Dear readers, there are few “Islamic” [?!] practices that I reject entirely (actually I can only think of this one), but if I were to toss out any–any at all–it would be the practice of “giving away” the bride. Fuck that noise, seriously.
This is one of those things that is mandated nowhere in the Qur’an, and one of those FEW things that I believe originated at least from good intentions. According to practice, women who had been previously married do not need a wali to look for a husband for them, but they need one to be present for signing the marriage contract. (A woman who has never been married customarily “needs” one for both purposes.) If I didn’t know better the objective seems to be to keep women from signing anything they would later regret. If a wali, or guardian, is not present the marriage is invalid just as it is if the woman does not consent. (A woman’s guardian should not make a promise of marriage without her knowledge. –Al-Bukhari)
Unfortunately, I do know better.
A hadith that is attributed to the Prophet (narrated by Abu Musa) states that a woman who is married without a wali renders an invalid marriage–in the right context (kidnapping, coercion, etc. which were in fact extraordinarily common at the time) this is empowering. But much like the gendered formulation of witness in economic contracts that was later applied to every configuration of court, the establishment of the power of the wali has particularly ensured that women do not maintain the authority of individual consent.
In a society in which the blessing of your family is already coercively important, the last thing anyone needs is the resounding singular authority of their own consent confiscated by the supposedly obligatory presence of a wali. I hope that you do not delegate that power to anyone else. In fact, specify that in your marriage contract. State that the woman contracts the marriage on her own behalf and refuses to relegate this authority to a wali. And don’t sign that thing without it. You can illegalize polygamy in your marriage contract (and that is something that is actually even mentioned in the Qur’an) so you can sure as hell do this too, considering it is cultural and, accordingly, adjustable.
(Slightly relevant: Disapproval extends to being walked down the aisle or anything that symbolizes I’m an object to be passed on, whether a part of 5th Century Arab culture or 21st Century Western. When the original purpose is forgotten/disregarded the practice is incompatible with Islam.)
There seems to be a unanimous (among only men of course) declaration that a wali can only be male, but predictably that was pulled out of the rear end of a goat.