What is Nikah?

Marriage in Islam is commemorated with a Nikah ceremony, but what is Nikah? With all of the traditions surrounding this custom, many young Muslims are confused about how to make their marriage legal and how to honor their faith in Islam. Understanding the ceremony and what it truly means is crucial for men and women who want to be wed. 


What is Nikah? Let’s take a closer look at exactly what this tradition entails. 

The Origin of Nikah

The origin of Nikah is quite storied, but few people understand its roots. Before the seventh century, women were often married against their will. Their wedding may have taken place when they were captured or as part of an inheritance. 


However, that all changed with the Prophet Muhammad and the parts of the Quran that he revealed in the study of Islam. With his proclamation, marriage by inheritance was no longer permitted, and the bride now had to consent to the union between her and her future partner. This was a major change in Islamic tradition. 


To ensure that the bride has indeed given consent during the Nikah, at least two male witnesses are required to be present for the ceremony. If the ceremony is segregated, the wali, or male guardian, still has the responsibility to ensure that the bride accepts the marriage before they move forward with the marriage contract. 


During the Nikah, the bride price, or the mahr, used to be given to the father in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. This practice shifted, and the gift is now given directly to the bride for her security in the marriage moving forward. 

What Is Nikah? 

Now that you know where the term comes from, it is important to ask the question that may be on your mind: What is Nikah? 

Nikah is the religious ceremony required by Islamic law to unite a Muslim man and woman in holy matrimony. This ceremony holds an important place of honor among many families, even if they ascribe to more Western philosophies regarding marriage. 


The Nikah ceremony is designed to bring the new relationship before Allah. 


Couples will stand before the ceremony leader, traditionally an imam, and say “I accept” three times. After this portion of their vows has been completed, they will sign the marriage contract and officially be joined as husband and wife. 


During the Nikah, two male witnesses will make sure that both the bride and groom are giving their consent to the marriage of their own free will. Nothing is entered into without the express approval of both parties. 


Typically, all parties will agree to the mahr, which can be a gift of money to the bride. In some modern wedding ceremonies, the ring may be used as a gift. However, the mahr can be anything that the bride desires, keeping in mind her husband’s income and what is reasonable for him to offer. 


During the ceremony, the participants may also give a short sermon and read from the Holy Quran. 

What Is the Difference Between Nikah and Marriage? 

Many people are confused about the difference between Nikah and marriage. The Nikah is the religious ceremony that binds together man and wife. Muslim women and their partners will be officially married at the end of the Nikah ceremony. 


Marriage is the partnership that a Muslim couple enters into, but the Nikah is the ceremony that makes it official. After this ceremony, seeking divorce is much more complicated under Islamic law. The Nikah is a legal contract that both the bride and groom give consent to as they enter into the marriage. 

How Is Nikah Done in Modern-Day Islam?

Nikah is meant to be a relatively simple ceremony for the bride and groom. Oftentimes, it takes less than an hour to complete the ceremony from start to finish. It is followed up by a Walima, which is similar to a wedding reception in Western culture. 


During the ceremony, the officiant will read from the Holy Quran and give a short sermon known as a khutba. The bride and groom do not typically exchange vows, but there is often a speech on the meaning of marriage and the responsibilities of both spouses within the union. 


Depending on where the Nikah takes place, men and women may be separated for the ceremony. In this case, the wali or male guardian will accept the marriage contract on behalf of the bride. In other instances, ceremonies may not be segregated, depending on the religious beliefs or cultures of the family. 


What is Nikah attire like for guests? Guests from the Muslim community should dress for a celebration, but modest apparel should be the only choice. 

Here are a few guidelines for making sure that your dress is appropriate: 


  • Arms and legs covered
  • Headscarves for women
  • Bright colors 


As long as you adhere to the guidelines, your attire at the Muslim wedding should be more than appropriate.

What Is the Purpose of Nikah? 

What is Nikah, and what is its purpose? The function of Nikah is quite simple: to create a legal marriage in the eyes of both Allah and the government. 

The Nikah is a legally-binding agreement that the two will remain husband and wife. Seeking divorce and attempting to separate from one’s spouse is much more challenging after the ceremony takes place. 


The couple must both agree to enter into this Muslim marriage, even if the bride does not attend the ceremony. In traditional Islam, a wali may represent her during this portion of the ceremony. 


The Nikah wedding ceremony binds the couple together and is celebrated by the family members of both the bride and groom. It is a festive celebration, often complete with food or sweets that all guests will partake in when the ceremony is complete. 

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