It’s wedding season for Cambodia’s Muslims. Living alongside with their Khmer counterparts, Chams in Cambodia have their own customs and traditions of marriage—though with a little less celebration.
Unlike traditional Khmer wedding celebrations, in which sounds of wedding songs and musical instruments can be heard from the bride’s house, a Cham celebration contains no songs or music.
The reason is that Islamic law does not allow any romantic music, though the law allows sounds of Islamic prayers or reading of its holy book, the Koran, during the special occasion.
The Chams, descendents of the lost Champa empire in today’s Vietnam, are followers of Islam. The majority of them, estimated to be 500,000 in Cambodia, live along the Tonle Sap and the Mekong rivers.
The period following the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is the most popular.
A Cham wedding is generally observed for one and a half days. On the first day, two or three meals are served for guests who have been invited to the village free of charge. The attendees may contribute some money, food or gifts to the host family, if they wish.
The one festivity during the wedding is called “Kupol,” in Cham. Kupol is the negotiation between the groom and the bride’s father of a dowry and the handover of the bride to the groom.
After the regular noon prayer, the bride’s family decides on the time and venue for Kupol. The venue can be at the bride’s house, or at small mosques, “surav,” or large mosques, “masjid.”
During Kupol, the bride’s father declares among relatives from both sides, religious teachers, or “tuon,” or an imam to witness the amount of money he has demanded from the groom before handing over the bride—symbolically, as the bride cannot be present—to the groom.
“We say [in Cham] that we agree to give the bride to the groom with the presence of tuon, and the groom must accept her as his lawful wife and must be responsible [for her life],” said Man Mohd, 46, who saw his first daughter married on the outskirts of Phnom Penh last weekend.
“In return for the bride, I have to say to my father-in-law that I would agree to pay the demanded amount and accept the bride,” said the groom, Matt Roza, during his wedding celebration.
The groom has to make sure he answers correctly a few questions asked by the tuon or imam. The questions are about Islamic principles and marriage laws of Islam. If the groom answers the first question incorrectly, he is offered another chance, until he can make the correct answer.
“Kopul is all about Cham marriage,” said Mohd Farid Hosen, executive director of the Cambodian Muslim Intellectual Alliance.
“It is the determinant that the bride and the groom become man and wife lawfully, according to our Cham tradition,” he said.
Finally, the bride’s family has to arrange a feast for villagers the following morning, to conclude the celebration.