahmad attended a wedding ceremony wherein the above was not recited, he would get up and leave. This reflected his position that the hadith quoted earlier was quite clear in its application to every important thing, and marriage certainly is in this category. Other scholars, however, among them, Sufyan al Thawri, ruled that this preamble is not obligatory. This position is obviously the stronger in view of the hadith of Sahl already quoted. There are also hadith that point out that after the ceremony, it is sunna to greet the parties with "Baraka Allah lakuma, wa alaikuma, wa jama'a bainakuma fi khairin."

From all the hadith we have surveyed so far, it seems clear that the couple intending to marry should agree upon the mahr. If there are any conditions, they should be made known as there is the possibility that marital discord may develop later, and claims of breaking contracts may be made. The society at large has a right to know if there are any false accusations involved, since several defamatory charges are often made. Certain conditions, because of their nature, may be not announced, and in fact, may be only discussed between the bride and groom. In this matter, law, logic, and custom serve as the criteria of judgment.

It is also necessary that the marriage be something public -- as extrapolated from the Qur'an and Hadith, for it announces to the society that persons X and Y are now spouses of each other, and that none should seek to engage either of them in any carnal relation. In a hadith also related in Tirmidhi, the Prophet is reported to have said that the difference between halal and haram is the daf (drum) and the voice (denoting singing). From the Qur'an, we have too that Allah wants that which is easy, not that which is difficult for us. The marriage ceremony is therefore to be simple, devoid as much as possible of any taxing accretions. This does not, however, preclude the observance of certain cherished customs as long as they are not against Islam, since the rule is: "Al aada muhakamatun" -- custom has legality. Some traditionalists prefer the ceremony in the masjid on a Friday evening, for the simple reason that Friday is a blessed day. Since evening is the time for sleep, it is closer to the consummation of that which is presumably uppermost in the minds of the newlyweds.

Regarding the recitation of the shahadah during the nikah, as indicated earlier, it would seem that this is something added on by some people to give a tone of "ceremoniality" to the wedding. It could also have started in societies such as India and Africa, where there was a lot of intermarriage between Muslims and those who followed the religions that predated Islam. The recitation of the shahadah was presumably to let all and sundry know that the persons were Muslim, and decided to follow the law of Islam. In fact, this hits the nail on the head regarding certain accretions that have become part of blind imitation. One who professes Islam, and is known as a Muslim to the people, should not be asked to recite the shahadah. And Allah knows best.

Posted July 20, 2000