Wedding Reflections

This past weekend my Pakistani friend, lets call him D, married an American woman, lets call her S. I can’t really say we’re very close friends but we’re certainly close enough to be invited to their wedding. Unlike some wedding invitations this one specifically encouraged us to bring our kids. We found out later that kids would give the bride flowers as she entered the room. A very nice touch.

Since D is a Muslim and S is from with a Christian tradition (can’t remember exactly), I was interested to see how their ceremony would be handled. From knowing D I know he is pretty much a non-practicing Muslim. He appreciates the traditions but he’s not going to the Haaj anytime soon. I don’t know much about S’s religion again from what I can tell she’s not a tithing member of any congregation.  So, both are very nominal in their faiths.

The ceremony was held in a meeting center and religious artifacts of either religion was absent. The chairs were lined up neatly with flowers along the aisle. There was a podium with some colors, a canvas and behind it was an arch made of some green branches and leaves. Nothing terribly religious or sacred in the traditional sense. For the most part it was a secular affair. There was profession of commitment, honor, respect and love, and only a few references to a generic God.

I don’t know what kind of wedding they had in Pakistan, but I would assume (based on the pictures that were on display), that it was a fairly religious ceremony. I have never been to a Muslim wedding, so I am making a huge assumption. I know that the Hindu ceremony is a religious ceremony and there is no way around it. I’m assuming Muslim weddings are religious and there is no way around it. Perhaps because of this they chose a secular setting for their US wedding – I don’t know.

I walked away from this secular wedding wondering about wedding ceremonies in general. Not marriage but just the ceremony and the role God should play. Obviously they can have any type of wedding they want and I’m not here criticizing that at all (so please do not take this blog post to mean that at all).

I’ve always held the view that weddings are religious events. It is a commitment you make in the presence of God himself and you set out to keep this commitment with God’s help and grace. When this aspect is removed from a public ceremony I just feel that a large part of something important is missing.

Now you’re probably wondering what kind of wedding we had. I’ll tell you one of these days. But for now I want to hear your thoughts on secular weddings.

10 responses to “Wedding Reflections

  1. i feel the same way as well….despite most of my friends being raised in Christian backgrounds, almost none of them are overtly religious, or might be religious when it suits them/their parents/their end goal (ie. scholarships, parental/grandparental favours etc). Most have had weddings that follow the usual format, but the ones that have had a JP (curiously, they are also the ones that also have that ever irritating sand-ceremony) i have felt that there was something missing because the whole deal is over in less than 15 -20 minutes. Basically “walk-words-kiss-sign-leave”.
    The Indian weddings that are intercultural/interfaith tend to be weekend affairs to make both sides of the family happy – therefore they are usually 2 long ceremonies drenched in religious and cultural significance.
    For my own wedding which was intercultural/interdenominational we only wanted one ceremony and it ‘had’ to be religious according to both sets of parents. So we had to pick and choose bits which didnt make both sides happy but…whatever. I’m sure alot of secular friends rolled their eyes at the overtly churchy-religiousness of it, and the religious friends were scandalized by omissions but in the end…the papers got signed. So….weddings are a personal statement of the couple and although my preference is for a religious ceremony because i feel i can relate to that (religion and culture being closely entwined, by virtue of language/customs/dress) a secular ceremony is sometimes what the couple themselves see fit to have and that’s their expression of commitment.

  2. My wedding is going to be a secular destination beach wedding, we’re both what you can call non pratcising Hindus. There will be lots of fun filled activities…and Bellinis. There won’t be relatives who I don’t even know.
    It’ll be a celebration. We’re already committed to each other, just want to celebrate it with people who matter.

  3. When one is an atheist or an agnostic the whole idea of having “god” pasted somewhere in between the wedding ceremony looks just stupid, so I wouldn’t say religious elements are necessary. They might be important for true believers but they are definitely not essential for everyone.

    We’re planning a civil ceremony and for us it doesn’t look like there is anything missing. We’re both not religious and not spiritual. We don’t feel the need of receiving some divine blessing.

  4. I was raised as a catholic and hubby raised as hindu. I am an atheist now and he is more agnostic. We, like the majority of couples in the UK, had a beautiful civil ceremony with vows and poems and music but strictly no mention to any god (as the rules here). My mom would have loved a church wedding and his parents a whole hindu ritual but we had the ceremony we wanted and all sides seemed to enjoy it. We certainly did.

  5. I don’t like non Christians having a church wedding if they don’t believe. I think a secular ceremony is right for some. Religion is not culture. There is an awful practice in the Uk of non Christisns getting their children baptised to get them into Catholic schools. If religion is primarily cultural it becomes racist or can do. There is nothing wrong with culture but it’s not religion.

    • Most catholic schools here in Scotland accept all denominations not only catholics or christians. Where in UK have you seen that?

  6. We had a very ‘secular’ wedding. I use secular with quotes as I had not thought about being described as secular before. We (I more than my wife) wanted the wedding to be as non-religious as possible. We ended up having a brief ceremony at a spiritual center, with elements of both an ‘Indian’ (I put ‘Indian’ in quotes as there is nothing called an Indian wedding; each sections of India has their own norms, rituals and custom) and a Western wedding thrown in. There was a minister who presided over the actual ceremony (which lasted no more than 5 mins), we exchanged rings, I put on ‘sindoor’ and mangalsutra on my wife, we signed the official wedding documents. There was no mention of God. Lots of photographs were taken and we had a great reception.

    Long before my wedding, I had made a decision not to put myself (and my would-be-wife) through the Bengali wedding ritual – or any wedding ritual, for that matter – and this was much before I knew I would be marrying an American.

  7. Most church schools in England require you to have a baptismal certificate to be higher up the criteria. In London you probably wouldn’t get a look in unless you had a certificate or lived next door ( if they offered some community places) Although we believe and go to a Catholic church our children chose to be baptised later and we didn’t have the certificate when we applied to RC school when they were 3 or 4 (it was our second choice) We do differ from the church position not believing in infant baptism I guess. Anyhow our first choice was another school which they eventually got in to. Put hoops and people just get better at jumping through them. The Anglican church has recently acknowledged the problem and said it will open up. A truly Christian spirited school would be for the needy and not the middle class priority for free school meals etc

  8. I am a Hindu and as you say, Hindu weddings are very religious with lots of rituals. Infact all Indian weddings are very religious. I am married to a Christian and the wedding ceremony that you described sounds pretty much like ours. In India we have what is called the “Special Marriages ACt” under which you can marry a person of another religion. My mother in law tried her best to get me to convert so that we can have a church wedding. But somehow I felt that it would be an insult to another religion if one converts to it simply for the sake of a marriage. It was difficult to convince her with this logic but she seemed to understand eventually. We had a lot of cultural things that went with the wedding. Coming as both of us do from South India, we share a lot of similarity in culture if not in religion. So that was easy ( tying the “mangalsutra” -getting a sari from the inlaws once married etc).Marriage is a meeting of minds. Yes, we would like to pray before we enter into this new relationship. But ultimately it is all about adjusting to life together. No religion can help you deal with that. You will have to do that yourself! Before I end I would like to tell you that I really liked your blog ( I somehow stumbled upon it today). You can also visit my other blog The current ID that I am using to comment from is from my new fiction blog – so you may not find much in it yet!

  9. I am wondering what you saw in the pictures of your friend’s Pakistani wedding. In Pakistan wedding vary from community to community (just like Nepal, Pakistan is very ethnically and linguistically diverse) but generally speaking, the actual religious marriage is done privately at home. It involves signing a contract called the nikaah naama. Usually the maulvi comes to the house for this. The rest of the wedding celebrations have a lot in common with other subcontinental weddings, especially North Indian weddings. There are dholki parties (drumming and singing songs), a haldi ceremony on the groom’s side and uptan and mehndi on the bride’s, then a red dress day for the bride which is the reception (the wedding, you might say) on which the baaraat comes to take the bride and the bride departs (rukhsati) and this is all cultural and not religious. Traditionally this is hosted by the bride’s parents. Then after the marriage usually the next day or soon after, the groom’s family hosts the valeemah which is a smaller reception. Islamically, the only requirements are the signing of the contract during which both partners consent to the union in front of witnesses and a dowry from groom to bride is set (though due to subcontinental custom, dowry requirements from bride’s family to groom are often part of the marriage though not at all Islamic), and then the valeemah which Islamically is supposed to function like a community announcement that a marriage has occurred and also food should be served in celebration. Every other aspect of the wedding is subcontinental, not particularly Islamic. A lot of customs like moonh dikhai, jokingly extorting money from the groom so that he can see/take his bride, stealing his shoe and all are also part of Pakistani weddings just as they are in N. India. I suppose that one could engage in all of these cultural customs with the receptions and still have a cultural/secular wedding but the core of the marriage, the actual marriage is the signing of the nikaah which is religious and not cultural.

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