Religious Wedding Ceremonies
Personally, I have yet to actually attend a wedding in which there is no religious ceremony taking place. This despite the fact that in a poll by YouGov on behalf of the BHA in 2011, 39% of participants ticked ‘No religion’ when asked the census question ‘What is your religion?’ And from this same sample more than half of those who belonged to a religion said they were not religious.
The proportion of religious marriages during the 1980s roughly equalled that of civil marriages but by 2011, less than 30% of marriages were religious marriages. However, our research suggests that weddings in which Sikh, Muslim and Hindu ceremonies take place, the correlation could be as high as 90% or even higher.
So why, particularly amongst the Asian community in Britain, do we see such a high correlation between religious weddings and civil marriages in register offices?
It’s standard practise
For many of us it appears to be just another feature of the wedding. There can be no wedding without a religious ceremony – a given, so to speak. I have attended religious weddings in which the couple are unaware of what is expected of them (in terms of their individual roles) until the day itself. However, is this type of casual attitude towards the religious ceremony justified? We asked Hindu priest, Rajubhai Joshi who revealed:
‘In Indian weddings I see that preachers are sometimes treated like another supplier. And this is very very sad. A preacher is a preacher, they are not a wedding supplier. Also Indian weddings have become entertainment and I am clear in this; a religious ceremony is prayer; it is not entertainment.’
It’s important to the couple
For most couples, even if they are not particularly religious and do not frequently attend a place of worship (the two are distinctly different and not related in my opinion), the union of marriage in the name of religion is one of personal significance. In some instances, it is precisely for the reasons aforementioned that they feel it necessary for the occasion of their marriage (at least) to involve a religious aspect.
Others of course, are indeed religious and the rituals of the ceremony are important steps for them in commemorating their partnership, by making a vow in front in front of God.
The couple don’t have a say
In many instances, it is still inconceivable in the eyes of the parents of both brides and grooms, not to conduct a religious wedding ceremony. In fact, I would go as far to say that many parents wouldn’t attend even their own children’s weddings if they decided against incorporating a religious blessing of some nature. As Rajubhai informs us,
‘There are many expectations on couples and some may partake in respect of the wishes of elders. In my early 20’s I was not ready for religion, however it was expected that we partake in a religious ceremony. A religious journey is individual and we must allow for individual growth. So for me what is key for couples is, even if they are not ready for religion, they show the religious aspect, their elders, their family and the preacher some respect.’
Many weddings, even nowadays, are partly (if not completely) funded by the parents of either the bride or groom and therefore they would still have a large say on what is included in the wedding.
Civil weddings are the way forward
I truly believe that only participating in a civil wedding presents a better solution for many couples now getting married in the UK that:
• Have different religious beliefs and backgrounds to one another
• Are unsure of what significance the religious ceremony has for them personally
This is because I am aware of instances in which couples of different religions have actually been refused to be married by priests. Additionally, it can simplify the wedding day (and potentially saves money) by having the one ceremony as opposed to three to appease all parties.
In terms of religious ceremonies practised in the UK, I for one, am particularly in favour of Church weddings for the reason that the priest conducting the ceremony insists on meeting with the couple prior to the ceremony and may even request that they actually attend church as a sign of their commitment to the religion or parish. The priest responsible for the wedding has an obligation under church law to ensure that the couple are adequately prepared for their wedding and married life which is normally undertaken by attending a ‘Wedding Preparation Course’. It would be encouraging to see this type of practise being adopted by other religions in the UK conducting wedding ceremonies.
Interestingly, this appears to be the main difference between British and Asian cultures in the UK. Despite not openly practising a religion, to celebrate specific events in the absence of religious ceremonies, is just not an option for Asians. Despite this contradiction, it was the way of our fathers and forefathers but should it be the way of our unique generation? Personally, I believe we should always question why we do the things we do, as opposed to simply just doing them.
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