As far as marriage is concerned, there are certain customs and traditions that Muslims observe in many Muslim countries and communities such as khitbah, nikah, rukhsati and walimah, et cetera.
What we are concerned about here is that Muslims should carry out such marriage-related customs according to the teachings of Islam and apply the teachings of Islam as explained in the Shari`ah.
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, former President of the Islamic Society of North America, states the following:
“In Islam, marriage can take several steps:
1-Khitbah: This is engagement whereby the man and woman decide to get engaged to marry at their convenient time. During this time, they and their families try to know each other. During the time of engagement, the couple is not married and they are not allowed to be alone with each other. It is forbidden for them to have intimate relations during this time. The parties can break the engagement without going through the process of divorce or talaq. They should return the engagement ring and other gifts, but this can be waived if there is mutual agreement and understanding.
2-Nikah: This is a formal, official and legal marriage. The nikah is performed by the Imam, the official religious authority, or any recognized person. It requires the presence of at least two witnesses, the mahr or the marital gift from the groom to his bride, the khutbah (sermon) of nikah to join the couple together in the Name of Allah.
After nikah, the couple becomes husband and wife. In case they want to break they have to have proper procedure of divorce or talaq. If the groom divorces, he has to pay the half of the mahr and return any gifts that he received from the bride’s family unless they do not want him to do so. There might be other marriage expenses and matters that they have to resolve with mutual agreement or through legal proceedings. The bride does not have to observe any `iddah or post-divorce waiting period if the marriage was not consummated.
3-Rukhsati: Literally it means “sending off”. This term is used in Indio-Pakistan area. In Shari`ah, it is called “zifaf”. In Arab countries, it is commonly called “dukhul” or “dukhlah”. It means the consummation of marriage. Now, the spouses can be alone and can have their intimate conjugal relations. Rukhsati takes place after the nikah. After rukhsati, the spouses begin living together as husband and wife. In most cases the rukhsati takes place within a few hours after nikah, but sometimes families postpone the consummation of marriage or rukhsati for a later time. They may do it for various social or personal reasons. Sometimes, the consummation is delayed because the family wants to have a big party to invite many relatives and friends to celebrate their marriage. Sometimes, the couple decide to delay consummation because one or both spouses want to finish their studies or would like to make better arrangement for their residence, et cetera. There could be many reasons for the postponement of consummation and it could be for few months or years. This is permissible in Islam.
4-Walimah: This is a special feast to which the groom and his family invite their relatives and friends as well as the bride’s family and friends and they celebrate the marriage. Walimah is a Prophetic Sunnah that is highly recommended. It is a kind of formal announcement of the formation of this new family. In various countries, Muslims have different customs of walimah. It is not required to have the walimah after rukhsati. It can be done before rukhsati or at the time of rukhsati.
In some Muslim countries and communities there are some other customs, but these four are the most common Muslim traditions in marriage.”