Singaporebrides | Weddings 101

April 2016

A Guide to Malay Wedding Customs in Singapore

We speak to a Malay wedding planner who shares some insight on the various Malay wedding customs practiced in Singapore. Some of them are really meaningful!

Weddings are happy occasions and a time for traditions, regardless of race or religion. Like the many meaningful and age-old traditions in Chinese weddings, traditional Islamic marriage rites celebrating the Malay culture make up a Malay wedding. If you’re familiar with Malay weddings, you may find some of these practices similar to Chinese wedding traditions or those of other religions while some are unique to Malay weddings. If you’re not familiar, then learn about some of the commonly practiced Malay wedding customs in Singapore and its significance here.

Pre-Wedding Customs

Prior to the wedding, couples are required to undergo certain pre-wedding customs and practices to prepare for their big day.

Marriage Prepartory Course

Syazana and Izat’s Intimate Wedding at Assyakirin Mosque by Toni Cuhadi

The marriage preparation course prepares first time soon-to-be-wed couples and builds a strong foundation for their married life. While it is not compulsory to attend since 2015, couples are strongly advised to go through the course in preparation for marriage.

The marriage preparation course is a two-day course conducted in mosques and Islamic organisations. Couples will be briefed on the basic knowledge of married life and taught how to manage issues such as money management, wedding budget and in-law relationship management as husband and wife during the course. At the end of the course, couples will be presented with a certificate to show that they have successfully completed the course.

Berinai (Henna Night)

Asyiha and Sahil’s Dreamy, Pastel Wedding at Our Tampines Hub by Nazri from Bliss Photo+Cinema

Two to three days before the wedding, brides will undergo henna staining known as Berinai. Influenced by Hindu practice, henna is tainted on the tips of the bride and groom’s fingers to signify their newly wedded status. While Berinai sessions are not deemed necessary in the Islamic tradition, most couples still choose to practice this.

Berinai sessions can be as intimate as having some close family and friends over for it, or as elaborate as setting up a dais and inviting guests to the session. In the past, the Berinai was also when brides will don different types of wedding dresses (as many as 15 dresses!) for photo taking.

Wedding Decorations and Catering

Diana and Sufiyan’s Gorgeous Engagement Session and Blush and Green Wedding by Colossal Weddings

Venue decoration usually commences two to three days before the wedding. Besides the gifting of betrothal gifts, the bride and groom will gift each other with a floral arrangement featuring Betel leaves known as Sireh Dara and Sireh Junjung respectively. The Sireh Dara and Sireh Junjung, often placed on the dais as part of the decoration, is a symbol of their virginity and is sought after by other single men and women after the wedding for luck in relationships.

Wedding caterers usually start their preparations a day before the wedding. It is common for guests to turn up during evening time a day before the actual wedding if they are unable to attend on the actual day, which is why most caterers provide food on the eve of the wedding as well.

Betrothal Gifts

Shafizah and Ceesvin’s Beautiful White and Lavender Wedding in a Park by Colossal Weddings

Another Malay wedding tradition is the exchange of betrothal gifts. Much like the exchanging of gifts during the Chinese wedding tradition of Guo Da Li, couples present gift and money to each other. However, there is no restriction on what they can gift each other, unlike the Chinese Guo Da Li, so gifts can range from handbags to perfume to food – anything that their other half fancies. There is also no hard and fast rule on how many gifts you have to give.

Along with the betrothal gifts, the groom will present the bride with Duit Hantaran, which is a money gift that ranges from $8,000-$15,000, depending on their budget. These betrothal gifts are presented right before the solemnisation ceremony begins on the actual wedding day. After the solemnisation ceremony, the groom will present a Mahr to his bride. The Mahr, a religious obligation and therefore the most important component of the betrothal gifts, is a gift from the groom to his bride. It becomes her property and cannot be spent on the husband. The Mahr can be in the form of cash (with a minimum amount of $100), jewellery, gifts, a car or a house.

Wedding Day Customs

The usual Malay wedding is a 10-hour affair including a solemnisation ceremony and Majlis Persandingan – the wedding reception. Typically, the bride and groom will have three outfits – one for solemnisation and two for the Majlis Persandingan, usually a traditional Malay attire for the first set and a modern gown and suit for the second change. Some couples may choose to don another set of traditional Malay attire as their second change as well.

The Solemnisation Ceremony

Asyiha and Sahil’s Dreamy, Pastel Wedding at Our Tampines Hub by Nazri from Bliss Photo+Cinema

Like most weddings, the solemnisation ceremony signals the start of a wedding. It usually takes place at the bride’s home where her father, also known as the Wali, marries her off to the groom. Every solemnisation ceremony includes:

  • A Wali – usually the bride’s father, or if he is no longer around, the next male in the family such as her brother, paternal grandfather or paternal uncle in that sequence.
  • Two Saksi – witnesses to verify the ceremony.
  • A Kadi or Solemniser – usually an official from ROMM or the Syariah Court.

As mandated by the Islamic laws, a man is solely responsible for the women in their family and that includes the daughter. That is why the hierarchy of male next-of-kin is observed in the absence of the father. Fathers are encouraged to give the bride away during the solemisation ceremony but if he is not confident in doing so, then he is entitled to hand the role of the Wali over to the Kadi.

Before the solemnisation ceremony commences, the Kadi will ask the bride, who is usually seated in her room away from the ceremony, if she is agreeable to the marriage. Once she has given her consent, Akad Nikah, a ceremony where verses from the Koran are recited and a short sermon on marriage in Islam is given.

Once it is completed, the groom will take his oath of marriage by declaring verbally and clearly that he agrees to take the bride as his lawfully wedded wife and stating his ‘Mahr’. Once done, he will then shake hands with the Kadi. The solemnisation ceremony ends with the solemniser pronouncing the couple as husband and wife. The newly wed groom will then read out a statement detailing his duties as a husband and the rights his wife has a Muslim bride.

After marrying the couple, the Kadi will be ushered to partake in a feast and awarded with a token of appreciation. Since the Kadi is not paid for his services rendered to you, couples are encouraged to present him with a token of appreciation, usually about $100 or more, to thank him for taking time out for your wedding and to cover his transport costs.

Tepung Tawar Ceremony

Hanan and Adzfar’s Dazzling Raffles Town Club Wedding by Fokus

The Tepung Tawar ceremony signifies the blessing of the marriage and to protect the bride and groom from evil. The ceremony can take place after the solemnisation ceremony or during the Majlis Persandingan. During the Tepung Tawar ceremony, the older generation will come forth and sprinkle a handful of things to the bride and groom, each signifying a different blessing for the couple and their marriage:

  • White rice – For fertility
  • Yellow rice – For nobility and determination
  • Kernel – For growth and wealth
  • Rose Water – For a harmonious family

Majlis Persandingan

Shafizah and Ceesvin’s Beautiful White and Lavender Wedding in a Park by Colossal Weddings

A reception or Majlis Persandingan follows after the solemnisation ceremony has been completed. The Majlis Persandingan, a highlight of the wedding, can take place on the following day for a two-day wedding celebration. The word ‘Persandingan’ means to sit side by side on a special place – the Pelamin or Dais. During the bersanding ceremony, the bride and groom will be dressed in traditional Malay attire.

During the Majlis Persandingan, the bride will wait seated at the Dais with the Mak Andam (makeup artist) who will cover her face with a hand fan. At an agreed upon time, the groom will approach the Dais escorted by a procession of Hadrah or Kompang band. The Kompang band will usually sing verses from the Quran, seeking blessings for the couple. Once he is near the Dais, the bride’s relatives and friends will try to prevent him from reaching her. Much like the Chinese gate-crashing ceremony, the groom will have to ‘bride’ his way to his bride. Upon reaching the Dais, he has to ‘pay’ the Mak Andam to remove the fan covering the bride’s face as the final step.

As soon as the bride and groom are seated, a few men or boys will perform ‘silat’ one at a time for them. Every ‘silat’ movement performed carries a meaning, for example, blessings for the couple or seeking protection. After a phototaking session with their guests, the newly wed couple will proceed to the groom’s side where the procession of Hadrah or Kompang band continues.

Guest Etiquette for Malay Weddings

Diana and Sufiyan’s Gorgeous Engagement Session and Blush and Green Wedding by Colossal Weddings

While Malay weddings are casual affairs, guests are highly recommended to dress appropriately for the occasion. There are no such thing as unlucky colours in Malay customs, so guests can come in any colour they wish. But take note not to appear in clothes that are too revealing. The usual shirt and pants attire for men and a conservative dress for the ladies are fine. Check with the couple on the timing for their Majlis Persandingan when you receive the wedding invitation as the bersanding ceremony is the best time to attend a Malay wedding where both the bride and groom are seated at the Dais.

Upon arrival, guests can head straight to the buffet line and help themselves to the food. Feel free to seat yourselves at any available table as there is no fixed seating plan. Sharing a table with a stranger is perfectly fine too! Keep your eyes out for the bride and groom and keep your ears peeled to the deejay’s announcement on the start of the phototaking session. Green packets are not compulsory and guests are free to gift any amount they wish to. Look for the bride and groom’s parents and pass them the green packets. In return, you’ll be given the wedding favours.

Credits: Feature Image from Diana and Sufiyan’s Gorgeous Engagement Session and Blush and Green Wedding by Colossal Weddings

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A Guide to Malay Wedding Customs in Singapore