What is their significance in marriages? Is it biblical, islamic or traditional for couples to wear rings? The Trumpet examines the Christian, Islamic and traditional perspectives on the matter.
By Gabriel Omonhinmin, Culture and Religion Editor
Ever wondered why people who marry propose to each other with engagement rings? Or why the vast majority of engagement rings are topped by diamonds? These questions, just like so many other doctrines and answers, can be traced to ancient Rome and were further elaborated due to 20th century advertising campaigns.
We shall be looking at how proposing with an engagement ring and wearing of marriage rings after marital vows became a worldwide tradition.
Some historians have suggested that the engagement ring and the eventual wearing of marital rings was a tradition first practised by the ancient Egyptians and later adopted by the ancient Greeks. Nothing can be definitively proven.
But what we do know, however, is that engagement rings date at least as far back as the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, the ring had a definite practical purpose. It was a public symbol of a couple’s legal contract. Because nothing says romance, like contractual legal obligation, is binding. Wearing rings, therefore, is just like a married couple wearing matching “we signed an agreement t-shirt.”
If this is the case, what are the legal implications and why is it that only women wear engagement rings? Is it because it symbolizes a woman moving from her father’s legal ownership to her husband’s?
Mr. Osa Director, a Lagos based lawyer, says: “There is no clear cut legal definition to these positions; it is basically, like a tiny collar. These positions are more like a long-standing norm, which the society has grown to accept as a standard way of life.”
Roman marriage contracts for example, just like any other form of marriage in Africa linked two families. And the ring only shows which women were off the market. Roman men then often gave women, two engagement rings; one made of iron and the other made of gold. Women wore the iron ring at home because it represents strength, and home is where the strength is. Or maybe it’s where a Roman family just kept their weight bench. We’ll never know.
But when engaged, women went outside; they put on their gold rings to show off their wealth. As far as the Classical era is concerned, women wore engagement rings on their fourth fingers, which is still called the ring finger till date. The reason for this was that Romans believed a vein ran from the ring finger to the heart, which is scientifically inaccurate, but still much more romantic than the idea of wearing an iron bill of sale on one’s hand.
After the fall of Rome, the tradition of betrothing rings continued in Europe, even as it began to take on a slightly different significance. For example, the 7th-century Visigoth code declared that valid engagement should include a ring which represented a pledge that shall under no circumstances be broken. Here the ring was more representative of the promise to marry rather than the betrothed’s current property status.
Meanwhile, in the ninth century, Pope Nicholas I explained how wedding traditions differed in the Roman Catholic Church, compared to the Greek Orthodox Church. The Pope specifically pointed to engagement rings, explaining that the betrothed man joins the bride to himself, with vows through the finger marked by him with the ring of faith. In this case, the ring represents the couple’s bond of faith. In either case, however, just like today, the engagement ring kicked off a period of planning and waiting that would end with two people getting married. From the above explanation, is it right to say that the wearing of rings is not scriptural, but a doctrine or tradition institutionalized by the ancient Catholic Church!
Now, what did the bible say about marriage? In Genesis 2:24, the bible says: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
In Romans 13:8, the Bible again stressed: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.”
In this verse, nothing was mentioned by the Bible as rings being the symbol of marriage or marriages.
In Qu’ran 24:32, ‘An-Noor’ says: “Marry off those who are single among you, and those of your male and female servants, who are righteous. If they are poor, God will enrich them of his grace, for God is bounteous and all-knowing.”
We are therefore to encourage those of us who are single to get married. They are to marry the righteous among our male and female servants if they are poor.
…And they say, “Our Lord, let our spouses and children be a source of joy for us, and keep us in the forefront of the righteous.”
Qu’ran 24:33 says: “Those who cannot afford to marry should abstain from what is unlawful until God enriches them by His grace. And free those slaves you possess, who wish to buy their freedom after a written undertaking, if you know they have some goodness, and give them out of the riches God has given you. Do not force your maids into prostitution if they wish to lead married lives, in order to get the benefits of this world. But if someone forces them, surely God (will forgive them) after their forced helplessness, for he is forgiving and kind.”
In the traditional settings, according to Mr. Ganiyu Salisu, Oluwo of Paara Land and Akpashe General of Oke-Aro land in Ogun State: “It is the consent of the children first and that of both families that are required for any marriage to be consummated and binding according to our African traditional beliefs.
“Rings and elaborate marriage ceremonies play little or no roles in these marriage doctrines.”
Why have these strange norms become the practice in modern-day marriages?
The Trumpet sought the opinion of a cross section of religious leaders and African traditional religion practitioners on this matter for better understanding and clarity.
First to speak to us was the retired Arch-Bishop John Onaiyekan of the Catholic Church. He said: “Wearing of engagement and wedding rings cannot be said to be wholly scriptural. It is more of a doctrine or a practice that has evolved, especially in the Catholic Church. Every Catholic therefore takes his or her marital vows very seriously and the ring is a symbol of fidelity during the marriage.
Furthermore, In the book of Ephesians 5:25 to 33, husbands were enjoined to love their wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He, who loves his wife, loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church. The same is expected of women to their husbands.
“So the wedding ring in the Catholic Church is a symbol of fidelity. Hence, there is this special vow couples must make before wearing these rings. It is their sign of commitment to one another in the marriage journey they are about to enter. They are, therefore, to keep these vows and maintain fidelity throughout their marriage life. However, taking these vows is not a guarantee that some people will not break their vows. But the rings they are wearing will keep reminding them that they are going against the vows they made in the church. Some people like most human beings, afterwards seek restitution and turn a new leaf. This, I think, is the symbol of rings in marriages.
Mind you, in the Catholic Church, it is not only couples that wear rings. Bishops and Popes also wear rings. It’s our symbol of fidelity to the church of Christ. If you must know, each Pope wears his ring until he dies, and he is buried with his ring in the Catholic Church.”
Zekeriyanu Oseni is a retired Professor of Islamic studies at the University of Ilorin and presently the Chief Imam (Spiritual Guardian) of the Auchi Sacared Kingdom in Edo North. He says: “There is nothing in the Islamic code of marriage to be compared to the Christian methods of marriage or values. It is offensive and repugnant for a Muslim bride to expose herself or wear dresses that are suggestive during marriage ceremonies as most Christian ladies often do on such occasions.
“The Islamic tenets just simply say a lady getting married should dress properly, wear the dress covering all parts of her body in a dignified manner. The elaborate celebrations and the display of unnecessary affluence during such marriage ceremonies, especially if the person can afford it are uncalled for. Such display of affluence is not Islamic. As the couple will have to feed and take care of themselves after the conduct of that marriage ceremony. The idea of wearing rings before and after marriages is again strange to Islam. Surprisingly, some Muslims now engage in it these days. But that does not make it normal in the eyes of our religion.
“I would want to quickly chip in this, because of the erroneous belief held by some people, about the number of wives a Muslim must marry. Yes, a Muslim can marry up to four wives if only he can afford to maintain those numbers of women.
“In some instances, even when men are rich enough to keep those women financially, such a man, might not be grounded in the politics of women which is a different thing altogether. A man marrying up to four wives must know what to do, in all circumstances, if he must keep the peace of his home. Mind you, every woman has her own peculiar type of politics which must be ministered. Often times some women are far more intelligent and cleverer than most of the men marrying them. They often know how to go about getting the secret information about their second wife from their husbands. They also know how to go about covering their tracks or secrets from the eyes of their rivals. If there are situations like this, men who are not skilled in the act of managing multiple women often end up, having chaotic homes, even when they have all the money in the world to keep such homes. In another instance, there are very poor men, who are extremely skilful in the act of managing women, they have up to four wives and manage their homes peacefully. So before engaging in the accumulation of women in your home as a Muslim, you must first consider or ask yourself whether or not, you have the capability, healthwise to stand such rigour of such marriage, the financial wherewithal and the skill of keeping multiple women in your house.”
Professor Comr. Omonhinmin of Covenant University, Lagos, who is a member of Living Faith Church Worldwide, aka Winners Church, says: “Wearing of engagements and wedding rings cannot strictly be said to be scriptural. He stressed, “as far as I know, Bishop David Oyedepo and the Winners church have never compelled any of their members to go into marriage when such a member cannot afford it. Although people wear wedding rings in the church when they come forward to be joined in holy matrimony, the Winner’s Church has never forced anyone to go into such marriage, if they cannot afford it. Bishop Oyedepo, oftentimes uses his personal experiences in life to preach the gospel. He has repeatedly told whosoever, cares to listen, that he had little or no money when he married his wife and he did not go into debt in the process in an attempt to please the world. Another example he gave, was when he gave birth to his second son, the Bishop said he had no money to organize a befitting naming ceremony; he quietly named his child and entered his house with his wife. When a Pastor told him then, that there was some church money somewhere, which he could dip his hands into and use for the naming ceremony, he refused and told the Pastor it was not the church that impregnated his wife. He concluded that rings and other wedding bands are never the things required to make marriages last or endure, what is required is absolute faith in God and fidelity in marriage.”
Mr Udo Etefia of the Deeper Life Bible Church says: “Although my church believes in Christian marriage, we are not involved in the acts of wearing of engagement and marriage rings like some other churches. What is important to the Deeper Life Church as far as marriage is concerned, is for couples to respect the sanctity of marriage, learn to love and respect one another as wives and husbands. Wearing rings does not in any way stop a man or woman, who wants to break his or her marital vows from doing so. The idea of extravagant and wasteful expenses in the guise of marriage is also not in my church tradition.”
Mr Ganiyu Salami, aka Akpashe of Oke-Aro land in Ogun State, who claims to be a traditionalist, says: “I grew up to find out from my forbearers how traditional marriages are conducted and contracted in Yoruba land. Money plays an insignificant role whenever marriages are to be contracted. What our parents look out for, is the past or background of the parents and children, who are going into such marriage and the insistence that the traditional marriage vows must be kept. No parent would want to marry a child or allow his child to marry a girl from a family who are reputed for some ills in the society, such as stealing, and unfaithfulness in marriage just to mention a few. In the final analysis, what is most important is the consent of both families. Once that is obtained, the marriage is contracted. People are thereafter, allowed to celebrate the event, in line with their purse. The idea of wearing rings and borrowing money to do elaborate wedding ceremonies is unacceptable and strange to the traditional marriage system.
Arch-Bishop Ignatius Orizu of the Messianic Faith Assembly, Akwuanzie, Uruagu Nnewi in Imo State, says: “My church’s principal concern and mandate, is how to convert sinners to embrace the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; not conducting marriages and wearing of rings before and after marriage ceremonies in church. Yes! The Bible says in the book of Revelation that at the throne of grace the saints will be wedded with our Lord Jesus in Holy Matrimony. It is not the type of Holy matrimony most churches are today practising.
“A sinner, who is yet to be converted if wedded in a church in ceremony whether elaborate or not and he or she is thereafter made to wear glittering rings, if not properly converted first as a Christian, will the rings and ceremonies, stop such a person from going deeper into sins? I will say NO. Our business here is to try very hard to convert as many souls as possible to embrace Christ Jesus. Wearing of rings are things of the world which have no scriptural values.”