Introduction are required to abide by. In Malaysia’s


In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most

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Engagement is a proposal for marriage and
considered as  the first step in
marriage. It is an initial agreement and a promise that all parties are
required to respect and abide by. All important contracts have introductory
preambles that aim at perfecting it in the best way. Due to the utmost
importance of marriage, Allah The Most Wise made regulations for its
introductory steps and specified some regulatory Sharee’ah rulings that all
parties are required to abide by.

In Malaysia’s diverse culture and
multiracial communities, it is no doubt there exist plenty of customary laws
and traditions that are being practiced by various communities here.  The
Malay Muslim community in particular, too, has their own set of customs and
traditions to be followed particularly in the pursuit of marriage between the prospective
bride and bridegroom.

Therefore this dissertation will discuss
about the engagement process in Malay society, along with the customs and
traditions that are implemented throughout the process. On top of that, the
view of Islamic jurists about the concept of engagement in Islam will be
analysed to show the correlation between the Malay customs (adat) and
Shariah, whether the adat is in accordance to sharia or vice versa.  


Chapter One: The Concept of Engagement in Islam

1.1 Definition of Engagement    

Engagement is called khitbah (???????)
in Arabic, and it is derived from the root word (???)
which literally means ‘talk’. While ‘??? ???????’
means propose or asking a woman’s hand for marriage.

According to Dr Wahbah Az Zuhaili1 , khitbah
means to express one’s intention to get married. This intention must be
expressed to the wanted woman or her guardian. Making a proposal can also be
done through a matchmaker or middleman.

As stated by Mimi Kamariah Majid in her book Ïslamic Family Law in
engagement is a contract or agreement before the marriage. It is also the time
for men and women to get know to each other.

1.2 – The Legitimacy of Engagement In Islamic Law

1. From The Holy Quran

??????? ?????????? ?????? ?????????? ???? ???? ???????? ?????????? ????
??????????? ??? ??????????? ? ?????? ??????? ????????? ??????????????????
???????? ???? ??????????????? ?????? ?????? ??? ????????? ??????? ??????????? ?
????? ?????????? ???????? ?????????? ??????? ???????? ?????????? ???????? ? ???????????
????? ??????? ???????? ??? ??? ??????????? ???????????? ? ??????????? ?????
??????? ??????? ??????? ?3


There is no blame upon you for that to which you indirectly allude
concerning a proposal to women or for what you conceal within yourselves. Allah
knows that you will have them in mind. But do not promise them secretly except
for saying a proper saying. And do not determine to undertake a marriage
contract until the decreed period reaches its end. And know that Allah knows what
is within yourselves, so beware of Him. And know that Allah is Forgiving and

2. From Sunnah

???? ?? ??? ???? ??? ???? ????? ???: ??? ???? ???? ??? ???? ???? ????: «?????
?????? ?????????? ???????????? ?????? ?????????? ???? ???????? ????? ???
????????? ????? ??????????? ????????????» ??? ????? ????? ???? ????? ???? ???
???? ???? ?? ????? ??? ?????? ????????.


Hadith Jabir bin Abdullah Radiyallahu anhuma said: The Messenger of
Allah  said: “When one of you proposes
to a woman, if he could look at of her to see what urges him to marry her, then
let him do that.”4 

Chapter Two: The Engagement Customs and Practices in
Malay Society

2.1 – Adat merisik vs Direct Approach

Back in the days, the marriage in traditional Malay
society is arranged by the parents.5 When
it is time for a man to get married,  his
family will look around to identify a number of potential candidates. This
custom is called ‘merisik’. Merisik in Malay actually means
spying.  It means to learn more of
something through informal enquiries such as to further understand the
backgrounds of both families, and in this particular case, of the feelings of
the intended spouse and her parents.

Having decided upon one particular young lady, then one
or more representatives of the man’s family will pay a friendly visit to the
family of the woman whom they have in mind as his potential bride. The visit is
purely for the purpose of further investigation. It allows the visitors to see
the young lady. A hint will be given to her parents regarding the purpose of
the visit, and their reaction will be assessed. The girl’s parents may also
give the visitors some idea as to whether or not their daughter will be
interested in the match. The merisik does not constitute a formal proposal.
Following the visit both sides can begin to think more seriously about the
possibility or otherwise of the union. It is possible that no progress may take
place, and the young man’s parents or representatives will then look for another
possible candidate.6

But nowadays, with the presence of the Internet as the decisive
technology of the Information Age, that we can say humankind is now almost
entirely connected, the merisik custom has not been practiced anymore, as most
couples already know each other well before marriage is considered.7 Alternatively,
the meeting may just be a formality for the in-laws to get to know each other,
and to set a date for the engagement ceremony.8

In a research conducted by Han [email protected] Indah on The Modernization and Formation
of Urban Malay Families, the result shows that from 47 married couples that
have been interviewed in Kampung Kerinchi, Kuala Lumpur, there are 13 couples (27.66
percent) whose marriages are arranged by parents, while the rest, ie 34 couples
(72.34 percent) married on their own choice.9

Therefore, as the youngsters have the freedom to
choose their future spouses whom they loved, the marriage proposal is often
done directly between the couple themselves.10 On
proposing, the man will speak up his intention clearly, asking the woman to
marry him. In Malay society, the answer usually is not given at the moment the
question was asked, but the woman will discuss the matter first with her
family. After having permission and blessing from the parents, then only the
woman will say ‘yes’ on the proposal. The proposal is then followed  by the actions of the parents on both sides and
their respective families in arranging the engagement ceremony, the
solemnization and the wedding reception.. The role of parents and families is
only secondary to fulfilling religious and customary demands.


2.2 – The Process of Engagement Ceremony according to
Malay Customs and Traditions

customs in Malay society are carried out with the sending a group of
representatives usually consists of their parents and close relatives. The group
will carry a betel-leaf container (tepak sirih) complete with betel leaves
(sirih), a ring, and other gifts as the official sign of the men in earnest for
the marriage. Through this custom, the matters discussed are related to the
amount of dowry, and the date of wedding and number of gift-trays (hantaran) to
be given.

The engagement process in the Malay community can be divided into four
stages as follow:



Stage 1 – The arrival of groom’s


Stage 2 – Recitations of Supplications

Placement of ring on the bride’s finger
Exchange of gifts (hantaran)

Stage  3 – Feast


Stage 4 – The groom’s representatives
leaving home



1. The Arrival of Groom Delegation

The arrival of groom delegation can be analyzed from several aspects
includes the selection of day, arrival time and their actions during greeting
the representatives from potential bride’s side.

For the selection of day, the engagement is usually held on weekends to
ensure the participation of the family members and relatives. According to Amran
the day selected depends on the suitability of both parties. But he noted that
most Malays chose the month of Maulud (Rabiulawal) as the best month for the engagement

In addition to that, the engagement custom is usually held during the
day, and the potential groom’s party will reach the house of the potential
bride either before Zuhur or after Zuhur.

The delegation of the groom will be welcomed by a few representatives
from the bride’s side that have been waiting in the house’s yard. They will be
greeting each other, shaking hands, accompanied with sweet smiles on their
faces. These actions are undeniably will strengthen the bond between two
families. Furthermore, this kind act of generousity is encouraged by Islam as
Rasulullah  ? stated
in the hadeeth12:

?? ??? ????? ??? ???? ??? : ??
???? ???? ??? ???? ???? ???? ??? : ( ?? ??? ???? ????? ?????? ????? ? ????? ???? ?? ????? ? ??? ??? ????
????? ?????? ????? ? ?????? ???? ? ??? ??? ???? ????? ?????? ????? ? ??????

Abu Hurayrah (radiyallahu anhu) said that the
Messenger of Allah ? said: “Whoever
believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak good or remain silent. Whoever
believes in Allah and the Last Day should honor his neighbour, and whoever
believes in Allah and the Last Day should honor his guest.”

Back to the engagement custom, upon
entering the house, the gifts (hantaran) that are carried by the groom
delegation will be handed over to the bride’s party. The tray of gifts will be
placed in the centre of the hall. Traditionally, if the bride’s older sister is
still single, a gift of some value is given to the older sister too, for asking
for the hand of the younger sister (Melangkah Bendul)  

According to Malay traditions, the hantaran
comprises of the tepak sirih (betel leaf container) or the sirih junjung (betel
nut leaves and accompaniments with beautiful flowers), the engagement ring, and
other gifts such as scented flowers (bunga rampai), a fruit basket, traditional
cakes, a complete set of traditional dress made in silk or cotton, with gold or
silver threads (songket), a pair of shoes, among others. In modern times, even
mobile phones are included.


2.1 Discussion

 The discussion process will only
begin after all the representatives and guests have taken their seats in the
space provided. The process starts with prayer recitation and a formal
introduction from both sides of the family. After that, the representative from
the groom’s side starts the proposal with the presentation of the betel leaves (sirih)
and a poetry recital of pantun. The literary talents of the poets are
exalted and appreciated as a sign of good breeding and intelligence13.

An example of such poetry is given below:

Orang Jawa turun
ke dusun,

Singgah sejenak
di pinggir kota,

Kami bawa sirih

Sudilah sepiak
pembuka kata.


The translation is as follows:

A Javanese
visited his orchard,

And dropped by at
a town to unwind,

We bring along
betel nut leaves to chat,

Please have one
to mind.


Thereafter, after the presentation of the
sirih to the parents of the intended, they put forth the marriage proposal in a
formal manner, usually with symbolic and implicit language.

An example of the proposal would be:

“Khabarnya di sini ada sekuntum bunga yang sedang
mekar harum di taman. Sudi apalah kiranya kami menyunting kembang

Translated, it means:

“We are told of a flower, fully bloomed and fragrant, in your
garden. Will you allow us to pluck that flower?

The proposal is then answered after getting the approval from the
intended bride.

After that, both families will discuss several things that requires
mutual consent of both parties. The main points are:

i) the engagement period

The engagement period may last between six months and three years.14

ii) the date of wedding solemnization and  reception.

Interestingly, Malays
when deciding on proposal rarely produce agreement letter. Unlike
marriage, certificate is not needed.  Engagement contract belongs to
socio-religious plethora which requires total commitment to faith and
deep-rooted cultural appreciation

iii) the amount of mahr (mas kahwin) and dowry (wang hantaran)

Mahr is a grant that
must be given by a man to a woman who would become his wife. The rate of mahr
often follow by Jabatan Agama Islam of each state which has been set or the
groom can give more if afford.

The dowry is usually in
the form of money that a man will give the amount of money to the woman’s
family that is to be used during marriage ceremony. Value dowry must equal
status as a ‘ status quo ‘ would marry a woman according to the level or class
status for bride for example, undergraduate woman, professional carrier and so
on .

iv) the number of gift tray (dulang hantaran) to be exchanged

The main gift tray (dulang) is handed in odd numbers, but the reason
behind that is not clearly identified15.
The minimum amount is usually 5 dulang and the maximum is 13 dulang.
And the bride’s family will reciprocate the groom’s dowry in excess number of
the dulang given. ie. if the groom delivers 5 dulang, the bride’s family will
reciprocate by sending 7 dulang.


One of the points of discussion is what to do if the engagement does not
result in marriage. Would the gifts be returned to the respective parties?
Traditionally, if the groom’s side breaks it up, the bride may retain the dowry
or hantaran. If it is the bride’s party that breaks off the engagement, they
may have to compensate twice the value of the dowry.

2.2 Placement of ring on the bride’s finger

After all the details have been agreed upon, an elderly lady from the
groom’s party (usually the groom’s mother or elder sister) will place a ring on
the bride’s ring finger. The bride, dresses up in her best clothes,
will wait at her room. If the groom is wealthy, the ring may be accompanied
by a watch or jewelry.

2.3 Exchange of gifts

Following the placement of ring, the gifts from the family of the
potential bride meant for the potential groom are now handed to his
representatives. The gift items may include a velvet cap (songkok), a prayer
mat (sejadah) a pair of clothes and so on.  As mentioned before, the gifts
must also be placed in an odd number of trays, the number of trays being
higher than those received from the potential groom’s party.

3. Feast

After the engagement ceremony was done, before leaving, the groom’s
representatives will be invited to have a feast that has been prepared earlier
by the bride’s family.


Chapter Three: The Analysis of Engagement Customs in
Malay society according to Shariah

3.1 – The customs that in accordance with Shariah

3.1.1. Recitation of Du’a

In the process of engagement in Malay customs, it is notable that the
du’a recitation is  necessary  . Through the engagement ceremony, the
prayers are recited for three times. The ceremony is started and ended with
recitation of prayers lead by religious leader such as imam or ustaz, pleading
to Allah for His blessings and mercy throughout the whole process.

This kind of action is encouraged in Islam, as Dua is uplifting,
empowering, liberating and transforming and it is one of the most powerful and
effective act of worship a human being can engage in, as the Prophet ? says:

?? ??? ????? – ??? ???? ??? – ?? ????? – ??? ???? ???? ???? – ???:
” ??? ??? ???? ??? ???? ????? ?? ??????”

“Nothing is more honourable to Allah the Most High than
du`a.” 16

Dua has been called the weapon of the believer. It affirms a person’s
belief in One God and it shuns all forms of idolatry or polytheism. Dua is
essentially submission to God and a manifestation of a person’s need for God.
In the Quran, Allah s.w.t clearly says that He will
answer the prayers of those who pray to Him, as stated
in Surah Al-Baqarah:

???????? ???????? ???????? ?????? ???????? ??????? ? ???????
???????? ???????? ????? ??????? ? ????????????????? ??? ?????????????? ???
??????????? ????????????

And when My servants ask you, O Muhammad, concerning Me – indeed I am
near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So
let them respond to Me by obedience and believe in Me that they may be
rightly guided.

3.1.2  Hospitality Towards
The Guests

In Islam, it is the host’s duty to make the guest feel
comfortable.  One way of doing this is by identifying his or her possible
needs in advance.  It is better to offer a guest something before he or
she has the chance to ask for it because a courteous guest may hesitate to
mention any need.  Out of his or her thoughtfulness, such a guest would
even try to prevent the host from offering anything.   The Quran
offers the example of Prophet Abraham anticipating the guest’s needs and
hastening to fulfill them. 

????? ??????? ??????? ?????? ???????????? ??????????????? ???? ???????? ????????
????????? ???????? ? ????? ??????? ?????? ???????????? ??????? ?????? ???????? ??????? ???????? ???????? ??????????? ?????????? ?????
????? ????????????

Has the story reached you of the honored guests of
Abraham? Behold, they entered his presence and said: “Peace!” He
said: “Peace!” (and thought: “They seem) unusual people.”
Then he turned quickly to his household, brought out a roasted fattened calf,
and placed it before them.  He said: “Will you not eat?”17

In the Malay engagement customs , the groom’s delegation will be invited
to have a feast before they are leaving. Undeniably, entertaining guests by
providing dishes is one of the Islamic teachings in the way of honoring them.
As recorded in Riyad As-Salihin in Book of Greetings:

??? ??? ???? ?? ???? ?? ????? ??? ???? ????? ?? ???? ??? ???? ????
??? ???? ???? ?????:? ?? ??????? ?????? ????:? ? “????? ??????? ?????
?????? ??? ?? ???? ??? ?? ?????”??.? ?(??(????? ?????)??)??.?

Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-‘as (May Allah be pleased with them) reported:

A man asked the Messenger of Allah (?): “Which act in Islam is the best?” He (?) replied, “To give food, and to greet everyone, whether
you know or you do not.”











1 Dr Wahbah Az Zuhaili, Al Fiqh Al Islami wa
Adillatuhu, Daar al Fikr, Syria

2 Mimi Kamariah
Majid, Family Law in Malaysia, (Kuala Lumpur, Malayan Law Journal),

3 Surah Al Baqara:


4 Ahmad, Abu
Daawood, Al-Haakim and Al-Bayhaqi

5 (Banks, 1983:146)


7 Syed Mahadzir
Syed Ibrahim. (2009). Adat
resam dan makanan masyarakat Melayu e-book . Kuala
Lumpur: E1 Publication Sdn Bhd, pp. 15–16.  Retrieved from NLB eBooks collection. 

8 Traditional
Malay weddings – Spying custom (adat merisik). (2014).
Retrieved from Singaporean Lifestyle website:

Traditional Malay Weddings – Spying Custom (Adat Merisik)

9  [email protected], The Modernization and Formation
of Urban Malay Families, Jabatan Pengajian Melayu, Beijing Foreign Studies

10 Yaacob
Harun,  Perkembangan Teknologi & Perubahan
Nilai Kekeluargaan Melayu , Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

11 Amran Kasimin,
Perkahwinan Melayu, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2002, 24

12 Narrated
by Bukhari and Muslim

13 Asiapac
Editorial. (2003). Gateway
to Malay culture. Singapore: Asiapac Books, p. 45. (Call no.: RSING
305.89928 GAT)


14 Asiapac
Editorial. (2003). Gateway
to Malay culture. Singapore: Asiapac Books, p. 46. (Call no.: RSING
305.89928 GAT)

15 Amran Kasimin ,

16 Sahih
al-Jami` no.5268.


17 Adz-Dzariyyat,
51: 24-27)