Photo by Jasmine. A Photography.

TWN’s Guide To Malay Wedding Etiquette


Malay weddings are inherently steep in religious rituals and cultural traditions. A celebration that honours interpersonal moments between family members and the couple, highlighting the importance of the family unit in this culture. If you have been invited to attend a Malay wedding and have no idea what to expect, this quick guide will get you up to speed on the basics of a Malay wedding. First off, a Malay Wedding has two main phases, each with its own different set of ceremonies:

-In This Article-

  • General Social Etiquette
    • How Long Does The Ceremony Last?
    • What Are The Etiquette On Greetings?
    • What To Wear? 
    • Are The Men and Women Guests Separated During The Akad Nikah?
    • Should I Bring A Gift? 

Pre-Wedding Phase

Merisik (Spying or viewing)

Under Islamic law it is forbidden to propose to a woman who is already betrothed. In the past, men and women didn’t date before marriage. When a man is interested in a woman, he will inform his parents or relatives who will then look into the matter, “spying” on the lady of interest, so to speak. They explore her background and interact with her parents, with the goal of figuring out if she is available for marriage. Naturally, this step has dissipated with modern times as future brides and grooms are becoming well-acquainted long before a wedding is due.

Meminang (Proposal)

Once the parent of a man is agreeable to take a certain lady as their future daughter-in-law, male representatives of the future groom would ask the lady’s family representatives for her hand in marriage. The amount of duit hantaran (dowry tray-gifts) will be discussed and agreed upon during this event. A promise ring will be presented to the future bride by the future groom’s representative. During this meeting, both families decide on the date of the engagement.

Adat Bertunang (Engagement)

The engagement ceremony typically comes with a feast prepared by the bride’s family. Gifts (given in odd numbers to avoid bad luck) are exchanged and a female representative of the groom-to-be presents a ring to the bride-to-be, symbolising her bethroyal. The duration of the engagement period and the wedding date is also set. In attendance are family members and relatives of the future bride and groom.

Adat Berinai (Henna)

Usually held 3 days prior to the wedding, the adat berinai is an overlapping tradition that is typically seen also in Hindu weddings. The hands and feet of the bride and her bridal party are decorated with henna, meant to avert malicious spirits and bad luck. The henna on the bride symbolises her betrothal. It is a precious ceremony, as the bride spends her final days as a single woman with her close relatives and friends. This event is not unlike a bridal shower familiar to Western cultures.

Wedding Phase

These days many couple choose to forgo the pre-wedding festivities all-together, diving straight into the wedding phase proper. Thus, streamlining the whole wedding process, minimising the time commitment required on the part of their relatives and reducing the cost of weddings.

Akad Nikah (Solemnisation)

The Akad Nikah is the official wedding ceremony, traditionally it is held at the local mosque or the bride’s house and witnessed only by family members and close friends. The ceremony starts with a bridal procession, the bride enters, accompanied by her mother, they both take their place on the wedding dais or pelamin during this portion of the ceremony.

A Twilight-Inspired Woodland Wedding

The ceremony is officiated by either the Imam (mosque leader) or a Kadi (islamic official) and headed by a Wali; customarily a position held by the bride’s father, brother or uncle. An additional two witnesses should be present as well. During the ceremony, religious prayers and oaths are recited. Following that, the marriage is declared solemn and the couple sign the marriage contract. The groom then joins his bride on the dais, he places the ring on her finger and kisses the bride on the forehead. 

A White and Green Rustic Wedding At Tanah Larwina

The Hantaran, gifts that were previously agreed upon are presented here. This practice symbolizes the beginning of the groom’s responsibility to provide and fulfill the needs of his bride. The majlis bersanding or reception is usually held right after on the same day.

Majlis Bersanding (Reception Party)

The Majlis Bersanding is analogous to a wedding reception, a celebration that is extended to a larger group of family and friends. The newly wed bersanding (sit side-by-side on the wedding dias) as important guests approach them with well wishes during the merinjis. The bride and groom are sprinkled with rose water and bunga rampai (tiny hand-cut pandan leaves) as a form of blessings. In return, guests are given favours by the bride and groom. In the southern state of Johor, the traditional custom of gifting bunga telur (a symbol of fertility) is still practised. Food is served buffet style and guest seating is not fixed. Guests are not expected to be punctual and do not have to stay for the whole duration of the reception. 

General Social Etiquette 

How Long Does The Ceremony Last?  

The Nikah ceremony and reception typically last about 4-5 hours. If you’re not a family member, relative or close friend, chances are you’ll only be invited to the reception. The time stipulated on the invitation indicates when food service starts and ends. Guests are not expected to be punctual and can come and go as they like within the stipulated time. 

What Are The Etiquette On Greetings?

Greet the hosts and other guests with a handshake or a salam. Do note that conservative members of the opposite gender may not feel comfortable with any form of physical touch with the opposite gender 

What To Wear? 

Dressing conservatively for the Akad Nikah is important. Guests should have their legs fully covered. Women should cover their arms and would need to wear a headscarf if the ceremony is in a mosque. Guests are not required to dress in traditional attire. (Baju Melayu for men and Baju Kurung/Kebaya for women) But dressing up is half the fun. When in doubt, err on the side of modesty. 

Are The Men and Women Guests Separated During The Akad Nikah?

Even if the Akad Nikah is held in a mosque, there is no physical barrier to separate the two genders. However, guests tend to mingle amongst their own gender. If in doubt, observe the general manners and go with the flow.

Should I Bring A Gift? 

Monetary gifts are preferred. Monetary gifts are placed in green packets and handed to the parents of the bride or groom at the end of the ceremony. 

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