Islam is eager that Muslims share their happy occasions with the community. In the case of a marriage, giving a walimah or wedding feast is one of the means to ensure the community’s participation in this happiness and joy. It also serves another purpose, that of publicizing the marriage, which is an essential element of marriage in order to distinguish between what is legitimate and what is illegitimate in relations between a man and a woman in Islam. When the wedding takes place, whether it is a small family affair or a grand one, a walimah is recommended to add to its publicity.
Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states: “The walimah is the feast given on the occasion of marriage. Since marriage in Islam is a solemn contract and a happy occasion in a person’s life, it is recommended to share this joy with others, namely, relatives, friends and the poor members of the society through a wedding feast. It is also one of the ways of giving thanks to Allah for His favors. Besides these, walimah serves another purpose, namely publicizing the marriage itself. There is no better way of publicizing it than through a public feast. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) set an example in offering walimah at the time of marriage. It is reported that he offered a grand feast at the time his marriage with Zaynab by sacrificing a sheep. Once one of the eminent companions, namely, `Abd al-Rahman ibn `Awf, informed the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that he had been married; then the Prophet told him, “Offer a feast by sacrificing at least one sheep.” (Reported by al-Bukhari and others)
All scholars of Islam agree on the importance of the marriage feast on the occasion of marriage, though they vary in their estimate of the precise nature of it. Some scholars consider it obligatory, while the majority consider it as highly recommended. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) further elaborated on the nature of the feast to be offered on the occasion of marriage. He discouraged people from restricting the invitation to the rich alone, saying, “The worst of feasts is a marriage feast to which the rich are invited and the poor have been left out.” (Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim) He further taught that it is a Muslim’s duty to answer the invitation. In fact, he made it one of the six essential duties of Islamic brotherhood. Because of the great stress the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) made on answering the invitation, scholars are of the opinion that one is allowed to skip an invitation only due to genuine reasons acceptable according to the Shari`ah. One such reason is the presence of un-Islamic music in the gathering or one’s pre-occupation with far more serious duties of faith.
Now, the question remains as to the timing of the feast: whether it should be after or before consummation of marriage. If one approaches the sources with an open mind, one can hardly find anything specific on this issue. In other words, there is no hard and fast rule to be applied. It is all left to the person or persons concerned. We cannot restrict something for which there is no restriction from the Lawgiver. In other words, it is all left to the convenience of the parties concerned. Whether it is given before or after marriage consummation, the Sunnah is fulfilled.
The final issue to be addressed in this connection: who is responsible for the walimah. It is clear from the sources that the primary responsibility for it falls on the shoulders of the husband. But, if both husband and wife, or their parents or guardians, agree to share the expenses in accordance with the custom prevailing in their own country or culture, there is nothing in the Shari`ah opposing it.” In conclusion, it is to be stressed that “What is important to publicize is the fact of the marriage and not its actual consummation. Therefore, the notion that walimah is only lawful if the marriage has been consummated is absurd. No one other than the bride and bridegroom should concern themselves with the actual consummation of the marriage. Local traditions in different communities may have some other requirements, but these are not recommended by Islam.”