Religious wedding ceremonies held in synagogues, churches or mosques often call upon rich historical and biblical traditions. This week’s clergy discuss distinctive wedding rituals, which go beyond a simple “I Do.”
Dr. Hafiz Rehman
Trustee of the board, Masjid Darul Quran: The Muslim Center of Long Island, Bay Shore
The religion of Islam spreads over the entire globe and as such the regional customs of marriage are very diverse. However, the religious obligations and the laws pertaining to it are universally the same and are derived from the holy texts of the Quran and the Hadith, which comprise the teachings and sayings of the Prophet of Islam. Foremost one must understand that the Prophet declared that marriage is an obligation and constitutes “half of your faith.” A marriage contract is essential between the bride and the groom, with Allah (God) being the third party. Witnesses are chosen to co-sign the document. An increasing number of these nikah ceremonies are now being done in the mosques. Since Islam sanctions no official clergy, any Muslim of knowledge can officiate the ceremony in the presence of the witnesses.
Another essential part of the marriage is the meher — the bridal gift given by the bridegroom. The ring and jewelry items given to the bride comprise, most of the time, part of the gift, and this is followed by a lifelong commitment to the bride of all her financial needs. Walima is a grand party that the bridegroom holds for the community as well as the family of the bride. This also serves as an announcement of the wedlock. Quran 30:21 is translated as such: “And among His signs is this, that he created for you mates from among Yourselves, that ye may Dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. Verily in that are signs for those who reflect.”
Rabbi Joel M. Levenson
Midway Jewish Center, Syosset
Jewish weddings take place under a chuppah, a wedding canopy, which represents the home a couple will build and share together. During the ceremony we read the ketubah, an ancient legal document that details the groom’s obligations to provide food, shelter and clothing to his bride, as well as to be attentive to her emotional needs. It is signed by witnesses attesting to the validity of the marriage. The wedding ceremony culminates with the breaking of the glass.
There are many explanations of that ritual. Some say it is a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70. Others say that shattering glass scares away evil spirits. But there’s another interpretation that says the wedding day represents a new beginning for a bride and a groom. This interpretation implies that whatever may have been in the past is in the past, and the couple start out in this new chapter of their lives with a new slate. In other words, this is a moment of perfection. We see the couple as both perfect and perfect for each other. They are surrounded by people who are closest to them, family and friends, with love flowing to the couple and from the couple. This moment is so perfect and so mesmerizing that a couple might be tempted to stay there forever — which would prevent them from going out into the world and work to repair our world. We break the spell of this perfect moment by shattering a glass. The world is in need of repair, and we can do that by the way we live and by the way we love.
The Rev. Laurel E. Scott
Senior pastor, The United Methodist Church of Port Washington
Jumping the broom is a uniquely African-American ritual that seals the marriage of two members of the community. After vows have been said in the presence of family and friends, led by a spiritual leader/pastor, the couple literally jumps over a broom, together. That act signifies the start of their life as a couple. This ritual was created out of necessity during slavery when it was illegal for slaves to marry. So they created their own symbols and ceremonies that allowed them to celebrate the deeply spiritual meaning behind the marriage ceremony. This ceremony began with the call to gather as a community, invoking the presence of God and paying homage to the ancestors, asking their grace and blessing, followed by the audible consent of the family members present. For slaves, the inclusion of God and family was critical in all rites of passage, for it was family that kept them together and helped lift them up and it was God who charted their destiny. Finally, the couple repeated the pledge and vows, which were composed with the help of, and repeated before, one of the spiritual leaders in the community. This ritual of jumping the broom has come down to the African-descended communities as part of the legacy of slavery. During the rise in consciousness associated with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, this ritual, which had almost totally faded from use, was revived and continues to be embraced as part of the cultural heritage of persons of African descent.