Task: Look at the Muslim and Christian wedding ceremonies below. Write down two things you notice about each religion.

Although mosques are obviously places of worship, the majority of them in the UK, including Wales, have not yet been officially registered as such, and so any Islamic wedding that merely takes place at a mosque has to be registered legally with the UK law as well, in order to be seen as valid in the UK.

For many Muslims, it is the Islamic marriage ceremony that counts as the actual wedding, and not the legal confirmation of that wedding in a registry office. For this reason, Muslims in Wales will have a Muslim ceremony first, and then marry legally in a registry office.

A Muslim wedding ceremony is known as a nikah, and is usually a simple ceremony. The bride does not have to be present as long as she sends two witnesses to the drawn-up agreement. Normally, the ceremony consists of readings from the Qur’an, and the exchange of vows in front of witnesses for both partners. No special religious official is necessary, but often the imam is present and performs the ceremony and gives a short sermon.

There are certain things which are basic to all Muslim marriages:

  • marriages have to be declared publicly
  • they should never be undertaken in secret
  • the publicity is usually achieved by having a large feast, or walimah – a party specifically for the purpose of announcing publicly that the couple are married and entitled to each other

Many wedding customs are a matter of culture and not of Islam. The bride and groom may be obliged to sit on ‘thrones’ on a platform, to be seen by the guests. They may receive gifts, or money. The majority of brides favour a traditional white wedding dress. Some Muslim weddings might consist of vast feasts with hundreds of guests, usually with the males in a separate room from the females. Other Muslims have simple celebratory parties with only close friends and relatives.

For Christians, marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman to form one body in love and commitment. Christian marriage takes place in a church or chapel in the presence of a priest or minister who represents the presence of God, leads the couple in expressing their commitment to each other through the taking of vows, and blesses their union.

As marriage is a legal joining of two people, even in a church, a registrar has to be present to ensure that the signing of the marriage register is done properly and within the law. Many priests or ministers are licensed as registrars, so at a wedding where they lead the ceremony, no additional registrar is required. While there are variations within the marriage service of different Christian denominations, the following features are common:

  • the couple meet in the presence of a minister, often in a church or place of worship
  • readings from the Bible take place
  • the bride and groom take their marriage vows
  • the bride and groom often exchange rings as a sign of their endless love

For Catholics and for Orthodox Christians, the presence of a priest or minister is essential for the marriage to be valid. For many other Christian denominations, it is the couple’s love and intention that are important and the minister is only there to oversee the ceremony.

Task: Should Christians allow marriage to be between a man and a man, and a woman and a woman?

But what is the purpose of marriage?

But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

Mark 10:6-9

This passage is also seen in Matthew’s Gospel and makes three key points:

  • marriage involves a man and a woman
  • marriage unites two individuals into one being
  • marriage should never be ended

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh

Mark 10: 7-8

Christians believe that marriage is a sacrament. This means it is special and God-given. Therefore when a couple are married, they make their vows not only in the sight of God, but with God.

Through the sacrament, the marriage contract is made holy.

The Sacrament of Marriage is a sign of God’s love for his people. By participating in the sacrament, the couple are participating in the love of God, which is found in all human love.

Task: Name the other Catholic sacraments.

Most Muslims believe marriage is a fundamental building block of life. Marriage is a contract between a man and woman to live together as husband and wife. The marriage contract is called a nikah.

For most Muslims the purpose of marriage is to:

  • keep faithful to each other for the rest of their lives
  • have children and bring them up in the Muslim faith

Marriage is mentioned many times in the Qur’an, which Muslims believe is the word of God, as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, and therefore, they follow its teachings on marriage.

And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in peace and tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts).

Qur’an 30:21

In the Qur’an, Muslim men are allowed up to four wives, as long as they can treat each one equally. This practice is known as polygamy. However, if they cannot treat their wives equally, Muslim men are advised to have just one wife, and this is the practice in most modern Islamic societies. Polygamy is not allowed in Wales and the rest of the UK.

Task: Do you agree with polygamy? Explain your view.

Many Muslims accept arranged marriages, where parents are involved in the selection of a suitable marriage partner for their adult child, because:

  • the family has a say in the choice of whom their son or daughter will marry
  • the families can get to know each other and feel comfortable with the union

Task: Complete the following practice questions.

  1. Explain two religious beliefs about the nature of marriage. Refer to scripture or sacred writings in your answer. (5 marks)
  2. Give two religious beliefs about the purpose of families (2 marks)
  3. Explain two contrasting religious beliefs about the use of contraception. In your answer you should refer to the main religious tradition of Great Britain (Christianity) and one or more other religious traditions. (4 marks)

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