1. The first ingredient is the "wali" (nearest relative to the lady, such as her father or brother if the father is unable to perform the task) or "wakil" (imam or appointed guardian to act on behalf of the best interests of the lady). It is his job to help find and interview the background of any potential suitor for the lady.

2. After selecting the proper young man, there is an appointment scheduled for the two of them to meet (under chaperoned supervision) to discuss their possible future together.

3. After the initial meeting, both of them are to pray to Allah in the form of salat known as "salatul istakharah" for guidance. If this is not done, it does not invalidate the marriage, but it is something that will really help both of them in their future. Please refer to the subject of the "salatul istakharah."

4. If both of them recognized positive signs from the "salatul istakharah" then they would proceed to make the "nikah" (marriage contract). This again is done under supervision with two witnesses. It is usually attended by an imam or knowledgeable person in Islam, just so that there will be no mistakes in taking care of the details.

5. The mahr (dowry) is presented and the lady is asked if she is prepared to accept this mahr and be married to this man. This is usually repeated three times in front of the witnesses, but at least one acknowledgment from the lady is necessary to proceed.

6. The women would then sign the nikah document in front of the witnesses.

7. The witnesses (usually two) would sign and attest that they had been present at the nikah and did witness the acceptance by the lady of the offer of marriage by the man. The imam might also sign, but this does not affect the validity of the marriage. Any two adult Muslims may witness the document. In the case of women witnesses, it is correct to have two in place of one. If there were to be two witnesses, but one is a woman, then it would be correct to have a man and two women sign the document.

8. After the acceptance of the lady, the signing of the nikah (document), witnessing of the two witnesses and exchange of mahr, the man and the women are considered legal in Islam to live together and be together as man and wife and to have sex. However, until they actually consummate the marriage (i.e., have intercourse) they may cancel the marriage, and the mahr would be returned back to the man.

9. After the signing of the marriage document, and the acceptance of the bride of the 'mahr' (dowry), and the signing of the two witnesses, the groom is free to take his bride at anytime he chooses. There is no waiting, if that is what you are implying. As regards any kind of a deadline, this would be according to the contract. If the lady or the gentleman has specified that for whatever reasons, if they are not able to be living together by such and such a date, then the mahr could be returned back to the man and the woman and man would be considered not married (unless of course, if they had consummated the marriage by having sex together).

10. If the groom is unable or unwilling to take the bride after an extended period of time and she or he would like to annul the marriage, they would simply let the other person know and cause the mahr to be returned to the groom.

NOTE: This is all based on the fact that although they have a contract for marriage (nikah) it is not considered completed until after they consummate (have sex). Once that has happened, they are married and the only way for them to no longer be married would be through divorce (khula or lian or talaq).

And of course, Allah Knows Best.

Any good is from Allah the mistakes were from myself. May Allah guide all of us to His Truth, ameen.
Salam alaykum - Yusuf Estes
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