Q: For decades, Muslims in my region have been observing traditions and customs in marriage and weddings which are totally unnecessary and which have adversely affected their social and economic status. As I am preparing to get married soon, I feel that I should put the money to better use. Instead of spending lavishly on my marriage, I am thinking of buying an ambulance or building a school for needy Muslims in memory of my father. Similarly, I am thinking of using the traditional Valima as a charity dinner when a collection from guests can be made to finance a similar project. Could you please comment on these thoughts from the Islamic point of view?
AYou ought to be congratulated on your thoughts, which center around a more beneficial use of money, which may be, spent on weddings and marriage ceremonies. You seem to have the interests of the community at heart. That is highly commendable. Weddings and other celebrations of marriage are the areas where social traditions get mixed up with religious priorities. It is often the case that a particular aspect which is encouraged by religion acquires traditional elements that change its character and make it an action which is frowned, rather than smiled upon by religion. Take the “Valima” for example. It is a dinner, which the bridegroom gives within a few days of his wedding. He invites relatives and neighbors to make of his wedding a community event, which spreads joy and happiness. In addition to this community feeling, it serves as a good publicity of the marriage. The Valima is a Sunnah recommended by the Prophet, peace be upon him.
Yet the Prophet, peace be upon him, emphasized that the Valima should remain a simple affair. It should not be over wrought with luxurious aspects, which turn into an event where personal and family pride is emphasized. Nevertheless, in certain societies, people spend so lavishly on their Valima that there is much wastage of food and utter loss of the Islamic purpose.
What we should all do is to encourage one another to put back Islamic traditions in weddings and other areas in their simple, Islamic form. In this way, we earn reward from Allah for following the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and we achieve the beneficial purpose that Islam encourages through these traditions. We should not try to start new traditions, but reform the old ones and give them their original religious form.
I am not sure what sort of traditions and customs prevail in your community at the time of marriage. However, from what you say, I can imagine that large sums of money are spent unnecessarily. If you want to dispense with such traditions, you must continue to observe the Islamic requirements of marriage. If you do not want to have a luxurious wedding, you are perfectly entitled to do so. However, you must try to publicize your marriage as widely as you can. If you start a school or buy an ambulance to put in the service of the community with what you may save of marriage expenses, you certainly do well. May Allah reward you for that. You should try, however, to purge your action of any trace of pride or self-congratulatory elements. Thus, I would encourage you do not dedicate the school you build or the ambulance you buy to the name of your father. Instead make it a charitable donation, i.e. Sadaqah on behalf of your father. You would earn him generous reward from Allah for such a benevolent action. Your own reward would be enhanced by the fact that you have used your money for a much more beneficial purpose.
It is needless to say that if you dispense with your wedding as an act of celebrating your marriage, you need to fulfill the Islamic requirements of marriage. You need to have a marriage contract made properly in the presence of witnesses and the bride’s guardian and with the payment of her dower. You then need to add more publicity perhaps through the “Valima,” which as I have suggested, should be kept simple. However, changing it into a charity dinner is rather dubious. Although you will inform your guests in advance of your intention, and they will come prepared for your fund raising exercise, I can tell you that such a public generosity is not what Islam encourages. In charity dinners, people compete for the limelight and the interest generated by larger and larger contributions. There is thus the marked element of pride involved. Islam is keen to stamp it out from all charitable actions. May I remind you here of the Qur’anic injunction which states: “If you do deeds of charity publicly, it is well: but if you bestow it upon the needy in secret, it will be even better for you and it will atone for some of your bad deeds. Allah is aware of all that you do.” [2:271] You should, therefore, aim for what is better. Perhaps you can organize a private collection, when the contribution of each one of your guests is kept secret. The total amount raised may be publicized and a vote of thanks is made to all those who have contributed without mentioning names or amounts donated. In this way, you maintain anonymity, which Islam encourages, and combine it with the fulfillment of the purpose you have in mind. Whatever you do, may I wish you a happy marriage and well thought out arrangements, which bring benefit to your community and earn you reward from Allah.