Marriage is an important part of a human’s life and, it starts with choosing the right partner.
Marriage rites and requirements in the Islamic communities of Ghana vary from different ethnic groups. Though Islam requires that Muslims follow the teaching of Prophet Mohammed (SAW) regarding the specific requirement of a marriage rite, however, a typical Islamic marriage in Ghana is the fusion of both ethnic/traditional and Islamic rites and requirements.
In Islam, Marriage completes half your of one’s faith. The principal purpose of Islamic marriage is just like any part of the world, to provide a lawful avenue for sexual satisfactions, reproductions and companionship.
Marriage rites and requirements in the Islamic communities of Ghana is usually constructed in-line with the teachings of Islam, though largely depends on the customs of the ethnic group in which the couple live. However, whichever tribe/ethnic group one belongs to, there is an apparent commonality in the ways marriage rites are carried out in the Islamic/Zongo communities in Ghana.
The aim of this article is to outline some of these rites, how they are carried out, and to provide general guidance on what will be expected from individuals who plan to go through the ceremony/rite.
STAGE 1 – The “Gaisuwa” and “Sarana” Stage
Everything with reference to Islamic marriage rites only begins after a formal marriage proposal is tendered by the groom’s family and accepted by the bride’s family.
Aside betrothment, Islam requires that the man (groom) has to first of all propose marriage to the woman (bride). Once the woman accepts the marriage offer, the man sends his parents or guardians as well as elderly relatives to formally seek her hand in marriage- from her parents or relatives
The family of the to-be-bride will then conduct a background investigation of the groom-to-be to establish his religious beliefs, moral, ethics, and family customs, as well as all important information regarding his upbringing.
According to the teachings of Islam, after certifying all the necessary requirements, the groom-to-be is allowed to see his bride-to-be briefly but any form of physical contact, romance or courting before marriage is highly discouraged.
Usually, on their trip to the bride’s family home to seek her parent’s consent, the groom’s family take along items such as kolanuts, sweets, Cash (Kudin Gaisuwa) etc.
It is during this visit that the groom’s parents will make their intentions known. Gaisuwa is a kind of formal approval from the bride’s family to the groom’s.
For some ethnic group, this is where the bargain for the bride’s dowry begins. It is generally preferred that the dowry price should be low as possible, because according to Islamic teachings, the lesser the amount of the dowry price, the more blessings that will come to the marriage. The dowry price is officially known as Sadaki
As soon as they have accepted, according to cultural rites, the groom’s family needs to provide a number of items to the bride, this is called “Leefey”. The items typically include, Household items, cookware, Fabrics, Scarves, Perfumes, Beauty products, Underwear, Shoes, cash etc.
The wedding date is usually fixed during this visit, by both families. The process of setting the date is called Sarana.
STAGE 2 – Sa Lalley
This rite is strictly for the ladies. This is where the bride is bathed with a mixture of henna, exotic herbs, and leaves which are applied to her body for some minutes, then later rinsed with a mixture of perfume in water. Afterwards, some of the henna (lelley) is used to make beautiful designs on her palms, hands and legs.
The purpose of this rite is to make the bride look more eye-catching, astonishing and unique. In the older generation, her friends and family sing and dance to their local dialect songs in the process. However, in recent times, Sa Lalley is characterised with partying and merry making. In most communities, the friends and family of the bride also get some of henna designs on their hands but not as elaborate as the bride
STAGE 3- The Nikah and Walima day (Wedding Day)
The nikah is sacred and special ceremony that binds a man and a woman together as husband and wife under the sight of Allah.
It is a simple process that involves a contract between the husband and wife. Once agreeing to the contract, both parties must do their utmost to fulfil their duties to each other, to Allah (SWT) and to their kith and kin.
In Ghana the Nikah is conducted by a recognized local imam.
A valid Nikah requires some conditions that must be fulfilled.
- The woman has to agree to the marriage. Some practices call for the woman to be asked if she agrees to marry a certain man. She should say “yes” or keep silent, which implies agreement. A woman cannot be forced to marry anyone.
- Guardian – A nikah is not valid without the consent of a male guardian, or wallee. This is usually the woman’s father, or it can be any male mahram. If no wallee can be found, the imam can act on the woman’s behalf.
- Two witnesses – Two trustworthy witnesses, generally males, must attest to the nikah. Some Muslim societies require two witnesses each from the groom and bride’s sides in addition to two unrelated witnesses, making six in all.
- Mahr (dowry) – the groom’s side must offer a certain amount of mahr, or dowry (sadaki). This could be in the form of cash, jewellery or other items of value, as long as the bridge agrees. The mahr does not have to be physically handed over to the woman at this stage but a contract of intent must be sealed for the marriage to be valid.
Another aspect of the nikah is that it is not essential for the bride to be present at the ceremony. Many societies perform the nikah at the masjid (Mosque) with only the men present while the women stay at home.
What is required is for the wallee to give away the bride in front of two witnesses, and afterwards, the bride’s agreement is sought.
Other cultures organize big functions where relatives and guests of both husband and wife are present, with the nikah performed in front of everyone in a grand ceremony.
The walimah is a wedding feast aimed at letting the community knows that this particular couple is now husband and wife. In societies where people adhere to Islamic guidelines, this is very important because married couples must be allowed to be together in public without arousing suspicion as to their marital status.
The wedding reception is known as Walimah, and it is carried out according to the taste of the families involved. It is usually held after the Fatihah, and it goes on for a whole day with food and drinks available for family, friends and well wishers.
There are differences of opinion among scholars on the timing of the walimah – whether it should be part of the nikah ceremony, after nikah but before consummation or after consummation. However in Ghana, Nikah and Walima are mostly done in one day.
Prayers are offered for the newly wedded couple and celebration continues. This is the most significant event of the entire wedding ceremony and it is called Daurin Aure
At the end of the celebration, the bride is taken to her husband’s house after receiving pieces of marital advise from parents, aunts, uncles, parents-in-law.
STAGE 4- Kai Amariya (escorting the bride)
After all is done, the family and friends of the bride escort to her matrimonial home to be well received by the groom’s family. Usually, she is been lead by an early woman in her family and received by another elderly woman from the groom’s family. This is preceded by prayers and advises from both families.
Depending on how wealthy the families are, there is usually a mini or grand reception to end the entire wedding ceremony. This includes food, drink and merry making. After the storm, some ethnic in some parts of Ghana, the groom’s men and the bridesmaids negotiate or debate on the amount to be paid before the bride see or speaks to her groom. This is usually called “Kudin Baki”.
STAGE 5- Budan kai (Unveiling of the bride)
This is the last and final marriage rite whereby the new bride is taken to her new home and revealed to her new family. “Budan kai” meaning the “Unveiling of the bride” is another event organized by the groom’s family to honour and welcome the bride to her new family. This event commonly takes place after the actual wedding ceremony.
The bride is often fully covered up from head to toe so no-one can see her. She is usually guided by her friends and sisters to where the main unveiling will take place. She is then brought (still covered) to her husband’s family and one of his younger sisters/cousins has to then unveil the new bride to her entire family. The event then rounds up with close relatives praying over and giving advice to the new couple as they begin their life together. Uncommonly, the bride is presented with gifts both in cash and in kind during this occasion
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