The first step in changing our approach to celebrating a marriage is to put aside everything and consider the meaning of a wedding in an Islamic context. Weddings are a chance for the community to witness your marriage and to offer love, support, and encouragement.
We are now thick into wedding season, and no doubt many calendars have been filled with RSVP’s to the happy nuptials of friends and family. Yet there are many mixed feelings when it comes to the actual planning of such events, in part because there are so many high expectations behind the scenes. In many cases, the sisters engaged have been dreaming of this moment for as long as they can remember and happily pour over all the party details. Their wedding will be, in a word, perfect. In the meantime, some brothers are trying to hold their heads up high and just get through it all without falling into debt.
And no wonder: recent wedding statistics indicate that this is a 70 billion dollar a year industry, meaning that on average, couples dish out the equivalent of a down payment on a home for a spectacular, one-night affair, approximately 20,000 dollars. (By the way, the average guest list for such a wedding is only 175, comparatively smaller than most Muslim weddings.) Of course, a figure like this includes the expenses of alcohol and other venues that Muslims choose to avoid, but there are other costs that quickly take the place of bottles of champagne. Even a more reasonable wedding in which many corners are cut can cost at least ten thousand dollars. For some families, these figures may be within an acceptable budget range, but for others they are tremendously daunting and may even prevent weddings in the first place.
Another important issue to consider besides staggering costs and high expectations is the environmental and political implications of how we choose to celebrate weddings. This includes calculating the ecological footprint of your celebration, as well as comprehending who you support with your money. As Muslims, we have the duty to understand the implications of our actions rather than being blind consumers. In other words, we should take the discussions about blood diamonds, tree-free invites, locally-grown food, and sweatshop-free attire seriously. Many think that a wedding is a holiday from normal constrictions because it is a happy occasion. (For instance, many women choose to compromise Hijab in front of the groom.)
On the contrary, every day is a chance to exercise conscious decision-making, and this extends to weddings as well. What better occasion to extend ethical choices that reflect love and respect for our fellow brothers and sisters as well as the resources Allah has given us? This is especially true because so much waste is generated at large wedding celebrations. Moreover, the wedding industry has excused much of the lavishness and wastefulness that we would normally not approve of, from leftover food to the cut flowers to the heavily-beaded gown sewn in a sweatshop to the party decors, all thrown in the trash or never again used. What happened to the respect for the resources with which Allah has endowed us? Before being the bride, the groom, or the proud family of either, we are the Khalifatullah (Representatives of Allah) and responsible for our actions.
The first step in changing our approach to celebrating a marriage is to put aside everything and consider the meaning of a wedding in an Islamic context. Weddings are a chance for the community to witness your marriage and to offer love, support, and encouragement. This can be expressed materially through gifts for the couple or spiritually by offering prayers and supplication for the new couple. Weddings are a chance to earn blessings by sharing them – namely, extending an invitation to a happy occasion and sharing a bite of food. They can also be a chance to give back to loved ones who have been there for us as we grew up, be they friends or aunts or big brothers. Finally, they reinforce the tradition of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) and represent the joining of two believers and the establishment of a new unit in the fabric of the Ummah. A famous tradition from our Prophet summarizes the beauty and importance of this occasion: “The doors of Heaven to mercy will be opened in four situations: when it rains, when a child looks kindly at his parent’s face, when the door of the Ka’ba is opened, and when marriage occurs.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 103, p. 221)
By keeping the purpose of our weddings in mind, we are able to have a more conscientious wedding, which will lead to more ethical decisions. We can still have beautiful celebrations that are culturally significant and environmentally responsible without falling into debt, trying to impress everyone, and losing sight of the blessings of a wedding. Below are included some suggestions and resources that can start you off, but there are many more resources online. Please feel free to include any of your own suggestions under the Comments below. Surely we can all learn from each other and use our creativity and good intentions to inspire couples who are planning their own weddings.
Keep it Simple
When we make an effort to keep things simple, we eliminate a lot of waste and costs.
Examples: a simpler menu with less variation but more quality, a more casual bridal party with similarly colored clothes that people already own, a simpler invitation with less individual pieces of paper and envelopes.
An Intimate Nikah Dinner and a Community Dessert Buffet
If you feel the obligation to provide dinner as well as invite the entire community (which can often times reach 500 or more), consider having a small, well-planned Nikah with your very closest friends and family that includes an intimate dinner. Later, you can celebrate with the extended community by announcing a public celebration at the mosque and provide sweets, snacks, and drinks instead of a more costly dinner. This kind of celebration can accommodate more people because it is less informal, and there are less hurt feelings since an open announcement can be made. (Choose good quality snacks/ desserts that you can afford a lot of and a beautiful presentation.)
A Masjid-Setting Nikah, a Park-Setting Wedding Celebration
Why not host your wedding celebration outside, at a park, garden, or backyard? Early to mid-autumn would be the perfect time to avoid insects and high heat and might include a smaller rental fee. Plus, displays of nature might reduce the need to splurge on decorations.
Alternative Wedding Gowns
Consider consignment shops where you can purchase once-worn gowns for half the price of an unused gown. If you are buying yours new, consider choosing less synthetic and more fair-trade fabrics like organic silk, cotton, and hemp over polyester. Also consider simpler designs made by people you know rather than heavily-beaded gowns made by exploited child laborers in Third World sweatshops. Does someone already have a beautiful dress you can borrow for the night? Ask around before splurging on a costly gown that will take up space in your closet! Or consider donating yours once you are done.
The Engagement Ring and Wedding Bands
There is no rule that binds you to wearing a diamond to show that you are loved or married. You can look into other types of gems (research where they come from), and shop around abroad or at a trusted jeweler. If you can afford “fair-trade” jewelry – free of “blood diamonds” and “dirty gold” – there are many options that allow you to have guilt-free rings and bands.
Ordering tons of flowers from a florist can be both costly and wasteful. Consider using vines and decorative leaves from backyards for decorations, picking a few outstanding bouquets from your local orchard, using potted plants, and choosing more efficient center pieces, such as fruit. Also, look into plant nurseries and ask if you can borrow potted plants for some kind of small payment – you never know!
Consider the fate of wedding favors you are selecting for your guests: will they be able to keep them and use them, or will they eventually chuck them? Are they recyclable? Can you make them yourself with your bridal party, or find them for free? You can find favors with flower seeds, or tree saplings, to plant. Some “re-leaf” campaigns may even give away free tree saplings.
Start a Wedding Fund in Your Community
If you are renting a hall in your mosque, chances are you will have to rent plates and cutlery separately, or be forced to buy paper or plastic ones. Every Islamic center should have its own set of dinnerware. Find a few sponsors in your community who are willing to purchase a few sets of dinnerware that will be donated to the mosque. With help from a few families, you can have 100 place settings, and when they belong to the mosque, you can guarantee that only Paak (clean) food has touched the plates and that every couple can have something other than paper plates. Moreover, save decorations you buy and donate them to the fund so that new couples don’t have to keep buying the same things over and over again. Or, consider renting them out for a small price, from wedding gowns to special equipment.
Alternative Gift Registry
Want to ask for more than pretty dishes and linens (not that there is anything wrong with those)? The Alternative Gift Registry allows you to list each specific item along with a link. You can ask for anything from books to electronics to fair-trade pottery to donations for a favorite charity. You can also ask for non-material gifts, such as cooking lessons, Qur’an lessons, how to fix your car, etc.
More Wedding Statistics: http://www.sellmoreweddings.com/where_the_money_goes.html