Marriage has always been a pivotal institution throughout history, marking the union of not just individuals but entire families. Across cultures, traditions surrounding this union differ. With roots anchored deep in history, Egypt’s ceremonial practices stand out due to the nation’s profound cultural wealth that harks back to ancient times.
Steeped in time-honored customs, Egyptian weddings are grandiose events that start with a significant rite: the Al-Fatihah. This formal assembly between the groom and the bride’s family sets the stage for subsequent events. An engagement party then paves the way for the main event, which is laden with rituals and customs, often showcasing the affluence of the involved families. Culminating the celebrations is the Zaffa, a vibrant parade infused with the rhythmic beats of drummers and the entrancing moves of belly dancers.
To fully understand the depth of Egyptian nuptials, it’s pivotal to delve into their wedding customs. These traditions can be broadly classified based on their observance: pre-wedding, wedding day, and post-wedding rituals.
Glossary of Egyptian Wedding Traditions
Egyptian Wedding Traditions That Take Place Before the Wedding
Choosing the Partner
Traditional Egyptian unions often result from arrangements made based on familial socio-economic standings. Rural regions witness this more commonly. Contrastingly, in bustling urban locales, marriages are evolving to become unions rooted more in romantic inclinations.
The groom-to-be, seeking a formal proposal, initiates Al-Fatihah by meeting the prospective bride’s family. This gathering’s crux is to settle on the mahr — a monetary commitment from the groom to the bride’s family — and the shabka, an assortment of gold and jewels intended for the bride.
A lavish affair, the engagement party is usually hosted by the bride’s side, either at a home setting or an opulent hotel. Amidst this jubilant ambiance, the groom presents the shabka to the bride. Following this, the couple commences the tradition of donning their rings on the right hand. Tracing back to Ancient Egyptian beliefs, rings epitomize infinity, signifying the couple’s enduring commitment.
The bride’s hands and feet are tattooed with henna by a hired henna artist. Henna is considered propitious in Islam, and this tradition can also be seen in Bosnian wedding customs. Thus, intricate patterns of henna are believed to manifest good luck and fortune for the bride.
Egyptian Wedding Traditions That Take Place During the Wedding
Location of the Wedding
Religious customs dictate that Christian weddings must take place in a church while Muslim weddings must take place in a mosque.
Attire for the Ceremony
The wedding location influences the attire of the couple. City ceremonies are usually more modern and would consist of the bride and groom wearing typical attire for Christian weddings: a white dress and a tuxedo suit, respectively.
Weddings outside the city are typically more conservative. Brides wear modest dresses which cover their bodies along with a veil. Grooms wear a custom robe for the ceremony.
Katb el Ketab
They say their oaths and sign the marriage contract in front of a Maa’zoun — a Muslim cleric which officially recognizes and registers the marriage to the government — and other witnesses.
This can be an intimate familial affair or an elaborate event where everyone is invited. Regardless, heaps of food are prepared and served to the guests.
The ceremony ends with the joining of hands of the groom and the bride’s father, on which a shaykh — an authorized teacher of Islamic faith — drapes a white cloth. They then reread the marriage contract and the first chapter of the Qur’an to affirm their commitment. Once done, the shaykh removes the cloth, and the couple recites some words after the Maa’zoun.
Other Traditional Wedding Ceremonies in Egypt
The mahr is given to the bride during the wedding. She has the freedom to spend the money according to her will, but it is expected that she will buy furniture for their house.
Other kinds of gifts are not given during the wedding, rather before or after. Visitors often give knick-knacks or decor for the house, such as a vase or china, though chocolates are also acceptable.
Music is a significant aspect of any Egyptian wedding. The newlyweds get to dance in front of their guests after having practiced their moves since the engagement. Guests usually take this opportunity to look for their potential groom or bride.
The abundant amount of food served, including stews, salads, meats, fattah, and sweets, represents the families’ wealth. There is also a layered cake which the couple will slice and feed to each other. Sharbat, a traditional wedding drink made of fruits and herbs, is also consumed throughout the ceremony.
The bride tosses her flower bouquet over her back to the women also aspiring to get married.
The guests throw grains on the newlyweds as they exit the venue. The grains are a symbol of fertility, wishing the couple a prosperous life.
Post-Wedding Egyptian Rituals
An Egyptian marriage is also the union of two families. Traditions like the Zaffa and the kosha, along with the groom’s mother-in-law preparing meals for the couple for a week post-wedding, emphasize this. The couple’s dedication to one another gets accentuated when they swap rings from the right to the left hand.
Ululations called zaghareet can be heard from the women as the rest of the crowd dances. These ululations are high-pitched sounds accompanied by the trilling of tongues. These are expressions of excitement, enjoyment, and celebration of the new marriage.
The bride’s father then hands the bride to the groom, after which the veil is removed from her face. The groom gives her a kiss on the cheek or the forehead. Then, the procession commences once again.
All the guests join in the Zaffa. Dancers, oftentimes belly dancers, are hired to escort the couple as traditional music is played by the band. This very loud procession can last from 15 minutes to 1 hour until they enter the reception room, but the music never stops.
Friends of the bride might pinch her for luck in their romantic pursuits, while she discreetly receives monetary gifts known as the nuqtah.
Switching of Rings
A customary post-wedding gesture involves the bride’s mother preparing sumptuous meals for the newlyweds for a week. This symbolic act emphasizes unity and the importance of familial ties.
Egyptian weddings, with their rich tapestry of customs, serve as a captivating testament to the nation’s reverence for traditions and family. While modernity is nudging its way in, the essence of these rituals remains intact, painting a vibrant picture of the country’s socio-cultural fabric.