Rites of Passage Ceremony in Malay Muslim Culture

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Rites of passage is a ceremony or event marking an important stage in someone’s life. It usually relates to birth, or even the ceremony for the transition from childhood to adulthood, marriage and death. Rite of passage is even a way of dividing a person’s life into “before” and “after” and an entire system that has rites organizes life into stages (Grimes, 2000). In every society, individuals experience different types of rites of passage according to their culture or religion. Additionally, in a rites of passage there are three different forms and attributes that mark the different transition of an individual’s life. The first stage is the pre-liminal stage, where it focuses on the separation from the norm or prior to the liminal stage. The second stage is the liminal stage where it focuses on the transition due to the rites of passage. The final stage is the post liminal stage where an individual is back to the norms of the society but having a new status of her own. This is supported by Thomassen (2009) where he stressed the importance of transitions in any society where he utilized Van Gennep’s idea of rites of passage as a “special category, consisting of three sub-categories, namely rites of separation, transition rites, and rites of incorporation.”

In every Malay Muslim society in Brunei, most individuals go through a series of events when they are tying the knot. It is not as simple as it seems as there are a few customs and beliefs which are needed to be adhered to. The rites of passage of a Malay Muslim wedding usually consists of different events accordingly which are merisik (surveying), bertunang (engagement), pre-wedding course, nikah (solemnization ceremony) and bersanding (wedding ceremony). Throughout this events, and individual experiences different stages of feeling in life as the transition from being their parent’s child to being another person’s husband or wife is definitely an overwhelming feeling. Hence this essay will focus on how an individual go through the rites of passage of their wedding, specifically based on own experience witnessing a female cousin’s Malay Muslim wedding. This essay will also include pre-liminal stage, liminal stage and also post-liminal stage which will be elaborated further in the essay.

The woman had recently held her wedding last September and followed a few of Malay’s wedding custom. Before proceeding to bertunang (engagement), her family decided to wait for the man to come over to the woman’s house for an event called merisik. Merisik is part of a wedding custom where one representative from the man’s side – called as the wakil – paying a visit to the woman’s house with the man’s other group of family members. This is part of the formality and a part of the pre-wedding preparation. The sole intention is to have an insight of the woman’s status whether she is still single and not another person’s fiancée. This is due to the fact that it is not permissible to ask for a hand in marriage if the woman is already engaged. Hence, merisik acts as a vital role in knowing the true status of the woman. The aim of merisik is purely to seek consent from the woman’s parents. Apart from that, it is to further get the hint of the background of the woman and also interact with the future family members. In a merisik event, the woman is only allowed to stay in her room while the event is ongoing. The woman’s parents and other elderly family members will then speak on behalf of her. A few discussions were made during merisik event such as to discuss the day when the date of the engagement will be held, the amount of dowry to be given to the woman and also the number of dulang hantaran or tray-gifts to be given during the ceremony. At this stage, the woman is at the pre-liminal stage where the woman is in a separation from being her single self to being “booked” by the man’s family. Hence this marks the beginning of the woman’s rites of passage. Although, the woman is still not officially declared as a fiancée of the man until the engagement ceremony commenced hence there is a sense of loss of identity for the woman.

After agreeing upon a certain agreement during merisik, an engagement ceremony is held as a sign that they are being “unified” together.

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During ”majlis bertunang” or an engagement ceremony, the gift-trays are exchanged between the man and the woman. The dowry that has been agreed upon were also brought to the woman’s house. Apart from that, a gold ring is also brought upon. In this ceremony, the event is usually attended by close and extended families only because in a Malay Muslim society it is advisable for the ceremony not to be attended by many. The woman is being told to stay in her room before she is finally proclaimed as being engaged, which is when a ring is being put on her finger by the representatives from the man’s side. The representative is usually the man’s mother or his sister. The man is also advised not to come to the woman’s house until a ring is being put on. A series of exchanging conversations, usually consists of the elderly granting permission for the woman to be engaged with the man. This is where the woman is allowed to come out of her room to the place where the event takes place, for instance, the living room. The woman is being escorted out of her room by her sister and proceeded to give respect to the man’s mother. The man’s mother than officially put on the ring on the woman’s fingers, signifying that the woman is officially engaged. During this stage, the woman fully experiences a transition of her identity from being single to “booked” and finally to being engaged. The woman felt a different version of her own self as she is finally a step closer to solemnization. Furthermore, at this stage too the woman has to balanced time for her family as well as the man’s family. She has to join any events or gatherings at the man’s side and the man too has to dedicate his time for the woman’s side. They can no longer be selfish and has to properly manage their time for one another. This is because their status has changed by being engaged and obstacles has to be faced maturely between the fiancé and the fiancée. This shows that in the pre-liminal stage, there is a change of social behavior as they are detached from their previous status.

The night before solemnization is considered as an emotional night. The mother came to the daughter’s room for a talk, which is mostly containing of advices on how to be a good wife and how to manage life after marriage. It is also the time when the mother embraced her daughter before she finally be in the hands of her husband. This marks the end of the pre-liminal stage as the daughter soon changes her role to being a wife.

Moving on to the next stage, before the solemnization begins, the woman is given a few passage that needs to be sworn in front of her parents and the imam in charge of her akad (solemnization agreement). The passage contains a consent from the woman that allows the imam to take in charge of the solemnization on behalf of the woman’s father. At this point, the woman would feel touched and sad as her father willingly let her daughter go from his care. Next, the event starts as soon as the man comes to the woman’s house escorted by his imam and also with his family. The gift-trays from the man’s side are also brought to the woman’s house and to be exchanged with the gift-trays from the woman. Eventually, the imam would read the marriage sermon before starting the akad. After finishing reading the sermon, the akad were made by the imam which the man is needed to follow. With just one breath, the man needed to say out “I accept the marriage of (woman’s name) with cash of (amount) dollars as a dowry”. As soon as the man read this out loud, the imam would ask his two witnesses for clarity. When both witnesses agrees with the clarity of the akad, the imam jots down the time when the akad is being successfully read by the man without any single mistake and hence this makes the woman the man’s officially wedded wife. This marks the liminal stage for both the man and the woman as both change their role from being a fiancé and fiancée to being a husband and wife. This role remains towards the end of their rites of passage, which is the wedding ceremony.

As part of the wedding preparation, the man and the woman is also required to attend a pre-wedding course arranged by the religious council. This course prepares them about marriage life and how to handle certain situations rationally. At this extent, both the man and woman could feel the pressure of the roles that they soon need to incorporate in their everyday life. They are needed to adapt to the “next life” and this course helps them to get them fully prepared for the change of status.

Lastly, the final event would be the wedding ceremony, which are attended by close families, relatives and friends. This is where they bride and groom are being celebrated for their journey as a newly wedded husband and wife. At this stage, the man and the woman are expected to go through the final stage of incorporation which allows them to incorporate their new social status and re-enter the society (Willett & Deegan, 2001). They have successfully completed their rite of passage and have accepted their new status and their new identity. They now fully incorporate the status of husband and wife and go through new stage of life together. This includes living apart from their parents and build their life together. Apart from that, the woman has to seek permission from her husband every time going out of the house. Unlike before their marriage, the woman only need to seek permission from her father. Now the role has changed, everything needs to be liaised with the husband. The woman has to prepare food for the husband, and has to do it for every meal. The woman’s emotional support has also changed to her husband, formerly being her parents and friends. The woman also can no longer chill with her friends for a long time like how she used to be when she was single, as now she has another responsibility at home which is to take care of her husband’s necessities.

To conclude, every individual go through different rites of passage in their life which indicates the change of life or status. Even though there is a different content of specific rituals accompanying a particular rite of passage in a particular culture, Van Gennep (1960 [1909]) claimed that the rite of passage is a universal phenomenon and notes that the process of transition remains essentially the same, as cited in Andrews (1999). The concept of pre-liminal, liminal, and post-liminal certainly marks an individuals’ different stages of life during the rites of passage. However, it is only during the post-liminal stage where they fully incorporate their change of status as they finally accepted the reality and learned the fact that their status and role has changed. Even so, they are still the same individual just like how they were but it is just that the social behavior has changed as well in relation to their change of status. All in all, rites of passage remains significant in one’s life as it shows how individuals go through their various stages of life. As such, rites are not juts rigid structures and momentary events but also flowing processes of life (Grimes, 2000).

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