9 Must-Know Malay Wedding Traditions in Singapore
A guide to Malay-Muslim wedding traditions in Singapore
The thought of wedding planning in itself is already daunting, so when traditional customs and culture come into the picture, the responsibilities that come with it becomes even more arduous. This holds true for any Malay wedding, which is known for its rich culture and religious traditions.
Despite having evolved over the years, there are still some basic traditions adopted from both Malay and Muslim culture that remain till this date.
Here’s all you need to know about Malay-Muslim weddings in Singapore today – from the customs, to solemnisation, and ceremonies.
1. Adat Bertunang (Engagement)
Before deciding on a date for the big day, Malays follow this tradition called merisik – where the elders from the groom’s side visit his prospective bride to meet her and her family.
Most families normally organise a small engagement ceremony, where the elders from the groom’s side will visit the bride’s home with an engagement ring (usually placed on the bride’s finger by the mother of the groom-to-be) and some gifts
Both parties will then discuss to decide if the couple is compatible. However, because most couples are already acquainted with one another and their families in this day and age, merisik takes on a slightly different arrangement.
Instead of determining whether the couple is right for each other, this meeting is normally set up to agree on a day for the engagement or akad nikah (solemnisation) as well as the duit hantaran (money given on top of dowry).
It is also during this ceremony that the topic of hantaran (customary gifts) and how long the couple will be engaged for before they solemnise their marriage comes up. While the groom-to-be may or may not be present for this, the bride-to-be, on the other hand, stays in her room while his relatives hand over trays of gifts, including a dowry. However, it has become increasingly common for the groom to attend the ceremony or come over once the ceremony is done.
2. Hantaran (customary gift) vs Mas kahwin (dowry)
The long-standing custom of sending duit hantaran is not obligatory, yet many still practise this up to this day. Many confuse duit hantaran with the mas kahwin too, but the former is a customary gift given by the groom to his bride’s family and adopted from the Malay culture, instead of being rooted in the Muslim religion. Without it, a marriage can still take place.
Mas kahwin, on the other hand, is a gift given from the groom to the bride and is compulsory – symbolising the beginning of a husband's responsibility towards his wife in fulfilling her everyday needs. The current minimum rate for the mas kahwin in Singapore is $100.
The hantaran is not fixed and usually consists of an exchange of gifts between the couple, which ranges extensively from food items to luxury goods, such as designer bags, shoes, jewellery, and more. It is also a time-honoured tradition for the bride’s family to return the same number of items to the groom’s.
3. Malam Berinai (Henna Night)
As with any other hen’s night, the bride and her bridesmaids get together a couple of days before the big day – sans the wild night out. Instead, in Malay culture, they gather for an intimate henna party, where both hands and feet are decorated with henna. Of course, the bride’s henna design being the most intricate of all!
The family and friends of the bride will paint the couple’s fingertips with a yellowish oil, symbolising the couple’s union
Originating from Hindu customs, the Malay community practices the customary malam berinai as well. While some families keep it simple by just inviting close relatives and friends, there are some others who make a spectacle of the night – complete with singing, dancing, and lots of food!
4. Akad Nikah (Solemnisation Ceremony)
This is the most highly anticipated part of the whole ceremony! The akad nikah, or wedding solemnisation, is the most important ceremony in which a marriage is formalised. Some couples choose to get this done at the mosque, while others opt to have it done at the reception venue itself.
The akad nikah usually takes place during the morning of, or one or two days before the actual wedding reception. For this ceremony to take place, the couple will require a wali (a guardian for the bride, usually her father, grandfather or brother), two male witnesses, mas kahwin (dowry) and finally the kadi (solemniser) who will officiate the ceremony.
The kadi will then speak to the groom of his duties to his wife, and ensure that the bride is getting married on her own accord. Afterwhich, he’ll walk the groom through his marital vows, and ask both witnesses and those present if his vows are accepted. If there are no objections, the couple will sign a marriage contract, sealed with the mas kahwin – making the marriage official.
5. Bersanding (Wedding Reception)
Here’s where the major festivities begin! The actual wedding reception, known as the bersanding, is where you’ll get to enjoy a live open-mic karaoke session, a plethora of food served in a buffet style, and cultural performances such as the kompang and silat.
The bersanding ceremony is a feast that is meant to announce the marriage to families and friends and is typically held at void decks for its communal spirit, but they don’t necessarily have to be. Nowadays, modern young couples prefer to host their bersanding ceremony at function rooms for more exclusivity – and to beat the blistering Singapore heat.
Depending on the couple, the bride and groom can choose to have separate functions for their respective families and friends. However, it has become increasingly popular for both parties to have a joint celebration, which is also a great way to cut wedding costs. The number of guests invited really boils down to the couple’s budgets as well as the status of the family, but it normally ranges from hundreds to thousands.
Void deck weddings may be stereotyped as being cheap arrangements, but at the end of the day, it’s the gotong royong (communal) kampung spirit that the Malay community wants to cultivate. Plus, they can easily accommodate a large group of friends and families!
6. Kompang entrance
The drummers will sing verses from the Quran, seeking blessings for the couple.
As the groom makes his way to the bride’s house to unite with his wife and have their first meal together as husband and wife, he will be escorted by a drum-beating procession known as the kompang.
You’ll see that he will also be accompanied by his friends and relatives carrying the bunga manggar – palm blossoms made from colourful tinsel on bamboo poles which signifies fertility and prosperity. If placed outside of the ceremony venue, it doubles up as a directional marker as well!
When the newly-wedded couple finally unites, they will be honoured by a silat (traditional Malay martial art) performance performed by guests and relatives as a sign of respect for the couple.
7. Hadang (The “gatecrash”)
During the hadang (gatecrash), the groom will be stopped by family and friends of the bride and made to complete a series of tasks before he’s able to see his wife – think reciting pantuns (poems), forking out some cash, dancing or even singing!
Once he gets through the hadang, the groom will join his bride on the pelamin, a couch that is the centerpiece of the bersanding ceremony. There, the newlyweds are treated like royalty for the rest of the day as they share their first meal as husband and wife. Guests may approach them to offer their blessings and have photos taken with the couple. Some Malay families still practise the ritual of sprinkling flower petals and yellow rice over them to bless them with fertility.
8. Tepung Tawar ritual
Paying homage to the newly-wedded couple so they would receive blessings from their parents and their close relatives – usually the elders in the family
Just like the henna-staining ceremony, the tepung tawar ceremony is a ritual rooted from the Hindu culture in which rice flour, white rice, yellow rice, and rose water are sprinkled on the couple’s hands. Alternatively, some would stain the couple’s hands with henna, which will then be wiped away immediately so that the henna design that is already on the bride’s hands will not be ruined.
The ritual signifies blessing gifts and prayers for the couple, as well as protection from evil. However, the practise of this ritual is not so common among Malay families these days.
9. Wedding Gifts
When it comes to giving out angbaos at Malay weddings, you’d be glad to know that there are no auspicious amounts to follow. Because it’s all about celebrating love, light, and the spirit of giving, you don’t have to worry about paying for your seat and meal!
If you’re attending a Malay wedding and still on the fence about what’s a good sum of money to give, here’s a general rule of thumb:
- Void deck weddings: ~$10 - $30
- Country club or community club weddings: ~$30 - $50
- Hotels: ~$50 and more
Even when wedding receptions are held at a hotel, it’s still not necessary to give more than $100. That’s because there’s no need for guests to RSVP – people arrive and leave as they please. It can get pretty bustling for sure, but you’re definitely in for a festive experience!
Traditional Malay wedding customs
Malay weddings have always been known for its grand and festive celebrations, bringing close relatives, friends, and even neighbours together. Even though there are some traditional practices that have been modernised over the years, most weddings still continue to be deeply grounded in cultural and religious traditions.
If you’re planning your reception, it’s good to keep in mind that these traditional wedding customs will differ from one family to another. To ensure that both parties are on the same page, it’s always ideal to discuss your individual family customs with your other half!