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Part I of a Bride’s Planning Guide: Help! Where Do I Start?

ImageTake a deep breath and be prepared for weeks full of joyful planning. Work with your parents in all this, and invite some reliable friends to help you out too. You have hectic days and late nights ahead of you, full of errands, phone calls, bills, and normal pre-wedding anxiety.

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Wedding Cake

Getting married? Don't stress! Planning a wedding may not be the easiest thing in the world, but it sure is one of the most exciting experiences of your life. Here are a few tips to help overcome those panic attacks when it comes to planning the big day.

Stay organized

Take a deep breath and be prepared for weeks full of joyful planning. Work with your parents in all this, and invite some reliable friends to help you out too. You have hectic days and late nights ahead of you, full of errands, phone calls, bills, and normal pre-wedding anxiety. However, be sure to schedule quiet time for yourself too so you're rested up for the wedding. Those same busy days ahead will also be full of emotional moments, words of advice, caring friends and dreams of the future. Don't worry about what you can't control, just remember what all this is for: your future life with your husband-to-be.

The first thing to do is get a small notebook and write your ideas for the big day so you don't forget anything important. Think of the wedding dress that best suits your style, halls in your area, decorations, food, guests, entertainment and the date and time of the wedding.

Update your notes everyday so you have all the information in one place: phone numbers, prices, sizes, names, lists and so on.

You can also purchase a wedding organizer book if you'd like instead, but the advantage of having your own notebook – or computer file – is that you can customize it to your needs. You may want to download the many free wedding planner templates that are available online. Just don't forget that if you computerize everything, back up your files! Also use a spreadsheet program to plan your wedding budget.

Next, with your family, decide when the wedding should be. Summer is the most popular season. Schedule the wedding hours around a prayer, before or after and make arrangements for a congregational prayer area at the venue if the prayer is after the wedding. Check halls for availability and then confirm the date and time of your wedding. Book imams to recite the marriage formula, female photographers, and anyone you want doing a speech or reciting poetry.

Shopping for clothes, hair salons and invitations

Now to the fun stuff: shopping! The time has come to take care of the invitations. Check out the designs and prices available at your local printers. You may want to get matching thank-you cards printed at the same time. Once the invitations are printed up, mail or hand-deliver them.

You should know how many people are planning to attend since some halls charge $30 and up per head. The halls become more expensive as more details are added to the decorating. Some places may reduce the price if you decorate the place instead of them. There are many magazines and websites with tips for decorating weddings yourself. Try to keep things simple yet elegant.

While booking the hall and taking care of the guest list, you should also start shopping for a wedding dress. A wedding dress usually costs around $1,500. Make sure to find a matching headscarf and if the dress itself needs covering when other men are around, consider getting a plainer matching shawl to conceal more. Or, just buy a dress that already has long sleeves and is modest enough. This is important because you'll need to be in Hijab on the way to the wedding, and at the wedding itself male relatives like cousins and brothers-in-laws – who are not mahram to you – will likely want to pose for pictures with you and your husband or come to congratulate you both after the ceremony.

Customizing your dress to fit Islamic guidelines may cost a bit more, but it's worth it. Many brides have had dresses customized with headscarves, and the clothes look very beautiful but modest at the same time. When you get your dress, practice walking in it with the shoes you'll wear that day, because it can be awkward at first, and you'll want to make a graceful entrance on the big day.

Once you've picked out your dress, decide what kind of hairstyle and makeup you want done. Then, well ahead of time, book an appointment for yourself, ladies of your immediate family, and your bridesmaids. Salons usually charge $250 for doing a bride, so make sure you find one that is reliable, uses quality products, and will get you ready on time. Let them know what you are looking for. Also consider getting a series of facials, manicures, and pedicures done leading up to the wedding day.

Food

A hall will often take care of the food too, but do shop around just in case you can get a better deal with another caterer. There can be a number of different meal packages to choose from. Depending on the area, packages usually include chicken, rice, hummus and pita bread, Middle Eastern salads, potato dishes, pastas, and kebabs. Some people do not eat meat, so make sure there are enough vegetarian items for them to enjoy too.

Dessert is very important – make sure it is included in the package. Often there is a special table for the dessert. The table usually includes cookies, fruit platters, chocolate-covered strawberries, and a chocolate fountain provided by the hall. Most importantly, don't forget to order the cake! Most people in this part of the world strongly believe you can't have a wedding without a cake, but it really is up to you.

Wedding cakes come in different varieties and flavors. Check the ingredients list to see that there is no alcohol in it, and consider having a nut-free version if you have many guests with such allergies.

Dealing with the touchy issues

When booking a hall in your area, decide how you will separate the male and female guests who are not mahram to each other – does the hall have a divider you can use? Will you book two smaller rooms instead of one large one so that ladies can be without Hijab? Or will you have the guests in the same room but on different sides? If the latter, then make sure to write on the invitation that Islamic dress code is required.

Separated gatherings are highly recommended by religious scholars, and when they are not separate, then the dress code is very strict. However, keep in mind that on such an occasion like a wedding, many people will wish to dress up and mingle, so it will be difficult to enforce Islamic dress codes and behavior – they require less attractive, less fun clothing and no unnecessary interaction between the sexes – at a mixed gathering like this.

As for entertainment, since music often crosses the line from what is permissible to what is impermissible for forbidden entertainment purposes, it is better to keep the wedding – which is supposed to be the beginning of a new spiritual life together – purified by recitals which promote Islamic values and the mention of the Prophet and his Family (peace be upon them). Such recitals bring blessings to the gathering. You can play them from a CD, but it's great to have them done by local reciters. They usually charge a reasonable price for weddings.

One suggestion for the wedding itinerary is to begin with the recitation of the Holy Qur'an, then have "the Tradition of the Cloak" read while the bride and groom enter the hall(s), and then have brief speeches by family, friends, and the imam(s). These can be followed by the recitation of the marriage, a closing supplication, and salutations to the Prophet and his Family. Dinner and dessert can be next with the poetry playing in background, followed by congregational prayers.

Last but not least, some time before the wedding meet with your community imam to discuss the marriage contract. Remember, expect the best but prepare for the worst: make sure the contract includes conditions that give extra protections to the wife within Islamic law. Don't worry, we'll feature a sample marriage contract in our next issue.

While some couples may balk at putting stipulations in their contracts, thinking it shows a lack of trust, they need to take precautions not only in case God-forbid something bad should happen, but for their own peace of mind. Realize that if your future husband cares enough about you, he will respect your wishes and not worry about what he knows isn't going to be a problem anyway.

Also, consider getting advice or pre-marriage counseling from your imam and start reading up on the topic of marriage in Islam and listening to lectures online. Yes, you are busy planning a wedding, but the wedding isn't the main point: your marriage is. Keep that in mind!

Remember, a marriage is a blessing from Allah and it should begin with a wedding that is celebrated in a way that pleases Allah.

This article originally appeared in a previous issue of Islamic Insights.

About Aliyyah Rizvi-Bokhari

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