This is the fourth of five installments of my mini-series on Malay weddings. In case you haven’t read the previous installments yet, here are the links:-
The most important part of the Malay wedding is the akad nikah, or the marriage solemnisation, which can be done in a mosque, the office of the Department of Islamic Affairs (Jabatan Agama Islam) or even in the bride’s own home.
Having grown up in predominantly Catholic Philippines, my concept of weddings has always involved white gowns, elaborate church services, and marriage vows that one normally gleans from paperback novels and Hollywood films — “for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”
You can just imagine my shock when I was new in Malaysia and attended my first Malay wedding. The bride didn’t even leave her elaborately decorated bedroom while the marriage ceremony took place between the tok kadi, the bridegroom and the wali (guardian) who is usually the father of the bride, as well as two male witnesses in attendance.
|Bride & friend inside room||Asking for confirmation
||Confirmed “Sah!”||“Thanks be to God!”
She only came out later on to sign the marriage certificate to signify her consent and acceptance of the marriage, followed by the upacara sarung cincin (‘ceremony of putting on the ring’) and the customary photos of the bride kissing the groom’s hands…
…as well as of the groom kissing the bride on her forehead.
The photos above are from a more recent wedding but the circumstances are very similar to the very first Malay wedding that I’ve seen some 16 years ago.
The actual marriage ceremony itself is very simple and very quick. Prior to the actual solemnisation, the tok kadi will usually give a short talk about the virtues and blessings of marriage, as well as to remind the bride and groom of their respective duties and responsibilities, with the bulk of the reminders going to the husband.
Foremost among the responsibilities of the husband is maintenance and protection, and overall responsibility for the welfare of his wife. This includes feeding, clothing and shelter for the wife and their children — a legally enforceable duty, mind you, which remains even after divorce. Thus, financial responsibility for the family is the husband’s sole responsibility, and the wife has no duty to contribute to family expenses unless she has the means and the wish to do so. In addition, the husband is also expected to give her wife company and marital relations, and to avoid doing anything that would harm her.
[Important Notes: In terms of property, whatever belongs to the bride before the marriage shall remain hers after the marriage, and what was the groom's shall remain his.
If she is working, she has complete freedom to spend or save her salary as she deems fit. In actual practice, however, many Malay wives contribute to the household expenses but more out of necessity rather than obligation.
And since the burden of providing for the family is the husband's responsibility, when it comes to inheritance, sons get a bigger portion than daughters, as the latter's respective husbands are expected to provide for them.]
On the other hand, the responsibility of the wife is to guard, in her husband’s absence, her husband’s honour and property, as well as her loyalty towards him, her modesty and chastity with all other men. Thus, she is not supposed to allow other men to enter their home without her husband’s knowledge and permission. And just as her husband is expected to give her company and marital relations, the same is expected of her.
After the tok kadi finishes his talk, the marriage solemnisation then begins. With the tok kadi and the groom grasping each other’s right hand, as though in a prolonged handshake, the tok kadi asks the groom: “Do you, <Groom’s Full Name>, accept the marriage of <Bride’s Full Name> with mas kahwin of <amount goes here>?”
The groom is then expected to reply: “I accept the marriage of <Bride’s Full Name>with mas kahwin of <amount goes here>.”
The tok kadi will turn to the two male witnesses to ask for their confirmation if the acceptance is loud and clear. Once he gets their affirmation, he pronounces the akad as sah (valid) and the bride and groom are married. As simple as that!
The groom then reads out loud a special clause in the marriage contract that stipulates that if he fails to provide financial support or fails to go home to his wife for a period of four months (six months in certain states/countries) or if he causes physical injury on her, she has the right to go to any Islamic court and for a nominal fee (RM10 or so), she can have a divorce granted to her.
Lately, there has been an increasing trend of the brides being present while the ceremony takes place. But the basic setup remains the same — the tok kadi, the bridegroom, the wali, as well as two male witnesses in attendance. The only difference is that many brides now opt to be in the same room where the ceremony takes place, seated on a special pillow on the carpeted floor. The tok kadi first asks the bride’s confirmation if she agrees to her father marrying her off to the bridegroom. Only then does the actual marriage ceremony take place.
Unlike Christian marriages, it is not necessary to have a priest, minister or religious leader officiate the marriage. The tok kadi is mainly there as a representative of the Jabatan Agama Islam, the legal body that handles all paperwork pertaining to marriage and divorce.
It is, in fact, possible for the bride’s father to marry her off himself. Literally! By doing so, this even saves him one step in the process — the lafaz wakalah, which is basically the bride’s father authorising the tok kadi to solemnise the marriage of his daughter. The lafaz wakalah is usually done in the office of Jabatan Agama Islam before the actual wedding day and it requires the father of the bride and the tok kadi to grasp each other’s right hand (just like the groom and the tok kadi during the akad nikah) as the father recites: “I, <Bride’s Father’s Full Name>, give the authorization to <Tok Kadi‘s Full Name> to solemnize the marriage of my daughter, <Bride’s Full Name> with <Groom’s Full Name> with the dowry of <Amount Here> Ringgit in cash.”
There are many other things involved in the Malay wedding ceremony but I’m only touching on what’s considered the core aspects that affect the validity of the marriage. All other practices are mainly cultural, varying widely from state to state, whose observance faithfully continues, given how fiercely loyal most Malays are to adat (tradition). There’s even a Malay saying that goes “Biar mati anak, jangan mati adat” (‘Never mind if the child dies, just make sure the traditions don’t’)!
Many thanks to YJ for verifying most of the information stated here, especially on the portion involving the lafaz wakalah. I am neither a Malaysian nor a Malay, hence, if there are any errors, please let me know so that I can rectify them quickly.