What is the difference between a Nikah and an engagement? What kind of a relationship may I have with my husband after Nikah but prior to my Rukhsati? Please, elaborate.

Answer: Dear sister, Islam recommends that a couple wishing to marry see each other and talk in the presence of the woman’s Mahrams. The Prophet (sa) told his companion Al-Mughirah Ibn Shubah (rta) to see the woman he wanted to marry, so that they may approve each other. (At-Tirmidhi) Engagement is merely the confirmation of a couple’s intention to marry. Thus, the couple is still non-Mahram to each other and may not interact freely, though they may meet when necessary for discussing things relevant to the wedding arrangements and future plans, but that too in the presence of the woman’s Mahrams.

Affirming an ‘engagement’ does not require a feast or an assembly for announcing it. It is enough for the couple’s families to spread the news by mouth.

Also, no man may propose to an engaged woman, unless her first fiancé withdraws his proposal of marriage or gives him permission. The Prophet (sa) said: “A man must not propose to his brother’s fiancée, unless he withdraws or gives him permission.” (Al-Bukhari) Annulling an engagement does not require any formal gathering or announcement, and the man and the woman may consider a new proposal, once the prior proposal is withdrawn.

The Nikah, on the other hand, is the wedding contract, which is based on the mutual consent of the bride and the bridegroom. It is attended by Qadi (state appointed Muslim judge) or Mazoon (a responsible person officiating the marriage ceremony), the bridegroom and the Wali (guardians) of the bride, as well as at least two adult and sane witnesses. The Nikah is a verbal agreement, and in most countries, it consists of a legal document as well, which is signed by the groom, the bride, her guardian and some witnesses. It is then concluded by a Khutbah (sermon).

Prophet Muhammad (sa) made it his tradition (Sunnah) to have a marriage sermon delivered in an assembly when solemnizing a marriage. The sermon invites the bride and the groom as well as the participating guests in the assembly to a life of piety, mutual love, kindness and social responsibility.

Any agreements or conditions regarding the Mehr (the gift the groom must give the bride), their married life, their rights on each other, taking additional wives etc. must be agreed on by the couple before the Nikah and stated in the actual Nikah document prior to signing it.

Once the Nikah has been preformed, the couple becomes husband and wife and Mahram to each other, which entitles them to rights Allah (swt) has ordained for spouses. The bridegroom must then arrange a Walimah (wedding feast) for a formal announcement of his betrothal.

For annulling a marriage contract, the husband has to declare that he is divorcing his wife or the wife has to request a Khula – either situation may require stipulated Iddah (waiting period), depending on whether the marriage was consummated or not. Only after the waiting period is completed, the woman may receive new proposals.

Hence, engagement simply affirms the intention of marriage and does not create an actual bond between a man and a woman, whereas the Nikah is the marriage itself, which creates the bond of husband and wife.
Many families prefer to delay the Rukhsati of the bride (the formal handing over of the bride to her husband after the Nikah) because of financial reasons or for giving the groom time to make arrangements for setting up a home. During this period, parents may impose certain rules on how much time the couple may spend together and under what conditions. Sheikh Munajjid points out that since the Rukhsati and consequently the Walimah may be a while after the Nikah, some parents worry that the couple may have a change of heart or there may be a reason for embarrassment, if the wife would become pregnant before Rukhsati. In such case, it is better to follow the advice of parents about limiting time spent alone. Alternately, parents should avoid undue delays of Rukhsati.

We pray for our Muslim Ummah to uphold the beautiful institution of Marriage as prescribed for us by Allah (swt). Ameen.