** Have you listened to Episode 4: Conflicted, Slaughtering and Prince William’s Wedding, yet? Download on iTunes or listen here **
Grounded and crushed to a fine powder and then mixed with water, Mendhi, or henna, is an elaborate part of an Indian or Pakistani wedding. The bride’s henna is often a focal point in a marriage. There are various interpretations as to why henna is used in a wedding: luck, beauty, or good wishes.
Most of all, I think it’s just that it looks pretty.
One of the interesting assumptions on the part of a resource we mentioned in our last episode was that Mendhi is an “Islamic ritual.” Not true. Mendhi, or henna as it’s called in English and Arabic, is used throughout the world by various people as a form of decorative body art. In fact, some resources suggest that its use was first documented back in the Bronze Age. A famous henna ritual, for example, takes place among Yemenite Jews, in which the application of henna to a bride’s body takes several days.
It’s important, as I have mentioned in previous episodes, to remember that Islam, as it stands alone, is a spiritual way and a philosophy based upon strict monotheism, social justice and submission to the will of God. Its prolific dispersion throughout the various parts of world, however, creates situations where indigenous cultures have stamped their unique marks upon the practice of the faith itself.
This is not a bad thing, in my opinion, but a testament to the simplicity of the faith. It furthermore creates an opportunity for all Muslims to experience the richness of the global experience as they build communities in places such as the United States. By virtue of being Muslim, I have been able to attend weddings of the Syrian, Kuwaiti, Saudi, Moroccan, Albanian and Bangladeshi variety to name a few. Each of these weddings had a distinctiveness as well as basic similarities.
To further elaborate, I once read that Bosnian Muslims only get married on Saturdays. Does that mean that being married on a Saturday is Islamic practice? Not at all. And, of course, a traditional Pakistani Muslim wedding occurs over the course of four to five days (at least), but that doesn’t mean a Muslim wedding is five days long.
These examples simply illustrate that there are all kinds of different ways that Muslims get married as well as live and even practice their religion. At the heart of our marriage is the Nikah, or contract, most of the other practice is cultural and traditional choice.
Muslim, as I have said many times, is not a nationality or even a culture… it is a religion. And, like all religions, Islam has proven malleable and it possesses the wonderful ability to be inserted into existing traditions and practices. Finally, I suspect that the inability to make this distinction lies at the heart of most Islamaphobic rhetoric, therefore it’s pretty critical to make this leap in understanding.
I’m curious, how much of your wedding was religious and how much of it was cultural? Does your faith have the same dynamic as mine or is every practice grounded in revelation?