Islam is practiced in a huge number of countries across the world, so as you read this, please understand that I’m painting in pretty broad strokes. A Muslim wedding in India will look very different from ones you might see in Malaysia, Pakistan, or the United States.
An Islamic wedding does not necessarily have to take place in a mosque or other religious facility, and the ceremony itself is simple:
The bride and groom are separated from each other at first. (The may or may not be able to see each other, depending on how conservative the ceremony is.) The officiant goes to each and asks if he or she truly wants to be married, though there may be a representative who answers for the bride. The couple and their witnesses sign the marriage license or contract, and then the officiant brings the couple together and pronounces them husband and wife.
The parties before and after the ceremony, however, are a bit livelier, and can last for several days.
For a Pakistani wedding, you may be invited to a dholki a week or two before the ceremony. It’s a dance party with plenty of drumming and lots of fun. The idea is to practice songs and dances for the wedding week. Dholkis are usually hosted by the couple’s families. You can expect good food and a late night.
Many countries have a henna ceremony a week or so before the wedding, in which the bride and most of the women on both sides of the family have elaborate designs painted onto their hands and sometimes their feet. If you’re invited to participate, you definitely should – the designs are beautiful, and they fade away in a couple of weeks.
The feast that follows the signing of the marriage contract can last for two days. You’ll see plenty of rich foods, heavy on the fertility symbolism. As at a Christian ceremony, little indulgences like sweets are common. You may also see the groom’s family present the bride with little gifts of gold or sweets to welcome her in.
After the feast, you may see a touching ritual in which the bride and groom feed each other and share sips of a drink, then exchange flower garlands. (You may also see a ring exchange, though this is a new custom, and you’ll mostly see it in weddings with a heavy Western influence.)
You’ll want to take care to dress nicely, with long sleeves and a high neckline. If you’re going to a conservative Muslim wedding, it may not be OK to hug or kiss the bride to congratulate her, especially for male guests. You can congratulate the couple as they leave the reception by tossing rice and candy with the other guests. You may also want to give the happy couple an egg, which symbolizes fertility, light, and good luck.